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Brian Acton

BMWC Constructors
September 18, 2017

Brian Acton

Brian joined BMWC after earning his B.S. from Purdue University in Construction and Engineering. He has been with the company for over 30 years, is a passionate leader in corporate safety and played a major role in BMWC’s expansion into the Pacific Northwest. In his free time, Brian enjoys playing golf, watching the Indianapolis Colts and college basketball, woodworking, traveling and serving on several nonprofit boards. He supports and donates time to many local charitable organizations including Christamore House, United Way of Central Indiana, Julian Center, Horizon House, Shepard Center, Wheeler Mission and Gleaners.

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Brian: Our company suffered our first fatality in our history, and I was a project manager, very young, and it impacted me in such a profound way that I actually stepped back and thought seriously about changing careers and getting out of construction because I couldn't allow that to happen again.

Eric: Welcome to "Conversations Around the Corner," where we talk to construction executives about who they are and how they got there, inspiring the next generation of construction leaders. My name is Eric.
Matt: And I'm Matt.
Eric: Our guest today, is Brian Acton, CEO of BMWC Constructors. He went to Purdue University where he studied construction engineering and management. Brian has worked at BMWC for 32 years and has been the CEO since 2010. BMWC is consistently an "Engineering News-Records" top contractor. In our conversation today, we talk about Indiana basketball, the importance of fraternities, and the best strategies for recruiting young project managers and superintendents. We hope you enjoy the conversation. Where did you grow up?
Brian: I grew up in Lebanon, Indiana, which is a small city just north of Indianapolis.
Eric: Okay. So you're an Indiana boy. You've been there for most of your life?
Brian: Yeah, born and raised here but until recently, I've not worked here. When I graduated, I moved away so just [inaudible 00:01:24] back here the last 10 years.
Eric: Growing up there, what did your family do? What did your dad do for a living?
Brian: My father was in politics. He was a mayor of the city for four terms. He served as the president of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns. He did a lot of lobbying in D.C. So he was very active in politics. My uncles, one of them was a home builder that I worked for, and the other uncle was a cabinet builder for the homes. So I grew up in the construction business. My grandfather built barns, so I was always around that type of work.
Matt: You feel that kinda influenced decisions in college and kinda how you decided to go that construction route?
Brian: When I graduated from high school, I wanted to be a mechanical engineer first so when I went to Purdue to be a mechanical engineer, I took three years of it and started to understand or realize that I did not wanna do design work, that I really missed the field and the hands-on. So, I switch majors and went into construction engineering management, but I kept mechanical engineering as a background. So I did both, and when I graduated, it was with a construction engineering and management degree. I really got back to my roots of what I wanted to do as far as building things.
Matt: We have some design engineers here and we're small companies so they can kinda end up doing a bunch of different types of design work, you know, seeing it from beginning to end. We always joke about how doing design in a big company or something you're really just like spending hours a day designing, you know, like a nut and bolt.
Brian: Right. The epiphany came…I was working in a lab at Purdue on designing the tiles, the heat shields for the space shuttle, and I realized this isn't what I wanna do, this is not exciting. So, that's when I made the switch.
Matt: It's, like, as cool of a product as that is, doing something so minute and small, it doesn't quite grab you the same way.
Brian: Exactly, exactly.
Matt: In your bio, it says you're a college basketball fan. Did you grow up playing basketball in Indiana?
Brian: For those that don't know, Lebanon, Indiana, is a home of Rick Mount, and Rick Mount is still a phenom in the basketball world. So he still holds several records from Purdue University. He went pro, but he had a fundamental jump shot. So when you grow up in Lebanon, you grow up in the basketball community, and that's what they're known for, so that's where I got into basketball.
Matt: So did you learn your jump shot from him?
Brian: Yeah, the coach that coached him also coached me. So, yeah, we learned from him. He came in and that's how you learned to shoot in Lebanon was with that jump shot.
Matt: Do you still get out and shoot?
Brian: No, I gave it up. It's...too old.
Matt: Yeah, yeah. We actually have a good friend of ours who is the basketball coach at Anderson University, right down there by you guys. So, we've been to a couple Indiana basketball games. We kind of follow the Indiana basketball crowd because of him. Can you describe how important high school basketball is in Indiana?
Brian: It's almost indescribable. So I'll give an example of the program. When you start in grade school, the coach is actually one of the assistant coaches on the varsity team for the high school. So you start to learn plays as early as 6th grade. And then you move into middle school and again, it's a coach, assistant coach for the high school is actually your coach in middle school. So we learn the same plays in 7th and 8th grade. And then you move into 9th grade and the coach again is another assistant coach from the senior team. So again, you're learning those plays. So when you make the varsity team, you already been're around the same teammates, you're using the same plays, you have the same culture for many years. So, it's a firm program within the school district.
Matt: Huh, that's fascinating.
Brian: It is. And then every summer, you're expected to play basketball at the park and it's actually named after Rick Mount, but that's a park that the coaches can't attend, they can't watch you, but you're expected to be there every day, every night playing ball.
Matt: Okay. So in those pickup games in the summertime, was it like still pretty structured and running plays and stuff, or is it more like traditional street ball, kind of guys doing one on one?
Brian: It was traditional, and occasionally, Mount would show up and it would become a little bit more structured. But, yeah, it was just street ball. But again, you're playing with your same teammates that you're playing it with on the varsity, so just constant interaction with each other and constant teamwork.
Eric: Sports for a lot of people is a big part of their lives and a lot of people tribute lessons that you learn in sports to business, and leadership lessons, teamwork lessons. I mean, do you feel like that played a big role in shaping how you run your business now?
Brian: Absolutely, especially teamwork, I think that's one of our mantras in the company is all of the employees working as one team in relentless pursuit of perfection. And that's one of the biggest challenges to get people to understand. Especially project managers, when they come into the company and they're running work, they need to understand that we have resources and we have other departments that are there to support them. And if they don't use them and they don't work as a team, they're gonna fail. They can't do it on their own, and it is gonna limit their ability to be successful.
Eric: Sure. Do you actively seek out athletes to hire?
Brian: No, we don't. We treat it more as a team when they come into the company. We bring in interns is really where we start. So we develop our own and they see that teamwork and they're put into project teams. And we'd really develop them in that kind of a teamwork culture. So when they progress and they become a project manager, they should have a good understanding of what teamwork means and how that can help them in their career.
Eric: Talk a little bit about your internship program because that seems to be like an important part on all your guys' literature. You do recruiting on college campuses. And do you pick specific ones that you go to regularly or do you kind of go all over?
Brian: We do go to several colleges around the United States, and what you find is it's kind of a regional base. For instance, if you go to Purdue, those students tend to wanna hang around the Midwest. If you go to University of Oregon, those students tend to wanna stay on the West Coast. So, we tend to go to universities that have a construction engineering and management program within the areas of our offices. And through process of eliminations, you find out what schools are good at it, what schools aren't, what kind of students are coming out of the program. So we adjust that but we typically recruit about six universities around the country and we typically bring in about 20 a year.
Matt: Okay. Wow, that's a good amount of interns.
Eric: Of that 20, do you try to hire them all back? Do you kind of pick from 20, you go to 10, or what's the process there?
Brian: Well, that's the beauty of the internship program. You bring them on and you see how they work and you put them on job sites. And you work with them and they work with you, and if they're good and they have the potential, we'll invite them back the second year and we'll continue to do that and hopefully, we'll come to an offer stage. But you can also find that it doesn't work for them or it doesn't work for us. You can cut at that point in time and not waste each other's time. It's a great program from both standpoints. But we really wanna hire for long-term, our interns, if they have the right thing.
