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Lease Crutcher Lewis
May 11, 2020
Bart Ricketts is the CEO of Lease Crutcher Lewis. An Oregon native, Bart attended Santa Clara University and earned a degree in Civil Engineering. After college, Bart found his way back to the Pacific Northwest, where he started out at Lease Crutcher Lewis as a Project Manager. Lease Crutcher Lewis ranks in ENR’s Top 400 Contractors List.
In our conversation today, we talk about growing up with parents as teachers, making company values intrinsic, the most engaging podcasts, and the value of diversity of thought.
Eric: Tell us about where you were born, and your family, and some of your upbringing.
Bart: Yeah, sure. So, born and raised Oregonian. I grew up in a town called Bend, Oregon, right in the middle of the state. It's an outdoors person's paradise: camping, skiing, hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, whatever you wanna do in the high desert of Central Oregon.
At an early age, besides loving to be outside, I figured out that I like to put things together and build things, whether it was the play fort in the backyard, or trying to build a bridge over the creek at the end of our street, when you're down there looking for polliwogs and frogs and other wildlife. I loved building stuff.
Just weird, because my parents were both high school teachers, so there's not a lot of construction in my family. But I got the bug early, figured out that engineers are the route of being able to build things. You have to understand engineering principles, and I got into that early on.
But yeah, I just really enjoyed growing up in a great environment, with a lot of supportive family and an educational system that allowed me to explore science and math, and set me up for what I think is one of the best industries to be in, which is engineering, and construction, and real estate, and all of the fascinating things that come with a very, very fast paced and crazy industry, with a lot of variables to it.
Matt: Yeah. Do you remember a particular thing you built as a kid, that you remember, like, loving? Did you have like a fort, or a tree house, or?
Bart: Well, yeah. I mean, Bend was a tiny little town back in the early 70s when I was a kid. So, our street dead ended into this creek, and so there's a little creek that ran through our little corner of town even though, you know, now Bend's 100,000 people, it was probably 6,000 when I was a youngster.
Eric: Is that right? Wow.
Bart: So, we were on the fringe of town and now it's, you know, surrounded. But we had this little creek, and I built a bridge. I built a bridge so I could stand on the bridge and fish wildlife, you know, out of the creek bed, whether it was frogs and other stuff that was going on, or bugs around top of the water.
I built the bridge big enough and strong enough so I could ride my bike over it too. So, it was little thing, like, I think I was six or seven years old, I wasn't very old. And it was trial and error, because I didn't really know what I was doing. It's my first memory of wanting to build and engineer something for my own purpose. So, me and my buddies could ride our little bikes, our little dirt bikes across the bridge. And it was probably not longer than 10 feet. It felt like I had just built the Golden Gate Bridge in my little mind.
Eric: Do you remember what, like, materials you used, and how you procured these?
Bart: Oh, yeah, yeah. I totally remember that. So, first of all, the foundations, of course, were rocks that we found along the creek bed. So, you know, finding the right kind of rock that was big enough and flat enough, and we could position it so that we could then lay the roadway across it, which were two by fours that I stole out of the back of my dad's garage. That's how I got my building materials back then.
Matt: He went looking for them, like, two months later and?
Bart: He probably did. He...
Matt: Had [inaudible 00:03:12]
Bart: He was probably gonna use that to, you know, build something on our garden, or something for the house, and yeah, I confiscated them took them and down the hill.
Eric: Were there any mishaps off that bridge? Did anyone take a bike into the creek or anything like that?
Bart: Well, the first build didn't hold up very well, so, yeah, we had a couple bikes that got wet. But like I said, it was trial and error. And it's just weird what you remember about being a kid and looking back on it, and how excited I was to try that stuff. I mean, I guess people that find their way to an industry or a job that they really love have those seminal moments as a child, just reflecting on it.
Talking to the two of you about it, it just cements in my mind why I got into engineering and construction in the first place, it's just that satisfaction and fulfillment. Even if you fail, because the first bridge or maybe two, didn't work out that well, and me and my buddies were the guinea pigs that were testing it out. But even when you fail, you learn from your failures, and you do it better the next time.
Matt: That's great. So, you say both parents were teachers at the high school?
Eric: Do you remember what lessons they taught you about career path, that you remember sticking?
Bart: Well, I do remember my dad saying, "Don't be a teacher." He said, "I happen to love it, but it's a thankless job, and you don't get paid very much." Which, you know, that's a whole another topic for some other podcast, why we undervalue teachers in our society. I think that that's, you know, really a detractor from the way that we operate in the United States.
But that being said, you know, that was his advice to me. But his other piece of advice was, "Find something that you are passionate about and that really fulfills you, because you're gonna do it for a very, very long time."
You know, I think the reason why my dad was a teacher was, also because he was our high school basketball coach for over 30 years, our varsity coach, and he loved coaching and he loved seeing the progression of his players and his students, but mostly, I think his players, as they'd come in as young basketball players, and he would mold, and coach, and cajole, and motivate them into, you know, high performers by the end of their high school career. And he was really good at that. I think that that's why he stuck with it so long, because he loved the fulfillment that he got out of coaching.
So, his advice to me was, "Find something that you are fulfilled in everyday, and that you really have a passion for, and that will bode well for you in your professional career."
Eric: Did you play basketball?
Bart: I did, and luckily for me, unlucky for my older brother, who had to play for my dad, my dad retired as the varsity coach when I was a freshman, so I never had to play for him.
Bart: But he told me, "Hey, if I would have still been the head coach, you know, you wouldn't have seen a varsity court until you're at least a junior." And I got to start as a sophomore, so I guess it was better for me. He would have been very hard on me, and had held me to a higher standard. And so it was probably best for the family vibe that he retired from varsity coaching right about the time that I was matriculating through high school.
Eric: Did you your older brother have a run in with his coach/father? Do you remember?
Bart: Well, yeah, I mean, my older brother didn't play very much, but he did make the team. Yeah, they had a few run-ins, like coming home after a basketball game and sitting in the family room, and having my brother ask my dad why he didn't play more. Those are some tense conversations around the house. And my mom, for some reason, would just leave the room, and then we're just stuck with player and coach going at it.
But yeah, he was a tremendous role model. My dad has a tremendous work ethic. And he, as a coach, was really a student of John wooden. I don't know if you're familiar with John Wooden, but he's probably revered as one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time, and 14 championships at UCLA, and had some of the greatest players, you know, in the 60s and 70s and early 80s that went to that program.
But my dad is a disciple of John Wooden, and saw him speak a few times, and read most of his books. And the lesson learned from him around trying to anticipate what motivates your player, it translates whether you're a coach in a sport, or you're a president or a CEO in a business, or you're a manager in a business. Anybody that you're responsible for their performance and coaching them, you need to learn what motivates that particular person, and what their personality is like, and what they respond to best.
Some people or players respond to challenge, and getting in their face, and having that fire and brimstone motivational screaming and yelling. That, sometimes, motivates people to rise to the challenge. Other people would cower from that. They need you to put an arm around them, and pat them on the back, and encourage them to do better, and coach them a little more empathetically or softly.
My dad was a master at figuring out how to do that. He just did a good job of reading personalities, and learning how he needed to meet each one of his different players where they could be most receptive to his coaching. I think it's one of the finest lessons that I've ever learned from him that's applicable, whether you're a coach, or whether you're running a business.
Matt: So, what was your source of motivation? How did you like to be coached?
Bart: I was a little bit of the challenge me and I'll rise to the occasion kind of a thing. So, a coach yelling at me, or saying that I'm not performing at a level that I should those challenges, resonated with me for whatever reason. And you get that attitude of, "Well, fine. I'll show you I can do this. I can achieve." I'm not really still motivated by that, but as a young man I sure was. You'd put a challenge in front of me and that would light my fire.
Eric: So, what about your mom? What was your relationship like with your mom?
Bart: Mom was the, keep everything mellow at the house, make sure everybody had their needs met, you know, good breakfast going out the door, that person that would be there to hug you and welcome you home at the end of the day.
You know, my dad was always coaching and going a million miles an hour, which I got to enjoy that with him a lot too, you know, at the high school and then the gymnasium, ever since I was old enough to walk and dribble a basketball. But my mother was the one that she was the chief operating officer of the house. She kept everything moving at home, and just that calming influence around the house.
And whatever you did was good enough for mom. You know, I didn't have to come home and get critiqued about my game from Coach Ricketts. It was Mom Ricketts saying, "You played fine, honey." And I'm like, "Yeah, that's not what dad say," you know? So, you know, mom was super supportive of whatever you wanted to try, whatever you wanted to do, whatever new thing you wanted to explore. As an educator, she really values learning every day and new experiences, so whatever it was I wanted to try, if I came home and asked my mom, she'd say, yes, and we'd figure out a way to try it, whether it was academics or culinary. You know, I wanted to take a cooking class, she said, "Sure, we'll make it happen." I wanted to go get a book from the library, she'd make it happen. I wanted to try a new sport like tennis, she'd make it happen. So, she was the support and the foundation of everything operating at home.
