GCs and Owners Discuss Relationships and Trends

The Indiana Construction Roundtable, in partnership with the Associated General Contractors of Indiana, recently hosted a panel discussion on the importance of building a healthy relationship between construction end users and general contractors throughout any major construction project. The participants emphasized that the relationships built before, during, and after any project are among the most important aspects to the final product.

“Relationships are the connective tissue for success,” said Todd Butron, Chief of Staff and Deputy Mayor for the City of Westfield. “You want to select a contractor you have had a positive experience with or have positive recommendations from other business leaders.”

Building and maintaining these positive relationships are some of the most important aspects of the modern construction firm today and the panel agreed that there is one factor that exceeds all others. “Relationships are built at the speed of trust,” said Jeff Hagerman, Chairman of The Hagerman Group.

The panelists agreed that trust must be earned. “When you talk about building trust, we are not perfect, we have issues during projects,” said Mike McCann, President and CEO of Pepper Construction Co. of Indiana. “When you build trust is how you act or react to issues on a project.  How we react to the bad situations that builds real trust.”

Almost every major construction project is going to have setbacks of some type, but finding solutions and communicating effectively with the owner is critical. “In any major project there are going to be mistakes,” said Jason Deadmond, Capitol Project and Engineering Manager for Indianapolis Power and Light. “But if you bring them to me immediately, and we have time to fix them, they are forgotten by the end of the project.”

Every panelist was emphatic that trust is not only the easiest way to build a strong working relationship, but also easiest way to lose one. “I had an experience in the past 12 months where something went wrong, and I found out about it weeks later,” said Burtron. “That creates this cloud of doubt that persists through the rest of the project.”

When issues do arise, it is essential to be forthcoming so that they can be resolved in a timely manner. “Communicate difficulties early and often, so we can do things to fix them,” offered Scott Clark, Engineering Leader for Dow AgroSciences . “Communicating difficulties later does not allow us to address issues.”

Deadmond noted that from an owner’s perspective, the GC leadership is typically not on site every day, so it is important to have at least one key person there each day as a point of contact should a problem arise. “Owners can be very difficult and demanding, when the rubber hits the road, that is when people’s true colors come out.” He said. “Having someone trained with an ability to deal with that situation is essential.”

All of the general contractors were in agreement that this is the reality of the industry and they have a mission to instill a culture within their companies that looks to put integrity, honesty, and communication right up front as cultural imperatives. “We are in the service business and we have an expectation within our company that we approach every project to build a client for life,” said Hagerman. “The expectation is that we have that mindset and that culture, and expect to be their construction solution provider for decades to come. This reality and vision starts with training that relationships are everywhere.”

The relationship between owners and GCs has been evolving in recent years. Contractors are now, more than ever before, actively participating in projects all the way from the beginning stages of conception to the completion of the project. “We want to be project leaders, not project witnesses,” said Lee Carmichael, President and CEO of Weddle Brothers Construction Company.  “With integrated project delivery, everyone is now involved, shares in the success and collaborates on the entire scope of the project.”

McCann added, “We are seeing more negotiated work, and are seeing clients who value hiring a partner earlier in the process, as opposed to design-bid-build. I want to see this continue because I see it as where we can build relationships and add more value for clients. There is a high degree of leadership that is required, more responsibility, and higher risk, but with that comes a greater degree of opportunity.”

As the nation and Indiana successfully rebound from the turmoil and turbulence of the recession, opportunity continues to present itself, and the state continues to grow. In order to help build Indiana’s future, it is important that these dialogues occur, and that the conversations and relationships between all involved groups evolve together. The ICR would like to thank all of the amazing panelists and enthusiastic guests who attended our panel. The next ICR Educational Event will be held on November 15th at Indiana Landmarks, and will be focused on CM at Risk, featuring prominent GCs and University representatives.

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