Matt: Yeah. So do you have a specific age or year within school that you look to hire those interns out of, for example, like between their freshman-sophomore year, or are you looking for people who are ready to graduate?
Brian: No. Today, you've gotta get early, and it depends on the school's program. So, some programs are co-ops. So they'll go to co-op every other semester. Some are just interns for the summer, but typically, you've got to grab them in the freshman or no later than the sophomore year and get three internships out of 'em. Typically, what we're having to do now is make an offer in their junior year or at the very latest when their last internship is done and they go back for their senior year.
Eric: Wow. Wow. So you're really looking that early on in their college career.
Brian: You have to, and in fact, in some cases, we've actually given them a bonus to kind of help them with their education on their senior year as part of the offer. But you've gotta get really creative because it's so hard to find good talent today and it's getting so competitive.
Matt: So has that model changed in the last couple of years? I feel like when we were in college, internships were always kind of important but not to that same degree. And do you think that's becoming more and more important recently, or have you guys always done it that way?
Brian: I'd say it's getting more important. We've tried to do it that way for years and in some cases, it's been easy to get new hires but today, it's not. Today, you've got to figure out a different way to attract them, a different way to retain them and keep them interested in your company. So we do a lot of things in their internship, team-building events and fun things that they can do and interactions and getting 'em together. I meet with all the interns and talk about the company's history. So, you've just gotta get really creative on how you keep their interest in the company because you want them to come to work for you.
Matt: I feel like I've read that in, you know, the news, STEM majors are down and some of the people who were traditionally in engineering kind of moved maybe more to finance or some other types of industries. Do you view that as being one of the core issues? Is that just STEM majors being down or some other factor?
Brian: No, I think it is STEM majors. I also think that the construction industry after the '08 and '09 recession took a huge hit. It didn't become attractive. People did not wanna get into the industry. They got out of it. They looked for other work. And now that we're busy again, those people are gone and they're not interested in returning. And then future students going into colleges, they're interested in computers and computer science and iOS programming and finance and other things. They're not interested in construction. So you're seeing these universities struggle to fill their enrollments in the construction programs.
Matt: That's been kind of a common theme with people we've talked to especially in the construction industry and, I mean, even more so when you talk about the trades and job site labor. How do you see some of that stuff resolving itself in the next 10 years? Because, I mean, at the rate we're going, it seems like there's gonna be a huge shortage of people.
Brian: Well, I think it's gonna be worse. If you go back a few years, you know, we had a president that really stressed going to college. And over the years, we've lost funding for trade school work in high schools. So there's no longer the classes you can take in high school. So that's gone down. We've encouraged going to college. We've not encouraged going to trade. Today, we have an immigration issue where a lot of our construction trades are from immigrants, and with that whole issue being on the table and trying to limit that, that's gonna create more of a shortage. So, if you compound all that and the way things are today, we're gonna have a tremendous shortage. We're facing it now, and I can't imagine what it's gonna be like in the next 5 to 10 years.
Matt: It's interesting you bring up, yeah, like trade school stuff in high school because whenever I think back to my college education, like, you know…and we're even using a lot more of my college education. I was, like, doing accounting stuff and I still do accounting at the company, but even still, I kinda like look back and I think, "Man, the whole experience was a bit overrated." And now, when I look at some of my peers of people who maybe weren't even college material, it really should've gone into a trade school in high school and started making money right out of high school.
Brian: Absolutely. And here's an interesting fact. So, if you take one of our project managers, let's say they're a year or two into their career, and we have superintendents and foremen and welders on a job site, those guys are making more per year than our salaried project managers. In fact, take that 10 years in the future and through all the raises and bonuses, a project manager is still not gonna make as much money as a good welder can on a yearly basis. So your supervising guys in the field but the trade is making more money.
Matt: And you just even do the math and you add up, all right, making a salary your first year when you're 18, 19 years old versus going into debt in college, and then you just extrapolate that out, and the numbers are crazy.
Brian: Exactly. If you go into the trades, you don't have that debt. It's paid for you, you work it out, and the employer, especially in the union construction, the employer pays for the training. So after five years of apprenticeship, you come out you don't have any debt.
Matt: So, I guess an interesting dynamic that may start to play out here, it maybe already is, is you're really talking about a supply and demand issue with labor, right? So it's making those laborers in a much higher demand. So, therefore, the necessity of a union-type organization is not as great as it may have been in the past. Do you see the union structure changing as labor can demand more money and more rights just because of a supply issue?
Brian: It's a very dynamic situation right now, but union construction is in high demand because of the skilled trades and the apprenticeship programs. The open shop sector is starting to catch up on training but they're not there yet. So, on a par level, it looks like union construction trades are better trained, better skilled, but there's not enough of 'em. And they've lost a lot of people that have been in the program, again, from the recession, getting out, going and finding other work. And the other thing that's interesting is they can't get enough people to come into the program or qualify for the program. You know, they have very stringent requirements as far as, you know, your intelligence and your skills. And just to get into the program, they're having fewer applicants qualify.
Matt: So union training is almost starting to take the place of college education to some degree, right? I mean, their role now is more as a supplier of qualified quality work as opposed to protection of a worker?
Brian: Exactly. Yeah, but I don't know how we're gonna continue to attract more to get into the trades. College isn't for everybody nor should it be. And if they look at what's available, and I think it's also an outreach issue to let them know what is available, what it's really like. Construction today is much safer than it was in the past. Things are done differently. It's still hard work but it's rewarding and it pays well. And I think there are so many advantages that they just don't know because we're not telling them early enough in high school about these opportunities.
Matt: Well, you're actually talking to somebody who wasn't in the trade union.
Eric: Yeah, yeah, I was in a carpenter's union for a very short period of time. We used to be part of an overhead door company here in Chicago, so I installed commercial overhead doors and, you know, learned on the job site, and was in that whole world for a little while. So, I can appreciate some of that stuff. You've been with BMWC your whole career, is that right?
Brian: That's correct. In fact, when I was in college at Purdue, my internship was with a different contractor in North Carolina. So I interned down there three years. And then when I graduate from Purdue, I interviewed with BMW and took a job, been here ever since.
Matt: It says in your bio you relocated to Seattle right away, and how long were you in Seattle for?
Brian: So, when I hired on in '85 with BMW, they sent me to our Chicago office first. So, I was in what we call Chicago, it was in Calumet City. Our office today is in Munster, Indiana, but I was up there for 13 years. And I ran work for the refineries, chemicals, and other clients in the area. And then, we bought a company in Seattle and I moved out there.
Matt: Compare and contrast Chicago to Seattle, what do you like and dislike about the two?
Brian: Seattle is a different place. The culture is much different. It's a West Coast culture. And the biggest difference, I would say, is the work ethics. Seattle is more of a millennial work ethic where you think about…it's as much about personal time and family time as is about work, and the Midwest Chicago area is work first and play later. So, that, even 12, 15 years ago was a really prevalent cultural difference that I saw. The work ethic in Seattle is there's so much to do. There's mountain climbing and skiing and all kinds of activities and fishing and hunting so...
Matt: A lot of early Fridays.
Brian: Absolutely. So that's important to them, and if they don't get their job done or they don't get their tasks done, they know it's gonna be in the next day and they don't really worry about it because they're gonna go out at night and they're gonna do their thing. In the Midwest, it's different. They're gonna get that done. They're gonna fight to get that work done and then they're gonna worry about relaxing later.