Eric: What subjects did they teach?
Bart: So, my mom was a Home Economics teacher back when they had that class. I'm not sure they do that anymore.
Matt: I don't know if they do. They call it they call it something else. It's probably the same class, but they call it something else.
Bart: I actually just heard on the news. I think it was one of the California schools just introduced a life lessons class.
Matt: There you go. Which I'm pretty sure is just Home Economics rebranded.
Bart: Rebranded. I think Life Lessons sounds better. I don't know, but yeah. So, that's what my mother did. And then my father was business. We had a quasi-business school in high school, so he taught typing, and I guess they'd call it keyboards now, but actual typewriters. He taught typing, accounting principles and economics, in our high school.
Matt: Did you have them as teachers, both?
Bart: I had my dad as an accounting teacher. And as you can imagine, I was never late for that class, I never skipped that class, I got my homework in on time. I didn't wanna give them any reason to light me up in front of all my friends, so I was on my best behavior in that one.
Matt: Did you enjoy accounting?
Bart: No, I did not.
Bart: I didn't. And I told my dad that. But, you know, I really appreciate the principles behind it, now that you need to understand how to read a balance sheet, you need to understand profit/loss forecasts, you need to understand what a debit and a credit is, when you're going through your financials. You don't get a lot of that when you're in engineering school, in college, so I'm glad I had that foundational work with my dad back in high school. It has served me well, but not my most exciting coursework that I've ever done.
Eric: Yeah. So, going from high school, did you have any summer jobs?
Bart: Yeah, I had a variety of summer jobs. So, I think my first one was, and then, you know, back to the work ethic thing, my dad said, "Hey, I'm gonna buy you a new lawnmower. I will pay for the gas, and you can go around the neighborhood and drum up some business." So, my first real job was mowing lawns. I guess it was a real job. It felt like a real job to me, because I wanted to go to sports camps. I wanted to either go to basketball camp or a tennis camp, in the summers, and my dad said, "I'm happy to pay for half. You need to earn the other half."
So, I made the rounds in our neighborhood mowing lawns once a week. And my overhead was really low, because my dad would buy me the gas, and anything that needed to be fixed on the mower, he and I would fix it together, so it was 100% profit on that first job. But that's the first thing I remember. I think it was at the age of 10 or 11 when I started doing that.
Eric: That's what I was just gonna ask. That's the perfect age. Did you have any competition in the lawn mowing business for summers? Did you have to go low and win some business that way or what?
Bart: No, I don't remember having any competition, but I do remember my dad setting all the rates and just telling our neighbors, "Here's what Bart's gonna charge you," and I'm like, "Hey, how come I don't get to set the rate?" you know?
Matt: So, you didn't have full P&L control?
Bart: I did not have P&L control, I did not have margin control. Maybe I was undercutting the market, because my dad was out there negotiating on my behalf. But no, I don't remember having a lot of competition out there.
Eric: That's great. How about the quality of the lawn mowing job? Did you ever get any complaints about the quality of a 10 year-old mowing the lawn?
Bart: Yeah. I had a couple of neighbors that didn't think I edged very well or, you know, maybe I went a little too fast and didn't let the blades get a good cut on their lawn, probably because I wanted to get off to my next thing that I was doing. That's your first exposure to customer complaints and how do you deal with it, you know?
Bart: And they wouldn't call my dad. They would just come find me and say, "Hey, this is not acceptable," I'm like, "Okay, well, let me make it right." It's funny what you learn in those first jobs, those first summer jobs, even at a very young age.
Eric: So, moving on, where did you go to college, and what were the decisions that led to you going there?
Bart: I come from a fairly large, extended Catholic family, and the two schools that were pre-approved in our two or three generations of folks that were, looking at my aunts and uncles, and my cousins and others, you could go to the University of Oregon and you could go to Notre Dame.
Bart: And those were widely accepted in our family. Well, I really didn't wanna go to Notre Dame. I'd visited my brother there in the middle of winter.
Matt: Yeah, it's cold.
Bart: Brutal cold, blizzards. I mean, it wasn't very enjoyable. Great school, phenomenal school, and a good engineering program, and a great reputation, but I just couldn't see myself doing every winter in South Bend, Indiana.
So, I went into my counselor in high school and said, "Give me the syllabus, and the course lists, and the colleges for University of Oregon." And to my surprise, there was no engineering school at the University of Oregon. Well, then they enlightened me by saying, "No, there's no engineering at Oregon, you'd have to go to Oregon State University."
Well, that's a non-starter in my family. I mean, I would have cousins, aunts and uncles that would disown me if I was a beaver instead of a duck. So, I had to swallow hard and say, "Well, I've got to chart my own path here and go out of the swim lane for our family." And Santa Clara University is where he ended up going. I was fascinated with the Bay Area. There was a lot of technology that was just starting to become the thing down there. You know, this is the mid-1980s. And really liked that part of the country, and hey, it's a Catholic college, that will keep, you know, my grandma and my parents happy.
So, I went to Santa Clara. I'm the only kid in my family or any of my cousins from my mom's side of the family that went to Santa Clara.
Eric: So, you had been convinced you wanted to do engineering in high school, based on building the bridges across the creek, or were there anything else that you thought, "Hey, this is where I wanna head down"?
Bart: Yeah, I think in the high school years, it got really interesting. One of my favorite teachers is a guy named Jeff Toukale [SP], and we called him Touk [SP], Mr. Touk. So, Touk, he was a mechanical drafting teacher, so he taught us how to draft different pieces, parts of machinery, and then also once you took a couple years of mechanical drafting, he would teach architectural drafting.
And he really did a nice job of explaining not only what you were drawing and why you were drawing it, and getting your skill set really cemented and being a good draftsperson, but he would also tell you what you could use that for in the future, in your career.
I really loved the drafting part of it, but he also knew that I loved putting things together, and so it was really Mr. Toukale that said, "You should look into civil engineering degree, because it's the best foundation for whatever you wanna build." Such a good balance of different engineering principles, whether it's structural engineering, mechanical, electrical, civil, infrastructure, earthwork, foundations, all of those things are covered in the civil engineering major.
And even some computer engineering, a small amount goes along with that. So, it's probably the broadest foundation to allow you to go out and build whatever it is you wanna build, and be part of a broader building infrastructure, or real estate industry. And so it was really Touk's experience and insights that guided me towards civil engineering.
Matt: So, Mr. Toukale was a high school teacher?
Bart: Yeah, high school drafting teacher and our freshman football coach. So, you know, he's another coaching influence helping me find my way.
Eric: Okay, how about college professors? Did you have any real influential college professors in the same way?
Bart: Yeah, Dr. Tokowlski [SP], Dr. T, as we called him, really a brilliant structural mind. And he was one of those, you know, younger professors that was new to Santa Clara, but really engaging with the students, and really challenged us to not only understand the engineering principles behind what we were doing, but try to put it into practice.
So, he taught our concrete design courses, and one of the things that Dr. T had us do was design our own concrete portal frame. So, it had a header, and then two columns, and you design the formwork, you design the rebar, you design the stirrups that tied all the rebar together. You used your engineering principles to design this whole portal frame, and then you built it in the lab.
So, you bent the rebar, you tied the rebar, you cut the rebar, you built your formwork, you did your form liners, then you mixed the concrete, by hand, which, that wasn't very fun, but you know, like one of those big hand mixers and then you poured the concrete in the portal frame and let it cure, and then you stripped it, and then we tested it to failure.
So, not only could you see what you designed and what it should take in terms of load on that frame, but you could also see how good your skills were, your craftsmanship at actually building the concrete frame.
So, it's one of those great lessons that, you know, once again trying to take engineering principles and what you've learned, and how to calculate something, but actually put it into actual physical condition and into practice.
Matt: How'd your frame do?
Bart: Well, I think I made it to, like, 80% of, you know, the failure load. And then we had to analyze why we think we didn't make it, and I concluded that my rebar spacing, and stirrups, and tying skills were probably not as good as they could be.
But it's interesting stuff, you know, you get to test something till it breaks, which as a young guy at 20 years old, you get to break concrete stuff in the lab. That's still pretty fun stuff.
Eric: Yeah. So, did that whole experience just engrain the construction desire in you more?
Bart: Yeah, I think it did. I did like that whole practicality of knowing that you can design something, calculate something, and then really put it into the physical world and have it be a beneficial part of a building, or a bridge, or a roadway.
I think the other thing that turned me towards general contracting and construction was the fact that I couldn't imagine myself sitting at a draft table, or now, a computer aided drafting platform, designing the invert elevation of a storm sewer for the rest of my life. I mean, that's what a lot of civil engineers go and do. That did not appeal to me. I'm a fairly outgoing person. I'm a connector. I like working with people. I love teamwork. And like I tell a lot of people here at Lee Scripture Lewis [SP], I think construction is the ultimate team sport. I needed that team environment.
