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Interview with Chris Desko at Clark Construction -Hays DNA VP ConstructionChris Desko is a Project Executive with Clark Construction Group and has been a leader for the delivery of their projects since 1997, leading CMAR, Design-Build, and GC teams in performing a wide range of preconstruction, construction and post-construction services for clients, covering a vast array of projects. As a construction leader, Chris has extensive experience in collaborating with clients, designers, consultants, end-users, subcontractors, suppliers, inspectors and his own staff. Chris is outgoing, he listens to everybody’s views and ideas, and he is an out-of-the-box thinker when developing and executing solutions. While focusing on Safety First, Chris brings together cost, schedule and quality into his everyday management practices so he can make timely, well thought-out decisions keeping end goals in focus.

Chris Desko
Project Executive for the Texas Division
Clark Construction

Clark Construction logoWhat technical skills are integral to role?

You need to understand a building as a whole and how  it is put together. I may not be the most- skilled craftsman in carpentry, but I need to know how millwork is formed and created and installed. You need to know the that basic level of what it takes to complete a project.

The construction industry, like most, is increasingly becoming more computer-based and technology driven. Learning basic and new systems and software - and understanding how to use them to their full advantage - is critical. It’s hard to lead an efficient team if as team leader you don’t know how to use the technology that everyone else is using.

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

Be patient. It is natural to want to progress quickly in a career, but there is a process you have to go through to truly be successful. In construction you have got to learn a lot of things. At Clark, we do a great job developing people through rotations through  different departments, including preconstruction and construction, field and office. Taking the time to learn and understand each part of the full construction process will make you a better overall builder. We are not trying to develop processors, we want to develop managers. We want people who understand why we do things, not just how we do them.

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

To be a leader in any construction company, large or small, you  must know the business. I think it is very important to be exposed to everything. In my career I chose to embrace every opportunity to learn something new, even if it seemed like it wasn’t directly on my career path. This  gave me a better understanding of the construction industry, and it made me a better business leader.

I advise others to follow my example and actively seek out information or areas you don't know much about. Do more than just what you are told; be curious and be passionate about construction. It’s a great career if you put yourself in a position where you demonstrate that you have the drive and ability, the know-how and you have learned everything you can. Your career will grow organically if you invest in your own learning and education and embrace those opportunities.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

One of my favorite parts is problem solving. I am a very logical problem solver kind of person. My wife asks how I can enjoy it when it seems like there’s always another problem to solve but if there were no problems there would no need for managers or superintendents. Problem solving, finding solutions, coming up with the best way to solve them. That is kind of what drives the industry, and it’s what drives me. It’s never the exact same problem so it’s never the same solution, from day to day, and project to project, problem solving is what keeps it engaging and exciting. 

What is the one thing you have to have to be a VP (or above) of a construction company in your opinion? (i.e. education, personality trait, skill etc.)

There's no simple answer and it is  hard to pinpoint one single thing. To become a VP you have to be educated in the construction trade, possess the skills necessary for managing construction projects and people, and have an open minded personality.

Education is very important. Construction is one of the few industries where you can start straight out of high school and build a career, but  to have success in a construction career you need to be educated and continue to learn. Education comes in many forms; college degrees, trade and management certifications, OSHA training, LEED Accreditation, etc.  As you advance in your career, your education helps you build the skills necessary to become a leader in construction.

In your opinion, how important is networking?

Much of the construction business depends on relationships and collaboration. Networking is an important way to develop and nurture those relationships, whether with developers, architects, engineers, or trade contractors. To continue your growth you rely on people selecting you. People within my company have to select me to be in a position. Owners have to select me to build their job. Subcontractors have to want to bid to me. I know subs who will always bid to me no matter where I am or projects I work on because they want to work with Chris Desko.  Keeping those networks and relationships positive is important, especially since sometimes you have to put your foot down. You can’t please everyone, you can’t always be nice, but if you have that strong network then enforcing a contract or having a tough negotiation doesn’t break down those relationships.

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

My role is still evolving and I am reminded of this constantly. I am moving from being “in the weeds” to supervising the yard work. In your career you have to start in the trenches, in the weeds, and do that work, but as you progress it becomes about watching other people do that work. Managing people to do work you used to do yourself is a challenge, but that’s leadership. You have to figure out how to let other people do their jobs so you can step back and focus on business development, or project management, or whatever the bigger picture is.

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

There are lots of different routes to leadership in this industry. Find the one that is best for you. You can be a leader in safety, you can be a leader in preconstruction, you can be a leader in construction, you can be a leader in risk or finances. As you enter construction you need to know those different paths and think about what interests you but don’t be too quick to pick either.  If you are too quick to pick you get pushed into a role that you might not love down the line, so try to get some experience in different areas so you know what you want from your career.

The one constant is hard work, so put in the time you need to do it. That sometimes requires extra hours and sometimes requires a weekend here or there. Don’t let that come as a surprise if you are picking construction.