Matt: Yeah. Our sister just moved out to Seattle. Growing up in Chicago, she just moved out there several months ago, so I'm gonna give her a hard time it's her work ethic that you put out there.
Brian: It is a lot more expensive out there. It's crazy.
Matt: Yeah, some of her friends are starting to look at first homes and even like what is kind of a starter home or some, you know, not a gaudy home by any means. But you look at it, like, one here in Chicago versus a similar, you know, specs in Seattle and it's, like, the price is ridiculous. I can't even fathom, you know.
Brian: We face that. So we have offices out there, so when we wanna transfer people, the multiplier right now is about a 40% add to their salary.
Matt: Wow. So you have a multiplier based on cities that you move people into?
Brian: Yeah, it is publicized. There are several indices that you can go to on the internet and different agencies put them out, but it's about a 40% increase in cost of living to go out there for homes, taxes, groceries, gas. Everything is more expensive.
Matt: Does that ever make you think about how you can support an office out there with people from other areas of the country?
Brian: Well, we're to the point where we really can't. We can't move people out and pay them 40% more so that limits us to hiring locally out there, and its booming. I would think that Portland is probably at 100% employment. You can't find people, and the people that you do find, you can't hire. So it's really a tough situation we have right now, and our growth is limited by the people that we can hire.
Eric: Yeah, wow. That's fascinating.
Matt: How much of the work do you need to do locally versus you can do remotely?
Brian: Which type of work?
Matt: Well, the design stuff.
Eric: Admin, design, project management, that type of stuff.
Brian: So the project management has to be done locally. You have to be on the project or near the project to manage it. So, we can't have a project manager in Indianapolis running a project in Portland, Oregon. You have to also have some staff out there for payroll, accounting, HR. All those things are very, very difficult to do remotely. And then given the time zone difference of three hours, that compounds it, so you've gotta have a staff there that supports the job site when they're working.
Eric: Going back to your time at BMW, so you've been there 33 years. That's been the only place that you've worked. Do you think that's still a possibility for people entering the workforce these days? I mean, you had a lot of people, prior generations, where they worked one place their entire career, and with the way people bounce jobs these days, it almost seems like that's not feasible. What are your thoughts on that?
Brian: It's an interesting question. Most of our managers here in this company executives have only worked here or maybe had one other job. But we've got executives here with 15, 20, 25 tenure years with us. It's interesting when I talk to the younger generation. They think that the more times you move to a company, the more and varied experience you'll get, and that makes you more valuable. So, you go to work for a company for a couple years, you get that experience, you change, you go to somebody else and get some different experience, and they think that builds your value.
Well, it does to an extent, but as an employer, when we look at a resume and we see somebody that's jumped around every other year, we start to think they're not a very good employee because there's a problem. So you have to really dig in to understand that, but I don't wanna hire somebody that's changing their job every two years and then invest in them and develop them and get them where I want them and then have them leave. There's probably a middle road but we really prefer...and our culture is when we hire you, we really look for the long term. It's a career hire, not just a job hire.
Eric: Right. I guess you guys have a little bit of a unique structure there being employee-owned essentially or giving ownership to employees. I would assume that helps keep people there for the long term.
Brian: It's interesting. So, we've always been like that where we're actually more management-owned. So project manager and executives own shares of the company. They're true owners. They make decisions like owners and they're rewarded like owners. But that model may change, and the reason is the younger employees that come in, they're more about the money on the check. They don't really look at the long-term future potential earnings and the future ownership and what that really means. They just look at, "Okay. Today, what am I gonna make, and how is that gonna help me today?"
So, we may have to change our compensation structure and have less owners but yet pay more and they would never become owners. So, we're looking at that. It's a model I don't like because when you have owners that are running projects, they don't have the bureaucracy to go through. They can make decisions. They represent the company's best interest and their best interest, and it just works better for us.
Eric: Yeah, that's fascinating. I wonder how much of that is just a change in psyche, in general, or younger generations. I mean, you look at the 2008 crash and the foundation of what everybody believed in with homeownership, right. You invest in home ownership and it's always a good investment for the long term, and that whole model was just shattered over the last 10 years. And I wonder how much of that psyche is just translating now into that idea of, "I want the money in my paycheck right now."
Brian: Exactly, and the other thing that I'm waiting to see is since the recession and since the baby boomers are retiring and many companies are being sold or going to ESOPs. And I think it's gonna be interesting to see how an ESOP plays out in the next 10 years, when you have Millennials that come into the company and the ESOP is really up for 401(k), it's a retirement plan. Is that gonna really entice them to wanna stay or go to work for a company because there's an ESOP? Because it's kind of counter to making as much money as they possibly can. So it's gonna be interesting to see if the ESOP model is gonna work in the next 10 years, whether it's still a viable option.
Matt: Yeah, and that'll be interesting too as well, with the financial regulation, you know, over the last presidency financial regulation went through the roof and ESOP has gotta be hard to manage with that type of financial regulation in place.
Brian: There are a lot of rules and a lot of regulations and a lot of checks and balances, but it's still from an owner wanting to get out, it's a great way tax-free to get out. So that's why we're seeing more of it. But I don't know what the longevity of the company is gonna be once they do that.
Eric: Right, right. Huh, that's interesting.
Matt: So when you go to Munster, Indiana are you a fan of good beer? And do you stop by 3 Floyd's or no?
Brian: Actually, our office is on the same block as 3 Floyds.
Eric: Oh, man.
Brian: So, I stop in there. Every once in awhile, I'll pick up a case, and their dark lord days is a big deal in the area. So we actually take our parking lot...
Matt: I was wondering that, yeah.
Brian: And we charge for parking and we donate that money to United Way every year.
Eric: Oh, that great.
Matt: That's really good, yeah. Yeah, that's like a huge event. You have to get tickets and everything well in advance.
Brian: They come from all over the country and all over the world, and we raise about $5,000 to $6,000 dollars in parking fees on that one day, just to give to United Way, it's amazing.
Eric: That's awesome.
Matt: That is amazing. That's a good way to turn it into something a little bit better than just about beer.
Brian: Absolutely.
Eric: So let's talk about your college experience a little bit more, go back to that. What about that college experience shaped your leadership style? Did you have any professors that you look at and you're like, "That guy really influenced the way I'm doing business these days?"
Brian: I did have some influential professors, but I'll tell you what really helped my college career. I joined a fraternity my sophomore year. There were a few mentors within that fraternity that really took an interest in me, and really made me apply myself. And I would say that if I had not joined a fraternity and had those mentors that really helped me, I don't know that I would've made it through college.
So, you think about fraternities being a party house and it wasn't like that, it was more about having to study, they made sure you studied, they helped you with that. Some of them were TAs themselves and you had classes with them. But it was really a great experience for me and it kept me challenged and it kept me wanting to get the college degree.
Matt: So if someone going into college right now or to be talking to you and say, "All right, join a fraternity," what type of advice would you give them looking for a fraternity? Because I feel like the experience that you had could vary wildly based on the fraternity you go into.
Brian: Absolutely, you've gotta check out the fraternity and their history, and their records, and the people. And the fraternity I joined was very high in academics. They strove to do that. They strove for a lot of philanthropic service. I was one of the officers in the fraternity. So I started to develop some leadership skills there. I got involved in the housing board for the fraternity. So, there's leadership opportunities within a fraternity, and if it's the right fraternity, that's gonna help mold you.
Matt: Your fraternity house was recently torn down and you built a new one, what are your feelings on that?