So, I think that fear of being stuck behind a design table, or a drafting table, for the rest of my career, and the practicality of being able to design and put something into the physical realm, those two things really turned me towards construction and general contracting.
Eric: Did you do any internships, or anything, during college that set you down that path?
Bart: Yeah, so I got hooked up with a company called O'Grady Paving and Grading, my first internship when I was at Santa Clara. And Tom O'Grady, a great guy, took over the business from his dad and grew it from, you know, a mom and pop, you know, "We'll come build your driveway, or we'll come, you know, pour concrete or do pathways around your pool in your backyard, or we'll do a tennis court for you." He took that company and expanded it into bigger, heavy, highway infrastructure civil projects, including, you know, building and repaving all the runways at SFO, at the airport in San Francisco.
So, Tom was one of those guys that, you know, allowed me to dabble in construction at a young age while I was still in college, and taught me how to estimate, taught me how to design different components of a bid process, and then let me go out in the field and supervise some of these crews that were, you know, doing big paving jobs, or building a big site package for a general contractor.
So, my first internship, really, was related to heavy highway civil construction, big site work, and utilities contracts, which was, for a kid that didn't have any experience in any of that stuff, it was immediately fascinating.
Matt: Do you remember exactly what you were doing on those sites?
Bart: Well, nobody really wanted to supervise the night shift when they're repaving some highway or some expressway down to the Bay Area. So, I would get to be the supervisor on the night shift, and make sure that the asphalt's showing up on time and that, you know, the paving machine is getting the asphalt fed to it, and that all the crews are doing what they're supposed to do, and the flaggers and all the traffic control were in place.
So, probably, my least favorite assignment when I was working for O'Grady Paving and Grading would be the night shift supervisor. The stuff that was fun was doing estimating and takeoffs for projects, and putting together the project bid, or running that bid up to Sacramento and turning it into Caltrans to see if we got, you know, the next hard bid scope of work for the company.
That energy around bid day and knowing that you worked for two weeks to prepare that estimate, and then get the quantities, and the sub quotes, and all of the pieces, parts, together so that your company could win a couple of million dollar job, back then in the late 80s, was really fun work. And for a young guy, it was really stimulating, and I learned a ton every day.
Eric: So, I'm drawing a connection between, you know, your father being a coach, and you wanting to work on teams. Do you think that is a pretty clear lesson you learned from him, is, like, how to be a leader and learn how to work with teams?
Bart: Yeah, I think it was. I mean, when you reflect back on it, it's really, really obvious. But when you're growing up and living through it, it's just almost subconscious. But I do think that that's a fact. I was in a gymnasium, bouncing a basketball almost as soon as I could walk. And my dad always let me be around the team, so I had a front row seat to team dynamics, and what works, and what doesn't work, and when there's dissension in the team, and when there's alignment and true partnership, how that manifests itself in the team being more successful. Or when you have team dynamics, where people aren't aligned or they're behaving in a way that sabotages the team effort, you get a first row seat at those poor results, too.
So, I think it's more subconscious for me, just because I've always been around it. But I'm quick to be able to see when a team is high functioning or when they're not, and probably identify two or three things that can move towards that high functioning team environment, where, you know, we all would prefer to be.
But yeah, I think it comes from my childhood and just being around it all the time, and maybe part of my personality or my intellect. But it comes pretty natural to me.
Matt: Do you remember a first time that you were put in charge of a team in your career and then you thought, "Oh, hey, I'm good at this," and you saw the value of leadership on the job?
Bart: Yeah, I think, you know, my first job after the internships and getting my civil engineering degree at Santa Clara, my first job was with a company called Rudolph and Sletten, down in the Bay Area. And I was assigned to the Intel campus, and back then, you know, still is Santa Clara, the Santa Clara, California Campus for Intel as their headquarters.
I was part of a 30-person team out there. We were building six different projects, and part of what I was thrown into was managing all of the change orders, no matter what project it was under. So, we had six projects with six different contracts, but a change order process that was gonna be managed by me. And I truly think that they threw me into it, not because I thought I'd be good at it, but because I was the only one that really knew how to run a Lotus 123 Spreadsheet.
Eric: There you go.
Bart: Back in the day, all these guys barely were using computers, and I was coming out of Santa Clara where, you know, we had one of the best computer labs. We're in Silicon Valley, we're in the Bay Area. We had the latest HP workstations. We had all this great software and all these programs on our computer.
So, being able to run a spreadsheet coming out of school, I had a technological advantage over some of the older engineers, and my project managers and execs who were on the job. But yeah, I'm ability to get the engineers and our counterparts from Intel to work together to feed me information in a formatted and in a timely fashion that allowed me to update those spreadsheets and control our costs collectively on the project, and collaboratively with our owner and our owner's reps, that was an eye-opener.
I really felt that whole teamwork aspect, and my ability to get what I need from people by figuring out how to motivate them to give me the information in a timely fashion and in the format that I needed. It did feel pretty natural. It did come natural to me.
I was really successful in that first major assignment, and it was a blessing and a curse. When you do a good job on an Intel job, they ask for you on the next set of work, so you never leave campus. You know, we were working 60 to 70-hour weeks, and occasionally sleeping under our plan tables. Such a fast-paced, cool work environment, building great stuff for one of the best technology companies of our lifetime.
But you'd like to get some experience elsewhere and learn how other clients and other building types operate, but I was stuck at Intel, because I was doing a good job. And you weren't gonna do a bad job just to get yourself relieved of duty, so...
Matt: Yeah, right.
Bart: ...it was one of those tough situations. But I learned a ton there, and great team atmosphere, and great leadership and a good client, and the kind of start that you hope for in a career.
Matt: What were some of the biggest lessons you learned from that first job?
Bart: Well, my biggest lesson learned was just because you have an engineering degree doesn't mean you know everything about what's going on out in the field. So, get yourself out of the construction trailer, out from behind your desk, and get out in the field and see how things really go together.
And I think that's still true today. I try to motivate our young engineers, or our summer interns, to spend at least half their day out in the field, and half their day, you know, managing their work from behind their desk or behind their computer.
I was fortunate enough to have field guys, you know, lead carpenters, foreman, assistant superintendents, superintendents, senior engineers, that, you know, would drag me around out in the field, and quiz me and allow me to ask questions.
It really accelerated my learning of not only specific trades in the building industry and how they operate, but how all the pieces/parts fit together, and what sequence you should be thinking about, and those early learnings around if I had to build a schedule, how would I build it, knowing what I know now that I've been out in the field, you know, for two years straight and spending, you know, three to four hours out in the field?
I think it's an invaluable lesson for people that are coming into the construction industry, to have good relationships with guys out in the field that have been doing it for years and years, and can teach you, and can help you accelerate your learning. So, that was, probably, my biggest lesson learned.
Matt: Did you make any major mistakes those first couple of years out of school?
Bart: Oh, sure, you know? And you hear about it, I mean, nobody's shy on the construction site, especially our foremen. You know, I do remember messing up some shop drawings a couple of times, you know, getting some steel embeds in the wrong location when we were pouring concrete, and then we'd have to shift the embeds out, chip the concrete out and move the embed over, and re-pour.
Those are major. The minor mess ups are like you get the door swing wrong, you know, on a couple of the doors, which you can probably end up re-prepping the frame and making it work, or swapping out the frame.
But the mistakes made on the concrete package were the ones that stick with you, because the foreman will let you know how much it cost them in terms of time, and how much it cost us in terms of money. And you only have to make a couple of those mistakes before you double and triple check everything that you're doing when it comes to your concrete package. And before things get poured in place and as they say, turn hard and gray, you better be really sure that everything is where it needs to be for the rest of your structure.
So yeah, tough lessons learned but, you know, you've got to have a thick skin, and you've got to learn from your mistakes. And it does teach you to double-check and triple-check before you're done with your work scope.
Matt: So, you had a handful of years at building Intel buildings? And then, do you remember how you transitioned away from building Intel buildings?
Bart: Yeah, I think, I mean, I loved Rudolph and Sletten. At the time, you know, it was one of the premier builders on the West Coast. During my time there, the Rudolph and Sletten DPR split happened. So, a lot of people are familiar with DPR as a premier builder now, but that company spun out of Rudolph and Sletten at the same time that I was a young engineer there.
It was interesting to see the business side of things happen. You know, I just figured everybody would always get along and build good buildings together, and then one day, I turned around and a third of the people that I knew at the company were gone and they'd started a new company. A life lesson, and big time business, and conflict, and what can happen, you know, out there in the big bad world of business.
But I do remember after that happening, I started to get really homesick for the Northwest. I'd been in the Bay Area for six-plus years, counting college and then my work at Intel. And I went to ask Ken Sletten if they're ever gonna open an office up in Portland or Seattle, and I'd be happy to volunteer and be part of that expansion. And Ken was polite and took the meeting with me, but, you know, said, "Hey, we're gonna focus on California. We're a California builder, and that's all we're gonna be."
