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John Barnes

DNA of a VP of Construction

John Barnes HeadshotJohn was born in Smyrna, Tennessee and spent his formative years in Tennessee, South Carolina and Kansas. In 1985, he graduated from Kansas State University receiving a BS in Architectural Engineering. After graduation pursued a career in construction management, where over the past 29 years he has managed well over 75 construction projects of various types and sizes ranging from $100,000 to well over $100 million. At present, John is a Vice President and General Manager for Linbeck Group LLC and has overall responsibility for proving overall leadership to the company to ensure the delivery of superior and expected results. He has been with Linbeck for the past 18 years and is an expert in the planning, organization, and construction of healthcare projects. John has acted in the role of owner’s representative, program manager, project manager, superintendent, project engineer, and design manager. John was previously a chairman with AGC Houston Project Management Education committee.

John Barnes
Senior Vice President
Linbeck Group LLC

Linbeck Group LogoWas construction always your career path?

Although I didn’t consciously know I wanted to go into construction until after my studies, the signs were there from when I was quite young. 

When I was six years old I was in a tornado in Kansas at my grandmother’s house. We went down to the basement and emerged later to find the house was completely destroyed. There were are lot of repairs to be done so I remember watching these men rebuilding homes and people’s lives. 

Then when I was eight we built a new house and I assisted my dad building the garage. I got to “bang in nails”, put up shingles, really appreciate how everything fits together. All through high school my part time jobs were light commercial and residential work. Whenever I needed money I turned to construction work. 

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path?

I think your biggest obstacle is always yourself. Just knowing yourself, knowing your limitations, continuing to hone the things you are good at, recognize what you’re not good at and work on that. Those are the obstacles. Technically or business-wise there are no obstacles that are true impediments to progressing.

What technical skills do you think are integral to role?

You don’t need to be a technical expert in all areas of construction, but you need to have a good core knowledge, and some expertise in specific areas. Personally I find MEP knowledge the most useful.

I think sometimes, when hiring people, look for business skills over technical experience, people value them in different ways. However, I think the business skills are easier to teach and to learn. People hire our company because we have the ability to organize and deliver a technical building product. You have to know the language. You can’t make up a solution if you don’t have the technical skills backing your decisions. It’s tough to mask it if you don’t have that knowledge. 

In my new role as SVP, I’m focusing on business development. There are many people in construction sales who have to refer to someone else to offer technical expertise, I feel comfortable doing that as I can work with clients from concept to build solutions.  

What attributes/characteristics do believe are integral to the role?

The first and most important attribute is integrity. There are many things going on at any one time, you just can’t afford to ”wing it” in any instance, or not act in what is in the best interest for you, your company and your client.

How important is it to be exposed to all areas of the business? 

I don’t know that you need to be exposed to all of them, but you do need to understand how all the parts of the business operate. We try to ensure that on our job sites, all our workers understand how they have an effect on the business. i.e. “Here is how your job individually got us to our margins, budgets and safety performance, here is how you fit into Linbeck’s results.” They don’t need to be exposed or have firsthand knowledge of every piece, but understand how their work impacts and is important to the overall business.   

What is the one thing you have to have to be a VP of a construction company? 

Passion and compassion. It drives you and how hard you work, how much you’re willing to put in and how you view obstacles. And passion is infectious. If you really care (compassion) and are engaged and bring energy to every task, you will see that spread to your team and your clients. It’s the fuel that drives results. 

Sometimes you can get tired, or you have a couple bad days, and you have to find ways to re-ignite that passion. Go out on a job site and see those tangible results, talk to a returning client – remind yourself why you’re in this role. And then share that. In a great high-energy team everyone is constantly reminding each other of why they’re there, constantly boosting each other’s energy and passion.

Is there anything you would have done differently looking back at your career path?

I would probably have done more behavioral testing and gotten more feedback about what makes me tick. The Birkman feedback and Harrison profiling started when I got to Linbeck, but that was 12 years into my career. That’s 12 years before I got to know what my weaknesses were so I could finally do something about it. 

The Harrison assessment is like “holding a mirror in front of your face” and lets you see what you really look like. The sooner you engage with that feedback, the sooner you start self-improvement.  

The second thing is to prioritize everything in my life. So for me, it is family first, Linbeck second, and myself third, whereas in the past that order has gotten confused. I can recall a few Christmas’ when I was working and I should have just said no.  

We expect our people to meet schedules and meet expectations and we are not always aware of what our staff go through day-by-day to get projects done.  Or what it does to their families and consequently we never assess what opportunities they actually missed. That is a regret for me.  

Compared to 5 or 10 years ago, in your opinion how would you say your role has evolved?

Talent management wise, we are much more aware of our own workforce issues, with a lot of people retiring. 

We are focusing like a lot of other companies on talent retention and development, assessing each person individually – not just from the point of view of the business, but also from their point of view as a unique person. If I am going to develop someone into a VP role then I want to know that they have the attributes to succeed. 

That requires me to understand their technical experience, their emotional capacity, their desires. You can’t just “beam someone up” – it’s all about education. The difference between a highly technical person, and a person who can lead a company is their ability to be a leader – to gain followers.