Brian: It was sad to see it go, but it was the very first fraternity building built on campus. It was extremely old. It was too hard to maintain, too expensive. So it was time for new one, and it was sad but the new ones is much more efficient, it's beautiful. It's helped recruit and they're one of the top fraternities on campus today.
Matt: Within your college experience, again, giving advice to somebody who is going into college, at what point in your college career did you say, "Okay, I need to focus my courses and my studies on the career that I wanna have?" Was there a turning point for you when you said, "I'm going into construction and I'm gonna tailor my courses," or would you look at college as just an experience to gain as much, you know, knowledge as possible?
Brian: You know, it's interesting, college for me was more about learning how to learn, it wasn't about what I learned. When I got in the construction program, what was helpful is I was learning things and then applying them in the internship. So I would learn scheduling or estimating and then that summer I would do those things. So, it was very relevant and that made it very interesting. But the things I learned in college from legal and management and all those other things, I really don't use them today, and I don't use any of the engineering today. But I learned how to learn and I learned how to find the data that I needed, and how to use that to make decisions.
I just read something last week where they're saying by the year 2020, whatever a freshman learns will be irrelevant by their junior year. That's how fast things are changing. So it's not about learning, it's about how to learn.
Matt: Yeah, that's a conversation we have here pretty regularly. We both went to a liberal arts college. So, you know, it wasn't focused whatsoever as far as what our career was gonna be afterwards. The value was learning how to adjust and adapt and learn, like you said. But it's gonna be interesting how that college model changes over the next 10 years.
Brian: Absolutely, and I think the other thing is especially in construction, you're sent out of town a lot. You're working on remote sites and cities or areas and states that you've never worked out before. So when you go to college, you're on your own. You've gotta figure out how to live and do those things, so, it's a great training. So when we take you and throw you on a project in Mandan, North Dakota, you know a little bit of how to live on your own, and how to get by, and that's the other part of college that I think is very important is just being on your own.
Matt: Right, just the life experience, yeah.
Brian: Exactly.
Matt: If you were to give yourself advice when you were in college knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?
Brian: I tended to...this may sound weird but I tended to study too much. I was too competitive. I wanted to get the best grades. And again, it's not about getting the As, it's about learning the material and learning how to apply yourself. So, I think I would have liked to have probably enjoyed college a little bit more, but maybe I'm a little bit unique in that area.
Matt: Yeah, you don't hear that too much "I studied too much."
Brian: Well, what's interesting, but if you back up to high school, you know, I graduated with honors. And then I go to college in my freshman year, I just about flunked out. I didn't understand how to study. It was all different. I took college courses in high school, but I was not prepared for college. So, I found the fraternity and that really turned things around. It was a real difficult first year for me.
Eric: Huh, that's interesting.
Matt: You talk a lot about, in the website, some of the innovation in construction, the virtual reality, augmented reality stuff. Do you see that being near-term solutions to some problems, or is that still a future idea? Do you actually have experience with those systems?
Brian: Yeah, we are, we're applying 'em today. So, I set a vision for the company about five years ago that we needed to lead in that area. So, we hired an individual that all he does is figures out how to apply those new technologies to our business. And the thought back then was that it would help us do our work better and more efficient, more cheaper and provide a better value to the owners. What's happened is it does all of that, but it's also become a leader for us, it's bringing us work, and I thought it would support our work not bring work.
So, it is amazing where this is going, we're applying it today the biggest challenge is educating our clients, even educating our own people on the use and what it can do for you. It's exciting where this is going, and I think if we don't embrace it, and we don't use it, and continue to develop it. If you look back at the labor shortage, this is a way to get around that. This is a way to design a project where you can fabricate more of it, you can modularize more of it, you can get more creative and do less work in the field because you have less people.
Matt: So we actually had...the reason I was interested in that because we actually had this discussion a couple months ago because our products are like healthcare facility handrails and crash rails. And we still need to field verify lengths and everything in between doors in the corridor, because sometimes, you know, the design happens but then, like, the actual building there's small variations that our products then wouldn't quite fit. What was that manufacturer we looked at?
Eric: Well, looked at the Microsoft HoloLens.
Matt: The HoloLens, yeah.
Eric: And just the idea of being able to walk through a building, overlay the design, look at what is supposed to be there, what the engineer or architect had in mind when they built it, and what's actually there now. I mean, it's a fascinating concept and it's something like we're kind of moving down that path. One of the walls we keep running into, and this was gonna be a question for you, is, you know, we're kind of reliant on the people upstream to provide some of that information, right? So, if the BIM models aren't in place, you can only do so much. So, how do you guys are leading your customers on technology but you're somewhat dependent on your customers. How do you push that through to them? Or do you see that being an issue or are you able to compensate when you don't get the same support from a customer?
Brian: Depending on the client, we will develop that BIM model for them if they don't have it. Typically, the engineering firms that they're using will develop a model, but they're using it for different purposes. But we can take that model and use it for our constructability purposes and apply the virtual reality to it. It's interesting. We do a lot of work in the healthcare pharmaceutical industry, and this is no offense to scientists, but it's hard for them to look at a drawing and visualize how that's gonna look.
When you put the goggles on 'em and you have them walk through the model, and they can see where these handrails are or they can see where the layout of the equipment is or the cabinets or which way the doors swing, and they can see that, you can make changes before you ever build a project. And that is huge savings on a project.
Matt: Do you have a system that you use? What is it?
Brian: I couldn't tell you all of the details because we use various systems because different clients and different engineering firms are using different systems. But whatever it is, we can pull that together.
Eric: The construction industry is one of the older industries in the country, and it's taken a while for technology to catch up. But I feel like with all the new stuff coming on, it is gonna move it at a lightning pace here in the next couple of years.
Brian: That's a very good point. You know, in 33 years of doing this, nothing's really changed. We're still welding pipe the same way and we're still erecting steel the same way. But in the last 10 years and especially in the last 5 years, I've seen so much change in technology, in the applications for our business that it's gonna be exciting to see what the next 5 to 10 years is gonna be.
Eric: Yeah.
Matt: The thing you talked about doing more prefab stuff, there's so much benefit to having perfect information to being able to do prefab in a better environment than on the job site, and there's so much savings, so much efficiency that comes from that.
Brian: That's true, and what we can do now is we'll go into the facility and scan it and understand where all of the interferences are, where all the interfaces are, and then we can build it and it will fit perfectly. There's no modifications in the field because you've scanned it, you verify all of the connection points. It is such a savings on it.
Matt: And you have people doing stuff in a safer environment or a more controlled environment as opposed to on the job site when there's all these that things that happen, which kind of leads us into the other topic we wanted to talk about with you, and that's how big of an issue safety is in your world, and what things influenced importance that you've placed on safety?
Brian: Safety in our business has been the biggest challenge of anything, and where we've started and where we are today is incredible change. Today, we have very few incidents. Our focus is on getting our employees to work safely and getting them home safely to their families. And our clients are onboard with that now. Some aren't but for the most part, they are. That's our number one focus is on doing the work safely because we care about our people, we care about their families. And frankly, we need them do the work. We can't let him get injured. There's been a lot of improvements in safety, a lot of different paradigm shifts that have really helped look at how we put processes and programs in place.
Matt: Is there a story that you have that illustrates why it's such a necessity? Is there something that happened that necessitated a paradigm shift?