So, that's when I started looking to transition, not only out of Intel, but out of Rudolph and Sletten, and started looking for contractors in the northwest to go to work for, and was lucky enough to get interviews with Anderson, and Hoffman, and Bob Construction, at the time, all in Portland. But I told each of those three companies, and they were all vying to do work for Intel in the Portland market, I would prefer not to go to Intel for at least a couple of years.
Eric: They thought you were gonna be their key into Intel?
Bart: They all said, "Hey, we've got work at Intel, or we're pursuing work at Intel. Your resume is fantastic." I said, "I appreciate that, but I would love to learn how just one other client operates. Intel has been my whole career in general contracting, I'd love to see something different."
So, the folks at Hoffman said, "Well, we'll put that in as part of your job offer, that you don't have to go to Intel for two years. We'll give you some other experience." So, that made my decision easier. So, I packed up my things and moved back to the northwest, landed in Portland working for Hoffman on some non-Intel work, which was a first for my career.
Eric: In your personal life, what was going on when you moved back to Portland? Was it family, marriage, friends around? Were you hanging out with old buddies in Portland or what?
Bart: Well, yeah. I mean, I think that's part of the reason for wanting to get out of the Bay Area, was because, one, I'd been there a while, but two, even back then, it was really expensive and tough to see yourself being able to buy a home, or settle into a routine down there.
Growing up in Bend, Oregon, the hunting, the camping, the fishing, the hiking and the biking, all that stuff, it's just harder to do in the Bay Area. You're further away from areas where you can do that, and there's more people to share it with. So, I think it's mostly, a lifestyle deal.
All of my family is in Oregon. At the time, my girlfriend, now my wife, all of her family is in Oregon. She grew up in Eugene, and we had met in the Bay Area. She was done being down there as well. She said, "I'm gonna travel the United States for a while, and go to Nantucket for the summer, and go to Aspen for the winter, and I'll make my way back to Oregon. You can go see if you can get yourself back to Oregon and we'll see what happens."
Well, luckily, I landed in Portland, she did her year of traveling around. She landed in Portland, and everything worked out, and, you know, two years later, we were engaged and married. But it was one of those deals where we both knew we wanted to be in Portland. We both knew we probably wanted to end up together, but it was a little bit of that uncertain year of resetting everything, and figuring out how you're gonna continue your career, and get plugged back into friends and family that you were missing when you were working out of state. And so that's how that whole piece went together.
Eric: Was there a major difference in the way companies worked in Portland versus the Bay Area?
Bart: Yeah, I think there are some things to get used to. I think it's caught up now, but the superintendent talent in the Bay Area back in the, you know, late 80s, early 90s, was really impressive to me. I learned so much from our superintendents at Rudolph and Sletten. They were master builders. Not only could they control schedule and coordinate subcontractors and run our own crews, but they were just supreme problem solvers out in the field.
I think Portland, back in the early 90s, as it was when I landed there, probably didn't have the same high quality of field supervision. But I think it's more than caught up now. But that was a major difference. And then, you know, there was always regional subcontracting preferences in the Bay Area at the time. You always had a package deal with your steel supplier and erectors, it was always under one package, didn't have that coordination issue. I land in Portland, you're buying out the steel supply and the erection separately, and you're trying to coordinate those packages with two different subs. It didn't always work out that well.
There were weird differences that you have to get used to whenever you travel to a new region, just because that's the way the subcontract community looks at it, or that's the way the field wants to build it. And you've got to be adaptable and learn how to roll with that.
Matt: One question that was supplied by your company was actually to ask you about how you think about old school superintendents on the jobsite, and the culture of the past versus what's changed since then, and what do you expect your field leaders to be like now.
Bart: That old school screaming and yelling and intimidation, and "This is the way you've got to do it, because it's my job site. Get out of my way if you don't wanna do it," thing, I don't think it works anymore. I got to see the difference at a young age. One of my favorite superintendents was a guy named Rocco Falchi [SP].
Eric: That's a great superintendent name.
Bart: Isn't that a great name? I mean, Rocco Falchi. No surprise, he grew up in New York. I think he was from Brooklyn, and somehow, had made his way out to the West Coast, and he was one of our superintendents on the Intel work.
He was one of those rare superintendents, back at the time, that wasn't a screamer, and a yeller, and an intimidator, and didn't act like he had all the answers. And this guy probably had all the answers. He told the best stories, too. He would tell us stories about building in Manhattan when he was a youngster, and all the corruption, and all the payments, and all the, you know, stuff that went on behind the scenes. He would always tell us how clean, and respectable, and high integrity the West Coast was in the way that we build. So, I always love Rocco's old stories about when he was a young man building in Manhattan.
But he was one of those rare superintendents at the time, that didn't manage through intimidation or through the volume of his voice. But he'd put his arm around you and say, "Hey, what are we gonna solve today? What problems do we need to solve today?" He was a total conjoiner of people, and had just a soft, friendly way about him. But you knew that you had to deliver on your specifics and your deliverables for Rocco, or else he was gonna get in your dog dish.
So, it's the guys that can pull people together, is what we're looking for these days in a superintendent, that have some tech savvy, so that they can really keep the schedule well synchronized and well communicated to our crews and our subcontractors, but also can pull people together and solve problems in a really collaborative way.
We do a lot of pull planning now with the way we run our schedules, and our superintendents that can get the best input from the guys in the field that are gonna be actually putting the work in place, and then melding that into a fully pull plan schedule, are the guys that really get successful outcomes in our business these days.
Eric: So, how long were you at Hoffman?
Bart: Very short stint. So, Hoffman was, you know, a little over a year, maybe a year and a half.
Bart: I still have some wonderful friends at Hoffman. Most of my friends that were there have retired now. But such an exceptional builder. But at the time, and I think they're different now, at the time, it was a very rigid place. It was, you know, "This is the Hoffman way. We're really good at what we do. We've been doing it this way for 7-plus years, we don't need to hear about any innovations."
And coming out of Rudolph and Sletten, that was a highly innovative place where you could come up with a new idea and throw something out there, and as long as it provided value for you, or the job team, or the company, or most specifically, for your client, you know, the leadership team would help you vet your idea and see if it worked.
Hoffman just wasn't operating that way at the time. I think they might be a little bit different now. I think they probably are a little bit more innovative now. But it was such a culture shock for me, that I didn't stay there very long. I was there maybe six months when I was starting to feel that maybe this isn't the right culture for me.
Even though the projects were cool and I was working on some great stuff, and I had lots of friends there, the culture was just too rigid. That's about when I got a call from one of my friends that was working for Lease Crutcher Lewis in Seattle, telling me that they're getting ready to open a Portland office, and asking if I was interested in maybe helping out on the ground level of something brand new.
Matt: That's cool. So, do you remember what was the connection and, you know, why they reached out to you, or?
Bart: Yeah, so Brad Bastian, and I knew Brad from when I worked at Rudolph and Slaton, he was from the northwest as well. He had left and gone to work for at Lease Crutcher Lewis in Seattle. Fast forward, funny story about Brad, he now runs a company called BNBuilders.
Bart: So, you know, another spin off from Rudolph and Slaton, or Lease Crutcher Lewis that's doing some really good work. Now we compete against Brad quite often. But Brad had remembered me, knew I was from the northwest and had, you know, the senior managers reach out to me to see if I wanted to be part of their foundation to build an office in Portland.
And it was nice because he could relate to me and tell me about the culture at Lewis versus, you know, the culture I was living in at Hoffman, at the time. I feel really fortunate that I've worked for three of the best builders on the west coast, but what it really comes down to long term is where's the culture that's gonna make you feel like you fit, and are you in a city or a region where you wanna be?
So, you know, Lease Crutcher Lewis is Nirvana, for me. It's the culture that really speaks to me and gives me fulfillment, and it's right here in the Pacific Northwest where I grew up. That's the best combination of two things to keep you there for the rest of your career.
Eric: In starting a new office like that, did you have thoughts of maybe this was, like, a risky decision for you, in your career?
Bart: Yeah, well, definitely. I had a little bit of a panic attack right when I resigned from Hoffman and then went to work at Lease Crutcher Lewis for the Portland office. And of course, you know, I'm engaged by now, I'm about to be married, I'm thinking about family, I'm trying to buy a house, all of those things. I went from running three projects that totaled roughly $110 million at the time.
I was a young project manager working really hard at Hoffman, but on some really cool stuff. And I resigned and I went to Lease Crutcher Lewis, and our total volume backlog for that year was two million dollars in, you know, like for little TI projects in downtown. We were starting from scratch.
I remember going home and telling my fiancée at the time, "Oh, my God, what have I done?" It was one of those aha moments, and the only thing to do is dig in and start growing the backlog, and start making connections and seeing how fast and how big you could grow this thing. But there was a little bit of that shock and self-doubt, you know, when I first started. Because it's such a different thing, going from a very mature top builder in the region, top builder in Oregon, to a brand new startup office and without much of a safety net.
Matt: Yeah. Do you remember, like, an inflection point where you guys started to get that momentum and get the ball rolling and went in some more business?
