They call him “Papa Gator”

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July 19, 2017

“He’s been here since dirt.”

That’s often how Senior Chief Engineer Jacques Legrand’s colleagues describe his tenure at 1515/1555 Poydras, a two-building, Class A office complex in New Orleans.

Affectionately known by friends and family as “Papa Gator,” Jacques celebrated his 35-year anniversary as an engineer at 1515/1555 Poydras, on May 3, 2017. While he’s had a few business card changes over the years, he’s been with the property since 1982, before one of the buildings was even built.

Jacques got his start in the engineering field working in residential air conditioning service in 1978, after earning an associate degree in HVAC technology. After just a few years he moved to commercial HVAC service and in 1981 he went to work for Westminster Management.

“I had gotten my third class license, but felt like my talent was being underutilized,” Jacques said of his initial experience with the company. “So I wrote the director of engineering and told him I felt like I was being underutilized, and I would leave the company if he didn’t find a different place for me. And he did.”

That place was 1555 Poydras, an approximately 470,000-square-foot office building across the street from the Super Dome. Through a series of acquisitions, Jacques joined JLL in 1998.

Over the last 35 years, Jacques has had a front row seat to changes in property engineering, most notably the impact of technology, which he says has drastically changed the day-to-day tasks of a property engineer.

According to Jacques, a typical day in 1982 involved walking the property several times, visiting the central plant and checking rooftop equipment to take readings of every system, machine, pump and motor, understanding if that reading was good or bad, and how to adjust things accordingly. Much of a day’s work was spent adjusting and monitoring equipment and understanding what the ramifications of those adjustments would be down the road.

“It was a lot of hands-on work with pumps, pneumatic systems and motors,” said Jacques.

The man power required to complete the amount of work meant that 35 years ago engineering staffs were nearly double what they are today.

“It’s a combination of the economics of having a smaller staff and having technology that puts us at the forefront of everything,” said Jacques.

He says the downside to technology, if there is one, is having less time to do the hands-on stuff. He also noted the considerable benefits of technology.

“You don’t have to go to all the pieces of equipment. You look at a computer screen and it gives you all the information from the top of the building to the bottom.”

He describes the field as far more predictive than it was 35 years ago and noted it’s much easier to evaluate and cost repairs today.

“You don’t have to make rounds to monitor everything as tightly because everything has alarms,” he said. “Back then, you were the alarm.”

Today, Jacques manages a team of six employees who are responsible for keeping 1 million square feet of office space operational. Jacques also oversees all project management of capital projects and tenant improvements in the building.

He is also the manager of the Houston regional disaster team, a five-person team that provides leadership and is ready to mobilize volunteers in the event of a disaster or emergency. Under Jacques’ leadership, the group rolled-out an active shooter training and is working on a hurricane training, a topic Jacques is all too familiar with.

“Is this a trick question?” Jacques responded, when asked about the biggest professional challenge he’s had to overcome.

His answer: “Katrina.”

As a New Orleans native, the aftermath of the historic hurricane was challenging both personally and professionally.

“I had five siblings and my parents who lost everything. I was trying to do what I could for them along with overseeing everything at the property,” said Jacques. “There was a lot of pressure because so many people were depending on me to get the building back up, including tenants who needed to come to work for their livelihoods.”

Jacques and the entire property management team came through in an enormous way. 1515/1555 Poydras were the first two office buildings to re-open in the New Orleans CBD after Hurricane Katrina.

To this day, Jacques considers emergency response one of his strengths as an engineer.

“It brings me back to my roots,” he said. “You have to be more hands on in an emergency.”

When not in the midst of an engineering emergency, you can find Jacques following LSU baseball and football with his family and friends. The Legrand’s have been following the teams since the 1970s and travel to many games out of town, including the College World Series. On college football Saturday’s you can find Jacques, Ferrell Brunet (Big Chief) and Christian Legrand (Unka Chris) cooking seafood for a tailgate of up to 60 friends and family members, a tradition his in-laws passed down to him and his tailgate team.

“With us, traditions don’t die. They just continue.”

Perhaps that’s why Jacques has found himself at 1515 Poydras for 35 years.

“All my managers have pushed me. JLL always encourages their employees to be at the top of their game. It’s a challenge, but I think it’s a fun part of the job,” he said. “One of the things I’ve really liked is the engineering services conference. I have built numerous personal friendships over the years. Having other people who are in the field who you can collaborate with and bounce ideas off of is one of the things I really like about working at JLL.”

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