Brian: Yeah. In our business, we're industrial construction so we're working in refineries and chemical plants and very dangerous power plants. So, when I was a project manager working in a refinery, I was not very long into my career, and we were working on a pipeline. And we had an explosion on the pipe, and two men that were welding on the pipe were severely burned. In fact, one died that night. So I suffered or our company suffered our first fatality in our history and I was a project manager, very young, and it impacted me in such a profound way that I actually stepped back and said, "Can I do this anymore? Can I put people at risk?" And I thought seriously about changing careers and getting out of construction because I couldn't allow that to happen again. From that point on, I decided, again, I'm very competitive, that I'm gonna change it. So that's why I stuck with it and that's why I'm so passionate about helping our company be the safest that we can and that when people come to work for us, they know that we have their backs.
Eric: Right. Obviously, safety procedures are costly. How do you balance an emphasis on safety and running a successful business? Obviously, having safe employees makes your business successful to some degree, but do you find yourself having to draw a line and say, "Okay, this is as safe as we need to make it? How do you balance that?
Matt: Or walk away from business where, "Hey, we can't do it for that price because we do things this way, we can't make it safe enough."
Brian: There are variable answers to that question. Our value of safety has to align with our clients' value of safety. And if there's not an alignment there, we will not work for them. In fact, we'll fire the client if we see that they don't have our safety and our guy's safety at best interest. And we've had those discussions and we have done that before.
What's interesting though is when we have an incident, and we redo a review of it, and we come up with corrective measures, you're right, you can make your company as safe as possible and go broke doing it. So my criteria on a corrective measure when we've had an incident is that it cannot add cost or man-hours to the work. So let's figure out a way to prevent the incident in the future, and without adding man-hours, or adding another person, or adding exorbitant amount of cost to prevent it. There's a different way of doing it and we have to figure that out. So, that's how we keep safety cost in check.
Matt: So sometimes, you just have to look at maybe a totally different way to accomplish the goal?
Brian: Exactly.
Matt: If it's a matter of safety?
Brian: You look at an incident and you say, "Well, they were using a man lift and something went wrong. Well, why were they using a man lift? Should they use something else? Maybe they're not using the right tool." It could be something very simple that's not very obvious.
Matt: So we're in the plastics industry, we manufacture out a lot of plastic products. Whenever one of these plants gets a maintenance shutdown, you know, and then something happens and the maintenance shutdown, it's like this huge ripple effect that happens all the way through the industry, all the way up to, you know, making plastic pellets that get back to us. And we had one of those situations happen in the past year where there's a plant down in South Carolina that they had a big safety incident and it just's enormous when you actually measure up the total cost of an incident like that.
Brian: Oh, yeah.
Matt: There's the human cost but then there's also this enormous ripple effect that happens with the cost of a plant being down, and it's astronomical.
Brian: It's hard to add it all up. You can only estimate what you think it's gonna be, but, yeah, it's much more than what the physical cost is.
Matt: You also talk about lean construction. Being in manufacturing, we deal with lean manufacturing on a daily basis. Can you talk to us a little bit about how you apply lean construction principles? Do you have a person that's dedicated at BMW to continuous improvement in lean or is it more a philosophy that you guys just operate under?
Brian: We have always done lean construction. It's just not been called lean until recently, but those principles have always been in effect. But we've worked very hard to standardize lean on our projects. So when you are learning how to run a project and plan the work, you're taught in the company how to do that in a lean format. And there are some paradigm shifts such as, in construction, you always wanna kinda have backlogs. So if somebody can't get a task done, they can fall back on another task. In lean, you don't want that. You don't want backlog. You want 'em to start and finish the task, and if they can't finish it, they shouldn't start it. So you have to remove those barriers.
So everybody's trained how to do at lean, how to use Last Planner, how to order materials so that when you're done on the job you don't have excess material sitting around. And it's just our culture and it's our training in our program, and we don't call it lean so much, it's just the way we do things. And it also has to tie safety into it and quality into it. So you can't just look at production, you've gotta look at those barriers that involve safety and those barriers that involve quality and remove those as well.
Matt: Yeah. So implementing lean principles, you tend to encounter kick back from some older employees who are ingrained in the way they used to do it. Do you have any stories on those types of encounters and how you went about getting buy-in from the employees who have been there for a long time?
Brian: So it only takes one time. If you have an older superintendent that has never done it, and you walk 'em through the process and you help them with it and you help facilitate it, at the end of the job, they will look at you and say, "Ah, this is the only way I'm ever gonna do it. I'm never gonna do it the old way again." Because they see the advantages, and they see how better the job flows, and they have less headaches, and they have less problems. And it's just an easier project. They won't go back the old way. In fact, they're gonna insist that it's been done lean from then on.
Eric: Yeah. So it's more experience-based training, more experience-based bringing them on board with your principles?
Brian: Exactly, exactly. And, you know, they, of course, it's change and they're gonna fight change, but you get through it and you show 'em a few successes, and they see how it starts to help them and sees how it starts to help their foreman and the crafts, they get onboard really quickly.
Matt: Yeah. Switching gears a little bit here, we got a segment where we'd like to just do topics, and when…you tell us whether you think they're overrated or underrated.
Brian: Okay.
Matt: Overrated or underrated, Bonge's in Anderson Indiana?
Brian: Underrated.
Matt: Wow. Tell us about it.
Brian: Bonge's is great. In fact, I was just there last week. The food is incredible. It's just the character is unlike anything else you've ever seen. And I just enjoy the tailgating and the people that work there are just fun. I wish I could go more but it's kind of out of the way from Indianapolis.
Matt: So the way it's described to me is, pretty much, everyone has to wait like two hours to get in, so you bring on a cooler and you set out lawn chairs and you have your drinks out in the parking lot before you get in the restaurant, is that right?
Brian: That's right, and you party and you meet people, and we took an RV last week with a bunch of people, there's five couples, and it was a lot of fun.
Matt: And then the food is delicious, right?
Brian: The food is incredible and it's a very reasonably priced, because it would be triple that cost if you were at a nice restaurant Downtown Indianapolis.
Matt: All right. Overrated, underrated, Pete Dye golf courses.
Brian: I think it's properly rated.
Matt: All right, that's an option.
Brian: Those are great courses and I haven't played all of 'em, but I really enjoyed that the Dye courses and they are what they are. They are very challenging and he can do tricks on it that makes the average player very humble.
Matt: You play those ones down in French Lick?
Brian: Yes, I have, and the Pete Dye course at French Lick, it is a doozy. It's a very difficult course.
Matt: A lot of up and down, right?
Brian: Lot of up and down, yes, yes, a lot of trouble.
Matt: And the visuals can kind of mess you up a little bit?
Brian: It can. You always need a caddy to help you with that, but it's amazing when you go there and you look out, you don't think you're in Indiana. You think you're in the hills of Tennessee or somewhere. I think it's maybe the second highest point in Indiana. It's incredible, incredible views.
Matt: Yeah. That one's on the list of must play in my lifetime.
Brian: Absolutely. It's just well worth the price.
Matt: And those are always cool golf courses, too. We have a couple of those in Chicago where when you get on the property, you don't realize you're in Chicago, and that's just a cool feeling.
Brian: Yeah, it is.
Matt: Overrated, underrated, Gene Keady's comb-over?
Brian: I think it's gone. I think he's lost all his hair now.
Matt: I saw that picture actually.
Brian: Yeah, I think it's all gone and so he's about bald now.
Matt: So after all those years, you thought, "You know what, I'm not foolin' anybody anymore." Overrated, underrated, Andrew Luck.
Brian: I gotta say overrated. I think he's a good player. I don't know if he is the replacement to Manning. I don't know that he's gonna be what everybody thinks he's gonna be. So at this point in time, I'd say he's overrated.
Matt: You guys have a high standard for your quarterbacks.
Brian: Absolutely.