Bart: Yeah, so I think there were two things that happened. You know, I talk a lot about value and how you define value with your client, and then how do you deliver that value? You know, you've got to be flexible and nimble on that stuff. And I think as a young office in Portland, we understood that, I definitely understood it.
So, we started to look at delivery methods or project types where there was less competition, or there was something emerging. And at the time, the lump sum hard bid delivery method was falling out of favor with public clients, and they were moving to a CMGC model, where you're the construction manager, general contractor at risk. And we were quick to jump on that and say, well, how could we best define the value proposition in the CMGC delivery method, and communicate that in our proposals and in our interviews better than the competition.
So, we started going after a lot of the K through 12 CMGC projects in and around the Portland metro area, and a lot of the CMGC contracts for Oregon State University and the University of Oregon. And were successful in about 50% of what we went after over the next year and a half, and really grew the backlog from that two million dollars the first year, to where it was $60 million or $70 million within, you know, less than two years.
And it was really on that delivery method and figuring out how to communicate how you're gonna drive value for the client better than the other guys that were, you know, doing business as usual.
Matt: It's really cool. So you guys grew that office, you got a lot more involved in winning new business, and then where does your story go from there?
Bart: I think the next big step was the advent of sustainability, and how certain clients wanted that next thing delivered in their built environment. The next big step for our Portland operation was winning the University of Oregon Lillis Business Complex, which was a huge addition to their business school, down on campus in Eugene.
It was gonna be the first LEED certified building that any university in Oregon or Washington had built. I took a crash course on what does LEED mean? You know, what is this USGBC thing, and, you know, what is the Green Building Council and how do we find out how these things are evaluated?
And we knew that they were really interested in that sustainability benchmarking, and so we went deep dive on that before the proposal in the interview won that project. And it's still hailed as one of the best sustainability projects on the University of Oregon's campus, and within the Oregon University system, so that was a huge feather in our cap.
We won that 1999, finished building that in 2001, and that started a string of 44 projects for the University of Oregon, which we're still on campus building for, today, and have three current projects on campus right now and more in the pipeline.
But that sustainability and the ability to figure out how to really help clients benchmark that, whether it's LEED or the Living Building Challenge or any of these netzero things that have evolved since then, it relates to figuring out what the client wants, what they value, and coming up with a building system and/or support to our design teams that allow them to achieve it. And that's been a hallmark of growing both the Portland and the Seattle operations, but it really started back in 1999 with the Lillis Business Complex.
Matt: So, you had family who would have disowned you for going to Oregon State, but they were okay with you building buildings for them?
Bart: Oh, yeah. Yeah. So, I would always tell them, "Hey, here's what we're building at Oregon State," and they're like, "Yeah, good. It's always good to take money from The Beavers. It's good."
Eric: But if you're building the building for University of Oregon, it's like this is how much we're supporting the campus.
Bart: Correct. So, you can use both sides of that equation, just depending on who you're talking to.
Eric: That's right. It's fine.
Bart: But yeah, we had a great run at Oregon State and from 1996 through 2000. You know, we built six buildings on the west side of that campus, and we've been on and off campus ever since down there. But it's tough with those. With the public universities, you have to compete hard for every project. And the competition is fierce, so you better figure out what that particular client, or that Dean of the College, or that group of scientists for that science building are going to want, and what they're gonna value, and how you're gonna deliver better than somebody else.
It's highly competitive, and it keeps you really sharp, in terms of trying to anticipate what your client wants, and what they need, and how you're gonna deliver it in a higher value way than your competition. I think competing for those projects is some of the best way to keep the knife sharp, you know, in my mind.
Matt: So, you left Hoffman in a situation where you didn't feel like the culture was a great fit for you, and then you end up at Lewis. What was it about their culture, what was it about their leadership that you were really attracted to? And what lessons did you learn from them?
Bart: Yeah, that's a great question. Bill Lewis, who preceded me as the CEO, he was just one of those guys that's really smart, and had a great way of seeking out other smart people to put around him. And then when he'd get you in the right spot, he just turned you loose and let you do whatever you thought was the right thing to do within our values, to get your job done.
And that included being able to innovate in whatever way you wanted. I often call it being thrown in the deep end, with, you know, Bill being up here in Seattle, me down in Portland, you know, he just had one of those really, really long life rings that, like, people have at the pool, that lifeguards at the pool have in case you start to drown. His could reach from Seattle down to Portland. He just threw me in the deep end and said, "Make stuff happen. Here's how I expect you to operate within our values. If you need help, I'll help you."
But it was a little bit scary, at times, but boy, you really got to innovate, you really got to think about what's the best thing for the project, the best thing for your co-workers at the time, and the best way to deliver value for your client. That constant thought process is ingrained in me, because Bill set it up that way.
So, I love that part of our culture. I think we're a little bit too big now to always constantly throw people in the deep end and think that we have enough people running around with life rings to save them. So, we're a little bit more organized, a little bit more standardized, trying to get more standardized around our tools and our processes for our people, so they have some foundation and some comfort in the way that we need to run our projects and run our departments.
But that spirit of innovation is still here. We expect people to bring up ideas that drive better value for the team and for the project, or do things more efficiently. We call it the plus one mentality. We want you to take the innovations that have been done around you, and implement them on your project, and then you, as a team, come up with one other thing, what's the plus one that would make it better for the next team, and the next job that we do for that client?
So, it's been a hallmark of who we are at Lewis ever since I've been here. And it's that plus one mentality, continuous improvement and innovation that we're gonna keep carrying on into the next generation.
Eric: Yeah. You mentioned a couple of times in there "operate within the company's values." Can you give me a couple of examples of that, and what were some of those values that they expect you to operate within?
Bart: Well, it's interesting. You know, we don't put our company values up on a big wall in the lobby, with bright light shining on it. We want it to be intrinsic and manifests itself in your everyday behaviors. We want them ingrained in our people.
So, we have six values: safety, quality, value, profitability, trust and respect, and fulfillment. And out of those six values, we always start with safety, because it's the number one thing that we need to be thinking about all the time in our industry.
When you think back to the old days of construction, people tolerated five or six deaths on a major project, because that's cost of doing business. Our industry has evolved so far from that, that we need to be thinking about how we set up safe environments, not only for us to work, but how we get to and from work in a safe way and how we operate in our homes in a safe way.
So, we want this transformative safety mentality. So, we always start our value discussion talking about safety, it's top of mind. We start every meeting in our company with a safety moment, a reminder about how to operate safely, whether it's on a job site or in your commute, or at home. And so our six values always start with safety.
But the rest of the values really support how we operate as people. We have every day guiding principles that we remind our employees about, because we want people to understand our culture by seeing how you behave, not how big and bright the list of values are on the wall. It's just the way that we've always operated, and those six values really guide us.
When an employee comes to me with a tough decision, and they can't figure out which direction to go on a certain issue, instead of solving it for him, I sit back and say, "What do our values tell you to do right now?" And usually, they can toggle through the values quickly right there in front of me and throw out some my days and solve the issue themselves. But we really try to do everything that we do on a daily basis, through the lens of those every day guiding principles and those behaviors that support our six values.
Eric: We were told that the writing of these values process was pretty in-depth, and that's you guys got pretty granular with the whole formation of the values. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Bart: Yeah, so I think, I don't know what it was, 15 or 16 years ago, when we finally said, "We need to put these values, like, on paper. And then we need to have a vision statement that rallies us around these values and gets us headed in the right direction."
So, I was one of the younger senior managers at the time, in the room where we were trying to write our vision statement. And, you know, the vision statement is "Lewis is the builder of choice with the best talent in the industry." We deliver construction services of exceptional value for our clients. And we got the gist of the sentence, those two sentences, down pretty quickly for our vision statement within the first couple of hours.
But then, I think we spent two hours arguing about do we deliver construction services to our clients, or for our clients. The to and the for thing went on for two plus hours, "To our clients" felt like we were taking our services and beating them over the head with it, and "For our clients felt better because, you know, you're presenting, you're serving, you're giving that exceptional service to your client. So, we landed on "For our clients" instead of "To our clients." I think there was a couple of people that had hurt feelings about it, but we sorted that out over a couple cocktails that night.
Matt: There you go. So, we have a couple of questions that we have from you guys, from some employees, that we'd like to go through a little bit quicker here.
Eric: So, what keeps you up at night? What are you worried about?
Bart: Well, I think my biggest worry is losing our culture. You have to constantly guard against the erosion of what makes you a great company. And I think it's our job, as leaders, to continue to clearly articulate where we're headed, why our values are still important, what it means to be part of a 100% ESOP-owned company, and make sure that our culture and our ability to deliver for our clients survives into that next generation.
Matt: How did the company turn into an ESOP?
Bart: So, we took our first step about 12 years ago, some of the generation before me, Bill Lewis included, sold the majority of their shares of the company into an ESOT, which is Employee Stock Ownership Trust. And then that's trust we used to distribute shares, every year, to our employees as they earn them. So, it's about 53% of the company that was sold into a trust, and started our ESOP journey 12 years ago.
