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Ron Garrett

DNA of a VP of Construction

Ron Garrett HeadshotStarting his career in the architectural profession in 1984, Ron Garret worked his way up to become an Associate Principle at a Houston based firm. In 1995 he was asked to join a major construction management and general contracting firm in Houston to further develop the more collaborative design and construction delivery process. Overseeing the Houston region for Austin Commercial since 2013, Ron still enjoys providing leadership so design and construction professions work together towards the goal of good architecture at the owner’s budget, and creating buildings that perform to the highest possible standards.

Ron Garrett
Houston Division Manager
Austin Commercial

Austin Commercial LogoHave you always aspired to becoming a leader of a construction company?

It’s one step along the path. I have always aspired to own my own company and providing leadership within a larger company is similar to owning a company.

Was construction always your career path?

Certainly the industry, but I actually started in architecture. I practiced for 11 years and I’m still a registered architect. More than 20 years ago I transferred into construction. 

Have you ever second guessed your career path?

There are definitely days that you question why you are in this business as it can be very challenging. But any business can be, and anything you do in your life is challenging. It is an interesting business and some days are fun and some days you think maybe I’ll try something else.

What technical skills do you think are integral to role?

You’ve got to know how to build buildings. You have to understand the bits and pieces that it takes to put together a building. That is the absolute basis of our business and if you don’t understand those technical pieces then you will struggle to really understand the rest of the business.

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

The soft skills you need are fairly broad - you have to be personable, have diplomacy, be compassionate. You need to be able to speak publically. It takes a lot of all of those kinds of skill sets. Not every person has those. You have got to be pretty outgoing, you have to be pretty firm, and you have to be willing to stand up for what is right. 

So it takes a lot of soft skills not just technical skills. Technical skills get you a little way, but if you really want to get into leadership it is all the soft skills that will make the difference. 

What is your advice to someone who is moving up the ranks in the field and wants to pursue a management/executive career?

Surround yourself with great people and grow great people. The knowledge you have is worthless unless you can share that knowledge with someone else, so share all the knowledge and try do your best to grow people and train them to take over for you and to do better. If someone I’ve trained is more skilled or has better capabilities than me, that’s a win. You should aspire to train people to be better than you so that you will all prosper.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I love the variety over the course of a career. There is always a unique fingerprint to every building that you do, something that will never be repeated. I think that is what most people get excited about. There are constantly new challenges and nothing is a routine.

In your opinion, how important is networking?

It is very important, it is crucial. You have to know the customers out there and know the industry. Without that you won’t have a business. Especially with all the social media, it is getting easier and easier to stay connected. You never know who you are going to meet or who you are going to connect with who later may want you to do some work for them. I probably don’t network as well as I probably should. If I did a better job of that I would probably be in an even higher position. 

Social media is becoming more important. It is not the only way but it is one facet, and a free way of getting yourself or your business out there. Sometimes I underestimate it, still.  You post something and the next day you get 200 replies. Which is amazing, and you don’t even realize you have that type of network. That said, I still don’t think there is anything more important than face to face and being involved in organizations in your community both charitable organizations and industry related organizations. Those are probably the best ways to network.

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

Our industry has evolved a lot. One major change I see happening is that I think general contractors are replacing architecture and design professionals as the “master builders” - the trusted resource that owners rely on to understand the building purpose and process. Architects used to be the ones you would rely on to understand how buildings were put together, but now they don’t have that knowledge. It is more about the aesthetics, they don’t understand the building science. 

The other big change is a shift away from competition based purely on price. Owners are realizing that construction companies add more value than just being the cheapest. More project selections are based on Qualifications and Price where 15 years ago it was the low bid price only. Alternative delivery methods give Owners better options in selecting the correct contractors.

Is there anything that the next generation should know?

I think some young people have an unrealistic idea about how their careers will progress. Construction is a great way to make a living, you can be very comfortable with a career in this industry, but not everyone will become a company leader. It is always good to aspire to be at the top but you also might find that you have a place in another area of the organization where you can be satisfied and happy.

What advice would you give to the next generation of professionals aspiring to become a construction leader?

Learn as much as you can about all aspects of the business. Building Science is just the basics - become comfortable reading reports, talking to accountants, lawyers, sub-contractors. The more comfortable you are with all aspects of the business, the better you’ll be able to make decisions based on good information, that will drive results across the whole company, not just the part that you’re an expert in.