Matt: The Manning experience.
Brian: Absolutely.
Matt: Man, you guys just have an experience that we don't have in Chicago. Our football team has just never been one to really get onboard with. We had that one shining moment and...
Brian: Absolutely
Matt: ...when the Bears played the Colts in the Super Bowl and we're all sitting there going, "All right, Devin Hester is our man, what are the chances he returns this for a touchdown in the opening kickoff?"
Brian: When I was living up in the region, Bears had a hell of a team and went to Super Bowl and won it, and that was fun to be there at those games.
Matt: Yeah, yeah. We gotta get back to that somehow.
Eric: Absolutely.
Matt: Golf is one of your big hobbies. When did you get into golf, and how important has it been in your career?
Brian: Golf, I started playing regularly in college so I didn't really pick it up until then. I love golf from the standpoint that it keeps you humble. You can't ever challenge a course because it will bite you back. I've met a lot of good friends on the course, and it's an important business endeavor. From a leadership standpoint, golf has taught me that you just never take anything for granted, never take your skills for granted because once you do, you'll get in trouble. It's just something that you're never gonna master. You're never gonna get to a zero handicap unless you're just gonna retire and play every day. But it's very humbling but it always, you know, the competitiveness of it always keeps you coming back.
Matt: Yeah. You really have 100 opportunities to completely fail and then get on and do it all over again, you know.
Brian: Exactly, exactly.
Matt: So what clubs do you play with? What are your irons that you play with right now?
Brian: I play with Callaway Apex Irons and stiff shafts and I play with Ping G30 Woods.
Matt: Okay. I just switched to the new Callaway Epic Driver. I read so much about it and I've gotta say, everything I read about it was true.
Brian: Is it forgiving?
Matt: Oh, it is extremely forgiving and it's the best driver I've hit in the last 10 years, easy.
Brian: I've not tried it.
Matt: What do you put with?
Brian: I have a Scotty Cameron blade putter. It's incredible putter and it's a privilege to have it. I really enjoy it.
Eric: Let's go back to when you started at BMW, what was the first job that you did there?
Brian: So the first job was at Amoco refinery in Whiting. They sent me up there in February and it was three foot of snow on the ground and cold. We were building a heater for a Kurd [SP] unit, never had been on a refinery, never built a heater. So it was an experience and it wasn't a good project because we didn't have a good estimate come to find out, but we got her done and I learned a lot.
Eric: What do you think the biggest lesson is that you learned in the first five years of working, that you could point back to you today and still say that's one of the lessons that influenced me the most?
Brian: I would say that the biggest lesson was getting to know and respect the crafts. There are the guys with the boots on the ground that make it or break it for you, and if you don't treat them right, you don't treat them with respect, I mean, these are good people, they're just like you and I, they're the ones that can make you, and if you don't earn their respect, you're never gonna make it in your career. And that goes with the superintendents and the supervision, if they don't have you and they don't watch your back, and they don't respect you, you're gonna fail. And I learned that very early, and really became good friends with them, and they really took an interest in me and helped me learn how to weld. And they put me in bib overalls, and put me out in the field and taught me how to do things, and that was instrumental in my career on learning how to estimate, and what they really go through on the job daily.
Matt: How about any stories as far as how you went about gaining the respect of some of those guys, you know, as a young project engineer on the job site? What did you have to do you, any stories of things you had to do to go out of your way to just really gain those guys respect?
Brian: What I did was I spent time in the field with them, watching them, helping them. It didn't matter if I had to go run and get a hammer for 'em or a tool, I just did whatever it took to help them. I asked them a lot of questions they knew that I wanted to learn and they respected that. I never once threw out, you know, a college education or I just tried to be one of them and to help them, and I think that was why they wanted to help me. And I didn't treat them any differently, and in fact, I really went out of my way just to be one of them. They really embraced that and they really helped me.
I see today a difference in our project engineers coming out of college. They're a little intimidated. They don't know how to react to 'em. Their communication and social skills probably aren't as good as they should be coming out of college. Initially, I see a lot of friction.
Matt: Yeah, do you have any examples of maybe a mistake that you made as you were going through that process and you just looked back and you went, "Oh, man, that was not the right move with these guys?"
Brian: You know, oddly enough, there's one experience that I remember as an intern in North Carolina is, I was sent out to a project to take progress to find out where the project was. And I walked into a trailer and there were three or four guys in the trailer, and I was really intimidated first time doing this on a job site. And I walked in and I didn't say hi, and they stopped me and they said, "You can't say hi?" And that's when it kind of just hit me that, "You know, you gotta be friendly and you gotta be open," and that was the best lesson I ever learned.
Matt: Well, you probably have regional cultural differences too depending on the projects.
Brian: Absolutely, absolutely.
Matt: Moving forward at BMW, if you had to point to somebody who you can say, "That was a mentor of mine, really helped me move up in the company," you have somebody there that you kind of look at, that you look up to, and really helped you along?
Brian: So when I went to Munster when I first got hired, we had a branch manager there and his name was Tom O'Brien, and I was the only engineer in the office. And we only had a small office. I think there were six of us there, and Tom ran the office and we had only one client. So, I worked very closely with him and I didn't know it at the time but he was mentoring me, he would stop me before a meeting or a company meeting and make sure that I knew how to participate. That I needed to be visible, that I needed to make meaningful comments.
He would stop me at times and tell me to slow down or he would tell me a direction I should go. He would be open to any questions I had. We could talk about anything about business. He really challenged me. He would pull me aside and just chew me out if I had done something wrong. He really cared about me. He was my mentor, so I think more or less, I was in the right place at the right time, and he became president of the company. And he continued to really mentor me, had sent me out west to run the company when we bought it in Seattle. And then he brought me back to become executive vice president, and to be his replacement.
So he continued to mentor me then, unfortunately, he became ill with cancer, and in this mentorship, in this transition period, he passed away. So, I became president when he died. I don't have that mentor today, but it was never an official mentorship, but he just took it on himself to mentor me and I finally realized what he was doing. And towards the end of his life, he was so helpful in sitting down with me and helping me with decisions, never giving me the answer, but giving me direction, telling me what his leadership views were, allowing me to express what my leadership's views were. And sometimes they were different and that was okay, but he wanted to me to understand where he was coming from and why and what worked for him. So he was a mentor and I miss him dearly today, because he is somebody that I could always go to and have a great conversation with.
Matt: Do you try to go out of your way to do that with younger folks around the office or within the company too as a result?
Brian: Absolutely, I always try to get out and meet all the new hires, meet all the interns, spend time with the project engineers or project manager. I'm always taking somebody to lunch and just trying to mentor without them knowing it. No way making it formal, but you know always espousing my views on leadership, and trying to dig in to see if they have any issues that they may need help with or some guidance with. As you grow, it becomes very, very difficult to do that when you have more and more employees, and you can lose that culture. So that means that that has to shift to my executive team and the executive team has to do that in turn.
Eric: Right, right. Yeah, you really need to develop that top-down culture that...
Brian: Absolutely.
Eric: goes all the way through.
Brian: So we just introduced, and we're starting it now, a formal mentorship program where all new hires will have a mentor. We're having mentor and mentoree training sessions, and once we get that going, we're gonna start to select who we think have high potential within the company and put a mentoring relationship with them, because it's more than just training and getting classes under your belt. When you wanna become a leader and move to that next level, it's mentoring that's gonna help you get there. And that's what we've put this in place now, and basically, it was from my experience being mentored that I think we need to do it for the rest of the employees.