And then at the end of 2018, we transacted the rest of the shares that were outstanding that were owned by 19 shareholders, including myself and a few of the senior managers that are here. And so now all of the shares that are outstanding for the company are either distributed to people's ESOP accounts or they're still held in the ESOP trust, and we distribute those each year. So, 100% ownership by the employees, for the employees, since 12/31/2018.
Eric: Wow. How do you think that ownership model changes the culture?
Bart: Well, I think people think differently when they're an owner. Everything that they're doing, we remind them, is for the long term success of the company. Your ability to generate personal wealth through the ESOP, and in your account, and in the shares that you will be awarded and accumulate in your time here at Lewis, you know, over 20, 25, 30 years of your employment here should align with the way that you're operating every day, keeping those clients happy and doing the right thing in the long term, because we want those clients to be long term plans for 20, 30, 35 years as well.
So, it really makes sure that our employees have an owner mentality, and they're making good decisions on a daily basis that supports the long term health, profitability and viability of the company.
Matt: How do you think that ownership model affects you or your leadership style of the company?
Bart: Well, it's a lot easier to talk about our company, and the benefits, and the personal wealth generation that people experience here, when all of the people experience that, not just the senior managers, or the sole proprietor, or the president, or the CEO that owns all the stock. We're all in it together.
It also ties back to what I think our strength is. Most of the people that have moved into senior management and leadership positions here at Lewis, understand the value of servant leadership. And I think if you quiz our employees, they'll tell you that the leadership team here understands what it's like to do their job, probably because we've already done it at some point in our career. But everyone's willing to jump in and help, where help is needed.
And nobody's above doing anybody's job. We all share in the benefits and financial rewards of that, through 100% employee ownership, so it aligns nicely with servant leadership and our ability to support one another throughout the organization.
Eric: This was another question that we had been given to ask you, what is your hope for the future at Lewis?
Bart: I mean, my main thing is making sure that we perpetuate the business for another 130-plus years. For me, that means setting up the next generation of leaders for success, so using this phenomenal platform of employee ownership, and the position that we've created in the marketplace, and our reputation, and our ability to innovate and train our next generation of leaders and get us to what I'm gonna call G6, Generation Six, for our company.
I'm the G5 leader, I wanna make sure that I turn this over to a Generation six leader in really healthy shape, and allow them to continue this journey on, I don't know what their end goal is, but I'd love to see it be a 260-plus year-old company, and my job is to get it to that next generation so that we have a shot.
Matt: Yeah, do you guys have any formal leadership development programs within Lewis?
Bart: We've got a couple. We have a manager and leadership foundations class that we teach. It's a three-part class that is taught by the executives here in Portland and Seattle, taking advantage of the skills in the leadership and the nomenclature that we've developed, that we can all relate to, in terms of managing and leading people. That's one of our keys there.
We also have a mentorship program that really helps develop that next generation of leaders. We call it "Pass the Torch." So, the whole idea is having a regular routine and check in with the person that you're mentoring, and learning as much from them as they're learning from you. It's a two-way program. It's not mentor and mentee, it's mentorship for both of you. Which I think is a little bit different. Most companies will say, take this old, salty veteran here, and take the young up and coming person, and team them up.
Well, we do that, but there's things that I can learn from our young engineers, mostly tech savvy stuff, that I can use in my career. And there's plenty of experiences and failures that I've had that I can teach them in our mentorship program.
So, "Pass the Torch" means passing it back and forth both ways, not just from generation five to generation six, and getting them ready. I really like how that fits within our continuous improvement, plus-one culture. I'm always learning from our people just as much as they're learning from a mentorship relationship with me.
Eric: We got some personal lifestyle questions too, for you. So, we were told that you read a business book, a fiction book, and then a nonfiction book, and you kind of rotate between the styles of reading. Can you give us your reason why you do that, and a recommendation from a recent book read?
Bart: Well, I can tell you why I recommend it. My wife will tell you why she does not recommend it. And that's because there's like six books stacked up on my bedside table every night, and I read whatever I feel like I'm in the mood to receive that night. So, that's why I have this rotational thing going on. But it sometimes takes me a year to finish a book, because I've got too many in the rotation.
But I think it helps me, because it's a mood thing for me. Sometimes I'm in the mood to receive some business advice or acumen, so I'll grab that. Sometimes I just wanna be entertained. Sometimes I wanna reflect on history, so I'll grab a nonfiction historical thing. So, I like it that way. It keeps it fresh for me, but it does delay completing a book, sometimes for months on end.
Matt: What's a good book you've read recently that you'd recommend?
Bart: It's always what's top of mind, what I had in my hand last night or last week. But "The Advantage" is a book that I'm really into right now, in terms of business and employee engagement, and getting people rallied around purpose and where you're heading with your company. I think that's a great book. It's a quick read, and it's got a lot of smarts to offer.
I'm reading "The Autobiography of Johnny Cash" which I think he's one of the unsung heroes of our music landscape. I mean, he had such a variety to him: gospel, country, rock.
Eric: Have you watched that PBS documentary on country music?
Matt: Oh, big Johnny Cash section in there. It's very, very good.
Bart: Oh, that's cool. Well, my wife and I went to the Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville last spring. She had to drag me out of there after three hours. I was still, you know, immersed in it. I find him to be a really interesting slice of Americana. I can't get enough of Johnny Cash, so his autobiography is great.
Eric: That's cool. So, the PBS is the Ken Burns documentary, so it is a thorough in-depth documentary. It's like, I don't know, eight different sessions, and they're each, like, an hour and a half to two hours. So, it's like it is an undertaking, but if you're Johnny Cash man, that's a high recommendation.
Bart: Oh, that's cool. So, where can I find that?
Matt: It's on the PBS streaming service, yeah. So, I think you have to, it's like they ask for a five dollar donation, but I don't know if they actually verify you give five dollars.
Bart: Well, if it's good Johnny Cash stuff, I'd give them plenty more than five bucks, yeah. Yeah. So, you know, that's my historical thing of late. And then on the nonfiction side, I just like good thrillers, or mysteries. I don't really have one right now, but if you guys got any recommendations for me, send them my way.
Eric: Yeah, you're, at least you follow on Twitter, Freakonomics and Malcolm Gladwell?
Bart: Oh, yeah.
Matt: So both of these things, I categorize them as, like, they're in the vein of, like, unintended consequences or unexpected relationships between things or people. Like, you think things are one way, but here, we're gonna show you some information that it's actually really different than the way you used to think. Would you categorize that as something you're interested in? And how did you get interested in those two?
Bart: Yeah, for sure. I mean, Freakonomics, the whole idea is expose yourself to stuff that break down your normal way of thinking. I think whether it's Gladwell and how he analyzes things, or some of the stuff you learn through Freakonomics, whether on their Twitter feed or in the books, it just challenges you to think differently. And that is really necessary and a very mature industry, where people say, "Well, this is construction, and this is the way it's always been done, and this is the way that it needs to be done."
Well, maybe not. I mean, I get sick of the term "Disruptors," because it's such a cliché word these days. Everybody's throwing it out, "How are you disrupting your industry?" And for me, it's about thinking differently about how to put buildings together that, yes, they've been going together the same way for many, many years, but it doesn't mean that it always has to be that way. There's a lot of variables and influences that can change that, including the needs of your client and, you know, the physical realities of what's going on in your marketplace.
I like those Twitter feeds or those authors that challenge you to think differently, and it's really what I like about our business. We're trying to get diversity of thought. We want a diverse group of thinkers in our business to help us come up with better ideas to drive value for our clients and for our business.
Eric: Do you listen to Malcolm Gladwell's podcast, "Revisionist History"?
Bart: I haven't. I haven't. It sounds like I need to add that to my list as well.
Matt: That one is a very, very good podcast, yeah.
Eric: It sounds like it's right up your alley. You'd enjoy it. I think there are four seasons out, of it, already.
Matt: And then his new book "Talking to Strangers," have you read that one?
Eric: Oh, man.
Bart: That sounds like it's going on my bedside table.
Matt: Yeah, be in the rotation. One of the fascinating things that he did with that one is he produced an audio book of it, but his audio book is in, like, a podcast format. So, the entire book is done with interviews of other people, it's not just somebody reading the book. It's actually an extremely engaging audio book as well.
Eric: But yeah, that those are two really good ones.
Bart: Well, I do have a list of podcasts and audiobooks that I plug into, because the way it works these days is starting the week in Portland, Seattle in the middle of the week, ending the week back down in Portland, so I have plenty of time to get caught up on this stuff.
Matt: To travel.
Eric: Yeah. It's very cool. How many hours a night do you sleep?
Bart: Well, we've been having this debate. My son is big on tracking his sleep hours. He's a 17-year-old senior in high school, which most seniors in high school don't really care about their sleep pattern, but he's pretty plugged into it. And he was chastising me. I sleep about six hours a night, and he was telling me, "That's not enough, dad. You need to get that up to seven or eight if you want optimal brain function." I'm like, I don't know. I mean, six hours a night plus three cups of coffee, I feel like I roll pretty good.
