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Back Story

When Duty Calls

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Tony Conley had to postpone his initial interview scheduled with Business Officer magazine. That morning, instead of fielding questions about his life and career, he found himself on top of the gymnasium with a crew of six, installing three five-ton air conditioning units.  

It was the second week of school, and students couldn’t wait to stay cool.

Conley is director of the physical plant at Williams Baptist College, a private institution in Walnut Ridge, Ark., with 525 students and 100 faculty and staff. 

Supervising a staff of 18, he’s responsible for a variety of functions, including housekeeping, buildings and grounds, transportation, and maintenance.

In 2011, when making the move to the college from a manufacturing facility, Conley remembers experiencing culture shock.  

“I came from a factory job where you hear lots of profanity when sitting around the break room,” he says. “The college is a totally different world. Going from a factory to a Christian college represents a complete shift in environments. People here are polite. When I first started, I would go home at night, sit down, and think, “Wow. It’s so awesome to work around Godly people.”  

How did you end up at Williams Baptist College?

My wife works in the admissions office. When the maintenance supervisor job became available, she asked me if I would be interested. I said, “I don’t know. I’ll submit a resume and see what happens.”  

Three weeks later, I was employed at Williams Baptist College. I was promoted to director of the physical plant in October 2014.

Of the functions you supervise, which is most likely to keep you up at night?

Definitely the maintenance. I live here on campus so I’m pretty much on call 24/7. The maintenance issues are usually in the dorms. 

So maintenance issues quite literally keep you up at night. Are you required to live on campus?

No, it’s my choice. I’m offered a house to live in, which is a nice benefit. But it’s definitely a give and take. I appreciate it most of the time. Occasionally, it can become overwhelming. 

When does that happen?

On freshman move-in day. Getting the students moved in and making sure the air, the plumbing, and the lights are working are the biggest challenges of the year. Most of the students are pretty easy, but the parents want everything to be perfect, which I understand. They spend the money to bring their children here, and they want everything right. I would too.

When you get 125 students moving in, along with the help of their parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters, it is hard to satisfy everyone. You have to do the best you can do. I always tell my team: “Be polite. Accommodate the requests the best you can; and if you can’t satisfy a request, explain why.”  It’s overwhelming for three days, but it’s also fun.

What’s the No. 1 request students make?

There’s always an air conditioning problem. Most of the dorms have what we call a PTAC system, which refers to the little units you see in motels. When one of those goes out, we simply pull it out and slide another in. Another issue: Toilets backing up.  

You have to remember, we’re dealing with students who are just coming out from under the wings of their parents, and most of them do not know how to take care of themselves or their surroundings.  

What’s it like working on campus with your wife?

It’s awesome. My wife, Deana, and I are very close. Off campus, you don’t see one of us without the other. At work, I hardly get to see her. She is an administrative assistant in admissions—and I’m all over the place.

Any children?

She has two boys, and I have two boys, all adults.    

Looking back over your career, what one thing would you like to do differently?

Probably go to college.   

Has the lack of a degree hindered your career?

No. I started a business in 1981 with my father, after I graduated high school. We provided maintenance services to 200 or so convenience stores and service stations, as well as construction work—everything from burying tanks, to pouring concrete, to constructing buildings, all of which expanded my abilities. As a result, I’m a jack-of-all-trades. I’m a carpenter and electrician, and I’m certified in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) services.

I’m very thankful to my dad for teaching me a trade.

What’s the hardest management decision you’ve had to make?

Letting people go. We have a very low turnover rate at Williams Baptist College so we get to be like family, which can make a termination very difficult.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you start?

Australia. I guess I’ve watched too many Crocodile Dundee movies. I find the country fascinating. I think I could live in the outback. 

Tony Conley and his wife, Deana, on their Harley Trike, ready for another adventure.

How do you like to spend your spare time?

Deana and I love to ride motorcycles. I have had some kind of motorcycle since I was 10 years old. We just traded a 2001 Harley Road King Classic for a 2015 Harley Trike, which is a three-wheeled motorcycle. We do lots of traveling, picking a different state every year. We’ve gone to Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and other surrounding states.

What happens when it rains?

We just get wet, although we do have rain suits. The rain isn’t that bad. It’s When the hail starts … .

Where do you carry all your belongings on trips? 

You can get only so much in the saddlebags of a motorcycle, so I built myself a trailer several years back. I wanted to build a gas tanker trailer, since I was driving a gas truck at the time. Being the inventor and engineer that I am, I wanted to find one of those vacuum cleaners you see at a car wash and turn it into a trailer. After searching for about a year, lo and behold, one day, I was unloading a delivery in Beebe, Ark., and I saw an old whiskey barrel sitting on the porch of an antique store across the street.  

I thought to myself: I could make a trailer out of that whiskey barrel. I brought it home, took it apart, refinished it, and put it on a trailer that hooks up behind my motorcycle. I tell you what: That trailer starts a lot of conversations.

I’ll bet. How would you describe your personality?

I’m easygoing and outgoing.  I try to get along with everyone and not fault anyone for who they are or what they do. We’re all God’s children. My first passion is God. My second is family. Third is motorcycles.  

Where does your job fit in your life? 

I’m in a unique situation. My job is my Godly family. I feel very blessed with my life. This is where I’m supposed to be.   

MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Va., covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.