Eric: Right. If you were to put your finger on handful of things that you're gonna be an overachiever, it needs to be in these couple areas because that is critical to management, what types of things would you say?
Brian: The first thing is teamwork, understanding that it takes all of us to help all of us to be successful. You can't do it on your own. The other thing that I tell people is having good, good communication skills. It's interesting when these millennials sometimes come out and they don't have good communication skills because they spend most of their time on a computer. And I have a rule in the office. If you can walk to somebody is desk, then you need to do that instead of sending an email.
And you lose that personal touch. You can't read emails. I mean, you can't read emotion in the emails. So I really believe in good communication skills and helping them understand how that affects their career and how that helps them with our clients. The other thing is knowing how to obtain the data and the information and then how to use it. The internet isn't always right. My son is 25 and he thinks that all the answers are on the internet. Well, I don't know what the statistics are, but I'll bet 10% is wrong. So, you have to look at different data and different sets and then quickly make decisions.
And the last thing that I really stress is having patience and experience. So you can check the box on all the education. We do a lot of training. You can check the box there. You can get advance to your career, but until you've had your butt kicked and until you've had the experience that it requires, you're not gonna get it to the top. And that's the hardest thing for millennials and other generations to understand, is it takes time and you have to be patient with that. And there's nothing like experience.
Matt: That butt kicking is part of the process.
Brian: Absolutely. We've all had it and we've all survived from it.
Eric: Right.
Matt: What is your 25-year-old son doing?
Brian: He is an iOS programmer in San Francisco.
Matt: Okay. Nice.
Brian: Yeah, he's doing really well. He's in computer science and just loves that.
Eric: You talked about communication. What types of things have you done in your career to intentionally get better at communication? Because it is, I would say you're spot on with people's ability to communicate these days, it is just different, and the natural environment that people are in, they don't learn. So if you were to tell somebody, "Here are a couple things you can do to learn how to communicate better," what would that be?
Brian: One of them is I notice in proposal letters. So when we're writing a proposal to a client for a project, many times, you'll see them try to write in kind of text terms pretty short, just jointed messages. So, we have a class where we help them with writing and how to convey the message, and how to convey the value proposition, and how to actually write a letter. I think reading and writing, physically reading a book and writing and practicing that is a big help.
The other thing that I do is I send out a weekly focus messages to all the employees, and it's usually about safety, but it can be about anything and it's usually a philosophical slant on things, but it's about communicating, being very brief but very succinct. And I think the more times you can give them examples and put it in front of them, the more times it's gonna help them. We also have etiquette on emails that we try to teach not capitalizing, not long-winded emails, face-to-face communications, those type of relationship-building, and putting them in meetings where it's either an internal meeting or it's an external meeting with a client or a supplier and having them see real communication being done in person helps them see where they may be lacking.
Matt: Yeah, do you have any examples of things that you wouldn't have thought were contributing to your communication ability but, at the end of the day, really did? Any experiences or things where you look back on and you're like, "Man, I really learned a lot in communication through this experience?"
Brian: It's interesting. We're going through this right now. I'm launching a communication team to do a survey to find out what are we not communicating, what do you wanna hear, what could we be better at, and how should we communicate. So there's all these medias on how to communicate and what we should use, what's the most effective media that they wanna be communicated to and told things. So we're going through the survey. So it'll be interesting to see what the results of that survey are, and then we're gonna try to tweak how we do things according to way they wanna hear things.
Matt: Yeah. Because it's something which we think about on a regular basis, you know, to get better at something, you have to put yourself in a situation where you're being stretched and you're not necessarily comfortable. And sometimes for me, it's walking trade shows and forcing myself to talk to people that I wouldn't naturally sit down and talk with. You know, you learn how to communicate and work on a level when you're not comfortable like that.
Brian: By nature, I'm an introvert, and one of the things that I did early in my career that today has helped me immensely is I took the Dale Carnegie communications class. And back then, it was like 13 weeks and it was 3 hours a night once a week, and it was intense. But I'll tell you what, and we're still sending our engineers to Dale Carnegie classes. That was the biggest most influential thing I could've done to learn how to communicate better.
Matt: Okay. What did they do in those classes? Did they put you in situations where you had to work on it, where you had to learn it? How did that look?
Brian: They did everything. They would throw a subject at you and you had to make an impromptu speech. You had to learn how to introduce people without using the words "without further ado." You had to prepare formal speeches. You had to learn how to do rebuttals. It was every type and form of a speech that you could imagine that they put you into. Then everybody in the class would do it and then they would give an award for whoever did the best. And they would also help you with where you may have not done well. It was invaluable.
Matt: Yeah. Maybe your survey will say that people wanna hear more podcasts with you on 'em.
Brian: They may. I hope so. That'd be good. That'd be good. It's interesting. I do a lot of speaking and corporate reviews and midyear review, and it's funny. I'll hear things about what people heard and it's not what I said or it's not what I intended to say, but they interpreted it differently. So, it's not only the initial communication, it's the follow-up communication and the reinforcement in making sure that everybody on my team is on the same page saying the same things, because it is amazing the things I hear that people think I said.
Matt: Well, that's good. So we talked a little bit about how getting your butt kicked is part of the process of becoming a leader. Do you have your biggest failure story or the first time you get your butt kicked?
Brian: It usually comes back to a project where a project didn't go well, or you lost money, or you had an owner that was very, very difficult. And I'd say one of them that I really, really had a difficult problem with was I was in charge of a client's site. We did all of their construction, all their maintenance, and the plant manager was unbearable. He would get in your business. He would yell and scream and shout, and my performance really suffered. And we really suffered as a company on a profitability standpoint just because I let him kinda rule our work.
So, I struggled through that and I made a decision one day that we couldn't do that anymore, and it was either gonna be, you know, I'm gonna lose the account and probably get fired or it's gonna change. So I went into his office and we had a very stern discussion, and I told him what I thought. And he backed down and listened to me. From that point on, our relationship was very good and it all changed. But I had to go through this really tumultuous time with him and their company and really suffered from it for a long time until I figured out a way to stand up to it and get things changed.
Matt: Yeah, sometimes, those bullies, they're almost asking for you to push back a little bit.
Brian: Exactly. But here's a plant manager that I'm gonna go scream at and I'm gonna get fired because we're gonna lose the account.
Eric: Yeah, right, right.
Matt: But they actually end up kinda respecting you a little bit more for being honest and open and all that?
Brian: Exactly, exactly.
Eric: How do you balance that confrontation versus relationship? This kinda goes along the lines of communication. There are a lot more people these days who are non-confrontational, and sometimes, healthy confrontation is a good thing. Do you try to teach that?
Brian: Yes, yes, and you give examples. You know, we'll have clients that are passive-aggressive, and I'll make sure that if it's appropriate, when I'm helping confront a client, that I have that person with me, that project manager or project engineer is there, or they get debriefed on what was done. That's how they learn without having to go through it themselves.
Eric: Yeah, yeah, interesting. It's great. We have a couple questions that we call...this is more like our rapid fire. How many hours at night do you think you sleep?
Brian: I would say about six.
Eric: You know, how do you look at your work-life balance? Is there anything there that you're very intentional about or is it just kind of what happens, happens?
Brian: Well, first off, I suck at it. But what I try to do is this. I try to get the work done during the day and not bring it home at night, and give my wife as much attention as I can at night. I try not to take work home on the weekends, but that's sometimes hard to do. But if it takes me 10, 12 hours a day during the week to get things done so that I don't have to take it home or that I don't have to do it on weekends, that's what I do. So we've had an agreement, we've been married 32 years, and that is from Monday to Friday, I'm gonna do what it takes for the business, and on the weekends, I'm yours. I try to adhere to that.