Matt: That's good. Does he use, like, a wearable to track his sleep?
Bart: No, he's just, he's militant about it. We'll be sitting on the couch and he'll just stand up and say, "That's it. Time for me to go to bed, I'm done."
Matt: Yeah, that's great.
Bart: Yeah, he's a unique dude, but yeah, very regimented. Actually, I learn a lot from him, because he sets a really good example of how to commit to something and stick with it. That's not something you usually associate with 17-year-olds.
Bart: I think it's probably because, you know, he's diagnosed Asperger syndrome, which is autistic spectrum disorder, but high functioning. And he likes his routine, so he's pre-wired that way. But there's a lot to learn, again, from people that think differently, that diversity of thought. I learn a ton from my son every week, because his brain works way differently than mine. I like plugging into the way he thinks and having him explain to me why he's doing certain things, or why he's tumbling through an idea the way he is. It's fascinating and there's continual learning in it.
Matt: That's great. What's your favorite restaurant in the Portland area?
Bart: Boy, that is so tough. I mean, Portland's such a foodie town. Actually, Seattle and Portland, both are great foodie towns. But if I had to pick one, I'd say good old fashioned favorite of ours on the east side of Portland is three doors down, just off of Hawthorne.
Eric: What kind of food is it?
Bart: It's, you know, your American Bistro, but it's got probably, two or three really nice Italian dishes that they slide towards. But I'd call it an American bistro setup.
Matt: Okay, how about websites that you visit every day? Do you have a couple of those websites that it's the first thing you check in the morning, and that's something you can't start your day without?
Bart: You know, I really don't. But a couple that I visit at least weekly, you know, I'm always looking at what's going on, on TED, you know, TED Talks, or new stuff that you can download, or read, or listen to. I think the whole TED franchise in the in the TEDx stuff that's going on around our country is brilliant. Getting smart people up on stage sharing their stories is really cool. And so I usually check in on the TED website at least weekly.
And then I do a lot of networking through YPO, Young Presidents' Organization. Now, I got kicked out, you're supposed to get kicked out when you turn 50, they call it 49ering out. So, last year when I turned 50, I got moved from YPO to YPO gold, which is the old guys segment of Young Presidents' Organization, because you can't spell old without gold, so.
Eric: There you go.
Bart: That's still such a great network, and such a good resource for me. The construction industry network through YPO is something I plug into weekly, to see what's going on. You can always throw out a good question to that group and get some good feedback from folks that are running construction companies, or facing some of the same challenges as you.
And then there's some great family and personal development, and continuous learning stuff that you can get to the YPO network. So, I usually check in on that one once a week too.
Matt: Being a native Portlander or a current Portlander, do you find the show "Portlandia" funny at all?
Bart: Oh, it's hilarious. I mean, it is. Yeah, I downloaded all the back seasons of it, and when you needed just a little reminder of what your hometown's like, you just flip that on. But I have friends all over the U.S. through some of our national construction relationships, through our peer group, and they always ask me, "Is it really like that in Portland?" and I'm like, "Yeah, come on out and spend the weekend. I will show you it's pretty true to form."
Eric: Yeah, I like that show. All right, so you talk a lot about getting outside and doing, you know, outdoor activities, like growing up in Bend, and it's your current outdoor activity that you default to.
Bart: Well, this time of year, it's skiing. My wife is an avid skier. Even though I grew up in Bend, I didn't start skiing till I was in my 20s, you know, basketball coach dad and all that, we didn't spend any time at the mountain, at Mount Bachelor, which is our home mountain. But we're over at Mount Bachelor and in Sunriver, any weekend that there's quality snow. And that is all driven by Wendy, my wife. We were just there last weekend.
So, this time of year, it's all about if there's fresh snow, we're getting over to Mount Bachelor, and that's our weekend outdoor activities. I've managed to get rid of most of the cartilage in both my knees, from being a very active sports kid growing up, and having a few injuries. I'm on the bicycle a lot too. It's a lot easier on your joints, and love riding outside when the weather's good, and when the weather's bad, I'm on my peloton inside in the morning. So...
Matt: Okay, nice.
Bart: ...cycling is a big part of how I stay in shape, and how I, you know, reduce stress as well. Nothing better than getting on there and getting some high intensity interval training on your bike, or on the peloton. And clears the brain as well as gives you some good cardio.
Eric: You a roadie or are you offroad?
Bart: No, I'm a road cyclist. I stopped riding mountain bikes in, probably, my late 30s. There could have been a couple of crashes that had an effect on that, but yeah, I've retired from the mountain biking. I'm on the road cycle.
Matt: Do you have a favorite route you do, outside Portland or Seattle?
Bart: No, I have a brother-in-law who is an avid cyclist, so when I need a new route, I just text him and he'll send me something off of MapMyRide, and I'll follow his lead. So, I don't really have a favorite, but this is the time of year where I'm not outside very much. I'm not confident on the wet roads. All you've got to do is lay it down on your hip a couple of times, and that peloton in the warm and dry garage starts looking really good.
Eric: How about skiing? What type of skiing do you like to hit, back country or steep stuff, or just enjoy the scenery?
Bart: Yeah, we're powder skiers, so anywhere where we can find fresh powder. A little bit of the back country stuff is good but , you know, we ski at Mount Bachelor a lot. We like to go to other resorts out in the western part of the United States, wherever there's powder, and don't be afraid of hiking out there a little bit or skinning up to something to go get it, but yeah, we're powder skiers. It's that cool sensation of floating at the top of each turn that is so addictive. And so if there's not a lot of fresh snow and it's groomer skiing, we'll probably go do something different that week. But we're looking for the powder almost every time we're out there.
Matt: That's great. So, running a company of the size of Lewis, obviously, takes some balancing with family life and hobbies. How do you balance that type of stuff?
Bart: Well, it gets easier as your kids get older. I can tell you that. We have a daughter that's in college in New York City, and like I said, my son is a senior in high school right now. So, we're looking around the corner at empty nester-hood here pretty quick. Once your kids are, you know, 17 and 19, and luckily for us, they've done a good job of figuring out how to take care of themselves.
I think it was a lot harder growing the Portland office back when I was the president of that part of our organization before I was even CEO, because the kids were younger and they had more needs back then. I think it's really helpful that my wife elected to put her career on pause once we had kids, and be at home and support the effort and coordinate all the kids' stuff. Without her doing that, I think we would have been in a world of hurt.
So, a lot of my success and ability to get to where I've gotten, and ability to grow this business to the size and the reputation that it has, is attributable to my wife being selfless and electing to stay home and support the effort.
But the thing that you can't skip on is family connection, whether it's at least a couple of nights a week, sitting down and having family dinner. And we make the kids put away the cell phones, and we can't pull out our cell phones either. It's a cell-free zone. It's all about conversation and connection with your family members. So, that's one thing that's always been helpful for us.
And then the other thing is not neglecting your fitness. Care to find out a time to work out, because if you're working out, for me, anyway, I sleep better at night, my stress levels lower, and I'm more enjoyable to be around. My wife is a great barometer of that. She'll tell me if I'm going off the path on that, and remind me to get fitness, and get sleep, and all those sorts of things. But you've got to balance those priorities, connection to your family, fitness, sleep, or else, you're not gonna be a very good executive running your business.
Eric: Do you do anything to try to encourage younger people in your organization to do similar things?
Bart: Yeah, I think, you know, 20 years ago in our business, we used to pat people on the back for working 80-hour week. Look how dedicated they are. Look at their work ethic.
Bart: And we had a few of our role models in the business that perpetuated that, even when they didn't have to be at work, they're at work, because that's what they always did. So, I think the biggest thing that we've done for the next generation is set a better example of getting out of the office, or getting off the job site, at a reasonable hour. When you don't have something that's depressing, seek that life balance.
We really don't call it work/life balance, it's work/life equilibrium, in our business. Because there are weeks where you've just got to be cranking it, whether it's the demands of a job site or the startup of a project, or we got a big proposal that we're going after, or there's a crisis that you're trying to manage your way through. And then in other weeks, you're in a little bit of a low, where the demands on your time aren't that big.
So, you can't have this perfect balance every week, but throughout the months, the quarters, and the year, there should be some equilibrium. So, that's what we try to remind our next generation and our younger up and comers, to manage that equilibrium to the best of their ability.
Eric: Great. Let's see, one more here. So, you mentioned your wife putting her career on hold, and helping in that way. We were told to ask you about servant leadership, and how that's a personal philosophy of yours. Can you tell us a little bit about that, and maybe some stories that demonstrate that?
Bart: I think people respond to leaders that are willing to do anything for the cause. That means they're willing to support the people that report up to them. We had a long time saying here at Lease Crutcher Lewis that we all do windows. You know, nobody is above washing a window if that's what's requested of them. Nobody is above picking up trash if it's sitting in the lobby. Nobody is above answering the phone at the receptionist desk if she had to step away for a moment.