Eric: Yeah, that's good, that's good. What time you get into the office in the morning and what time do you wake up?
Brian: I used to be a very early riser and get to the office before anybody. As you get older, for me, that's changed. I get into the office around 7:30. I'm usually the second to last, if not the last person to leave the office at night. I'm more productive later than I am earlier.
Eric: Okay. Do you work out and what do you do for working out?
Brian: So every morning at 5:00, I get up and run three miles, and then I go to work. If I don't do it in the morning, it doesn't get done due to my schedule. And I even do it when I travel.
Eric: Do you ever use the app, Strava?
Brian: No.
Eric: It's a GPS tracking app for running and biking. I'm recently really into it. It's got these like leaderboards and segments, so if there's like a stretch of mile that's like frequently run in your area, all the other runners will turn on the GPS of their phone, and it'll track their time from beginning to end.
Brian: Hmm, okay.
Eric: I find it fascinating. It's a way to compete with other people. So, yeah, it maintains who has the record for that particular route. So it's a way to be competitive with other people but still run by yourself.
Brian: Well, at 55, I'm not into fast running.
Eric: Yeah, yeah. What's the best book you've ever read?
Brian: There are so many best books, but I would say one that's resonated the most was not "Good to Great," but the book before that called "Built to Last." That was a great book. I still reference that a lot. But there are so many good books, and as a leader, you've got to continually educate yourself and make sure that you're reading the right books, not just reading books. But if you're not continually challenging yourself and learning, you're not gonna be a good leader.
Eric: If you had to put two or three of those top books that you would say, "All right, if you wanna go into leadership, these are must-reads," what would those be?
Brian: The one I'm reading now which I think is very important is called "Illumination," and it's how to tell your story, how to develop your vision, and then communicate and tell that vision. That is something that I'm challenged with right now as our company is changing, and my vision has changed on where I want us to go, how do you communicate that, and how you tell that, what celebrations and different media and different ways of doing that.
The other book that I've read some time ago, I'm trying to remember the title, but it was the CEO of Yum! Brands, and he tells about his career from being an army, son, and traveling all over, and, you know, moving to 30 cities before he was in college, and living in a trailer court, and how he overcame all of that and his vision. That was an inspirational book that I think is worthwhile reading. I just can't think of the title of it.
There's another book "First Change All the Rules," it's a very good book. If you're staunching your ways and not willing to change, it will be a difficult read, but it's a good book to get you to think differently.
Eric: Yeah. First websites you check in the morning?
Brian: I don't. I look at "The Wall Street Journal." I read it in the morning. I get a few internet emails from different, like for instance, the Chicago Board of Reserve. I'll get some current statistics from that, economic data. I'll get that. But other than that, I don't spend as much time on the computer. I try not to.
Eric: Okay. What's your favorite restaurant?
Brian: Favorite restaurant, I would say...this is gonna be strange but 10 West in Cicero, Indiana.
Matt: All right. Tell us about it.
Brian: So it's in the corner Downtown Cicero. It's got a chef that came from Indianapolis. It's a lot like Bonge. It is incredible food, very reasonable, a great atmosphere, the downstairs bar is fun, the stuff mushrooms are to die for. A lot of people don't know about it, but it is an incredible restaurant. We go there a lot.
Eric: I have to look that one up. We should also maintain a restaurant list.
Matt: Yeah, restaurant list, yeah.
Eric: Book list and a restaurant list.
Matt: There you go.
Eric: What is something that you believe that you think very few other people believe the same thing?
Brian: I could answer it this way. There's two pieces to our success, and it's very simple. One of them is performance and the other one is marketing. And I look at performance in a little different way. I look at it as solving the client's problems. So, we're a construction company so you think that our purpose is to go out and build things. I look at it different. I look at if we've performed, we've solved their problems. And that may mean helping them overcome a construction project. It may help them make more money, increase their profits, increase their uptime. There's a whole lot of different ways of helping a client, but it's all about solving problems.
So I look at performance that way, "Are we solving their problems," not, "Are we performing per our standards and all of the quality standards on projects safely?" I look at it a little bit different. And then in marketing, if you market well and you perform well, you're gonna have repeat work because people are gonna wanna use you.
Eric: Yup, that's good. Going back to the performance, whose role is it to identify what the customers' problems are that may be outside of the traditional scope of work that you guys need to solve?
Brian: There's two roles in that. One of them is our marketing manager who spends a lot of time with current and future prospects to understand and ask them those questions. What are you not getting from the other contractors? What do you really need that if you could just wave a wand and you could get it, what would it be? As a buyer, what is your most difficult situation that you need us to overcome for you? What is really keeping you up at night? Asking those questions.
And then the second layer of that is our project manager. So, when our project manager is on the job, continually asking the client, "Are we satisfying your needs? Where can we do better? What are you not seeing that you want?" So you gotta continually to prod 'em because they may not come out and just tell you.
Eric: A favorite quote, do you have a quote that you always go back to?
Brian: I do. I study a lot about Lincoln. And one thing that's guided me in my career over and over especially when times are tough is Lincoln was a good friends of a man whose son was in college, and his son was really struggling in college. So, his father wrote to Lincoln and asked him, "Can you help my son get through college? And what would you tell him?" And Lincoln wrote back and he wrote a long letter, of course, because Lincoln did. But one of the quotes that he really said was, "You will not fail if you resolutely determine you cannot fail." So that's always kept me going whenever it was tough times.
Eric: I noticed on your profile, you seem to be involved with several not-for-profits or charity organizations. How did that come about? Are you still heavily involved with them? Do you encourage people through your company to do and be involved with stuff like that?
Brian: Yes, we do. So what we do, and we've always done the since our founder, is we give a percent of our profits to agencies in the communities in which we work or our offices are based. And the biggest way that we like to do that is if our employees are involved in an agency or a charity, we wanna help them first. So we invite them to come and ask us to match donations or support a cause. So we, first and foremost, wanna support our employees that are interested in that.
We also do things for the communities that involve our employees. So there's an interesting organization in Indianapolis called Rebuilding Indianapolis, and they'll take a block in an area and all of the contractors will get together, and we'll go spend a weekend and rebuild 60 homes, or refinish, you know, redo kitchens or bathrooms, or whatever it might be. So we'll have about 30 volunteers involved in that. We encourage them, our employees, to get involved in any way that they feel comfortable doing. We don't ask for our employees to donate money to causes. We think that's a conflict that we don't wanna entertain. So for instance, Girl Scout Cookies, you can't bring Girl Scout Cookies to work. The only thing that we as a company embrace and that's United Way because it helped so many different agencies. So, we have a campaign that we work with United Way at all our offices every year, and we match 100% of what our employees donate to United Way.
The other organization here in Indianapolis that we're very involved it is called Christamore House, and it's in the community that our office in Indianapolis is, and it's a community center. We not only help with providing labor to help them with projects, but I was past chairman. I was succeeded by another guy from our office. Our IT manager, he became chairman. So we've supported it on the board. We support it financially because it's a big part of our community, and we wanna continue to do that. So I'm still somewhat involved in that. We try to do what we can and we've found that, you know, the more you give, the more you actually get back. We don't we don't get business from it, and that's not why we do it.
Eric: Thanks for listening to "Conversations Around the Corner," produced by Wallprotex, the designer and manufacturer of wall protection products for healthcare, hospitality, or any commercial building. Be sure to subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher, and tune in next week when we will have another conversation around the corner.