I've done all of those things here at the company. When you see leaders in your business that are willing to do whatever it takes in the moment for the benefit of the business, or to support somebody else, I think that the following of that leader really swells. I can remember times when I've seen teams in crisis, maybe they're behind schedule and trying to get a budget put together or a bid put together, or to manage the workflow on a job.
We all need to be able to step up and say, "What can I do to help?" even if that means me going out to a job site and reviewing the door and hardware schedule, and helping order doors and hardwares for a project. That's something I did when it needed to be done. I think I shocked our project engineer at the time, "Why would the president come out here and do this for me?" "Well, because it's needed. You're in crisis, and we're here to help."
So, that's one that really sticks out to me, is the first time I went out there and did something overtly obvious out in the field on a jobsite, and it turned into this, a little bit of a message that rippled throughout our company, "Hey, do you know what the boss did yesterday?"
Bart: I didn't do it for that reason, I did it because the team was in crisis, and it needed to be done, and I was willing to step into the bridge and do it. But when you do that, and when you do it more than once, and you do it in a way that you don't expect people to thank you for it or applaud you for it, it sets a great example. And then you look around and pretty soon everybody's doing that as well.
So it has taken on a life of its own. People talk about it, and it's nothing that I even have to feed, or water, or care for. It's just out there and it's happening, and it's part of the magic that is Lease Crutcher Lewis, and how people operate and care for each other, and are concerned for each other, and want successful outcomes, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get there.
Eric: That's great. Is there anything you think we didn't touch on that you would like to put some stuff out there for?
Bart: The one thing that we didn't really talk much about, and maybe I touched on it briefly, was the value that we see in diversity of thought. It's a big part of what we're working on currently in our current leadership group, and setting up our next generation of leaders, or G6, as we call them. This whole idea of diversity, equity, and inclusion shouldn't be some quota or a checkmark thing that you have going throughout your business.
But what we seek is diverse thinkers. Diversity of thought is our number one goal. If you're seeking people that grew up differently and had different experiences, or moved around the world, or come from different regions, or have different lifestyles, they're gonna have different thoughts than, you know, how you grew up, or others within your organization.
If you seek diversity of thought, you're gonna get diversity of all kinds. And so that's our hallmark on where we're going with our diversity, equity and inclusion journey. It's so much better than trying to fill quotas and checkboxes, and it's so much more authentic and true to how we're trying to drive creativity and innovation through a bunch of diverse thinkers. I just think that that's one of the strongest things that we're doing, not only for our business and the success of Lease Crutcher Lewis and the future, but also for the health of our community. And I'm really proud of that.
Matt: Yeah, you talk about that when we were talking about Malcolm Gladwell and Freakonomics, and I 100% agree with that, that there are people who just like to be challenged in the way they think and about how it's a super dynamic, influential way to have people who can just not be offended by somebody questioning their line of thinking, but are able to think outside of their normal ways of thinking.
Eric: But it's so much harder to identify when you're hiring, you know? Like, you sit down and interview somebody, how do you know if this is the type of person who can have a level of diversity of thought?
Bart: Yeah, so we spent a lot of time asking questions around that. Where did you up? What was your family's situation like? What were your experiences as child? Did you move around a lot? What was your educational background like? What were some life lessons that you learned along the way that are really interesting or have stuck with you?
So, those questions get at it more than what your degree, and, "Oh, I see you're an engineer and you went to school here," and that's about it, right? So, you know, I'd much rather hire somebody that, for example, grew up as a military brat and moved all over the United States and maybe spent some time overseas, maybe they're homeschooled for a little while.
Maybe they are a non-traditional hire, or architecturally trained, or were an educator, or had a real estate background, but they don't come out of a construction and engineering management program or a civil program. So they've got a little bit of a different background, and they'd be a non-traditional addition to our team.
So, all of those things are part of our interview process and how we seek to add diversity of thought to that the team. Diversity of thought leads to creativity and innovation, and makes us a better company, and that's something that we think about every day.
Matt: How many times do you think you interview somebody before you decide that they're right for the job? Do you interview them once, two times, three times, four times? And like, what do you do to draw some of those culture fit types of things out of people? Because you talked about how that was one of the things you're afraid of, is maintaining the culture and the longevity of that culture. And that's just such a hard thing to pull out of people in an interview process.
Bart: Yeah, for sure. It depends on where they're coming into the company. If they're a young engineer right out of school, you know, they might interview with two or three people here in the company and we make a decision. I may or may not get to interview a young engineer coming out of school, but we have people that have really good skill sets around doing that.
But if we're gonna hire a project executive or a new VP, or somebody in the senior management team, they'll probably end up talking to at least eight, maybe 10 people within our company, and I'll interview him at least twice.
Bart: It'll be in a formal setting one time, it'll also be in a social setting, like out for lunch or dinner, or beers, or something like that. A lot of the questions that I used to get at the culture fit before I get too deep into telling them what our six values are and how that all relates to how we operate every day, I'll ask them questions around, "Tell me a time when you didn't feel trusted or respected in your life, and what did you do about it?"
So, asking fun questions around our values before we even talk about our values, gets them to articulate potentially, how they might align with what we really value here, and what we think drives our behaviors on a daily basis. So, it's a lot of that stuff. That's probably interview number two in the social setting more than it is in the nuts and bolts of a formal interview. But you do wanna get at those cultural values and how they may or may not plug into them.
The other thing I do is I watch how they treat the wait staff, if we're out to lunch.
Eric: Yeah, I've heard that before. I've heard that that's a good gauge of people in an interview process.
Bart: And that's why we do something social out in public, because people that don't treat the wait staff with respect, or don't say "Please" and "Thank you," or are rude to the people that are providing you service, they're probably not gonna be a very good servant leader here in our organization, so they don't pass the test.
Matt: Yeah, that's interesting. It's great. I've also heard the other good one is a round of golf. You can see how they count out their strokes during the round.
Bart: Oh, for sure. That's the integrity test right there.
Eric: Right, yeah. And anger management.
Bart: Bart: Oh, yeah.
Matt: Well, and etiquette. Like, I always find it fascinating when you're playing around of golf, that there's, like, certain rules you have to follow. And in business, even though they might seem silly, there are some etiquette things you need to follow, just because they're norms, and you need to be able to fit in with norms.
Bart: Yes, absolutely. It is a good tester. It's a four-hour tester, but you have enough time to do it.
Eric: You better be pretty sure you'll enjoy that person before you take them on the golf interview.
Bart: Yeah, we probably do less interviewing on the golf course. But I do more client selection on the golf course, where I'll invite a client out, take them golfing, and same thing. You get to see, do the operate with integrity? Do they care about what's going on around them in the foursome? Do they have some etiquette and some social graces to them? And if the answer is no on two or three of those things, then it might mean they might not be a great client for you to work with.
Matt: Yeah. Have you done the Bandon Dunes thing?
Bart: Oh, yeah. So, Bandon is one of those places where if I don't get down there at least once a year, I start getting a little twitchy. It's a fantastic place. If you're a golfer, if you like pure golf at its, like, most basic routes of walking the course, no golf carts out there, you walk the course. You can take caddies with you. It's just natural beauty and true link style golf. There's nothing like it. Well, there's places like it in Ireland and Scotland, but...
Matt: Yeah, right.
Bart: ...you've got four supreme, now they're gonna open a fifth, five supremely cool link style courses all in one spot, with really good hospitality and lodging, on one of the most beautiful parts of our Pacific coast. It's a special place.
Eric: Yeah, it's on the bucket list, for sure, for me, so.
Bart: You've got to keep it on there. And, yeah, there's usually two or three different groups that I rotate with that, go down to Bandon, and even my wife's gotten the bug. She's been down to Bandon four or five times. My daughter's played at Bandon when she was on her high school golf team.
Eric: Oh, cool.
Bart: We feel pretty fortunate that we have that so close to us right here in our own backyard.
Matt: Yeah. Yeah, you guys have a lot of fun stuff there. You've got skiing. You've got good golf. You've got good outdoor stuff, yeah.
Bart: Yeah, and we've got a construction market that's not too shabby either, so.
Matt: There you go. There you go.
Bart: ...we do feel fortunate. It's like my father-in-law used to say, and I don't know if he heard this when he was in the military or where he got it from, but whenever you're feeling sorry for yourself, or he was complaining about something, he would stop and he would say, "But we've got enough to eat and nobody is shooting at us." You've just got to keep that in mind, you know.
Eric: Keep some good perspective.
Bart: Keep some perspective. You know, if you're in the military and you're out there in harm's way, and you've got enough to eat and nobody is shooting at you that day, that's a good day. So, I always try to keep that in my head. There's a lot to be thankful for and a lot to be positive for out here in the Northwest. But whenever you start feeling sorry for yourself, that's a good little saying to bring to you and to others. I always thank my father-in-law for that one.