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Torrey Hawkins

DNA of a VP of Construction

Torrey Hawkins HeadshotTorrey Hawkins has over 15 years of experience in many different aspects of commercial construction and development. He has constructed over 3 million square feet of institutional quality tilt wall/commercial facilities and over $15 million of corporate interior/tenant finish-out projects. In his leadership role at Angler Construction, he strives to make sure that all clients are 100% satisfied with the projects Angler delivers. His easy going nature is well liked by clients and tenants, and has generated significant amounts of repeat and referral business for the company. Torrey is a graduate from the University of Alabama and in his spare time is an avid fly-fisher and bird hunter.

Torrey Hawkins
Angler Construction

Angler LogoWas construction always your career path?

In a way, although I did leave that path for a while. I started out working for a family friend, building houses during the summer, learning in the field and getting my first taste of the industry. But when I graduated college I thought I wanted something different, something more high-flying and fancy. I had the nice office job but was bored and only lasted about two and a half years. It just wasn’t the right fit for me. 

So I returned to construction and basically started over. I started out as an assistant superintendent and learn the basic aspects of running field operations.  All my friends had plush office jobs and I was working out in the dirt and heat. To do having the ability to be outside, it really added enjoyment to the workplace. Taking that time early in my professional life to correct course was the best decision I could have made at the time.

Have you ever second guessed your career path?

I think anyone in construction always second guesses why they put up with this chaos sometimes. 

Construction is a really rewarding industry to be in so for me those moments are usually short, and I’m quickly reminded that I enjoy my job and the satisfaction that comes with doing it well. I think everyone who is in construction likes problem solving and then getting to see the fruits of their labor at the end of the day.  

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path and how did you overcome it?

Along my career I would say the hardest thing is always getting team environments to understand what the big picture is. It’s easy to get really focused on the tasks – what is urgent, what do we need this minute or today? But if you lose sight of where all of those tasks fit in the big picture then you won’t be as effective at managing your time and at prioritizing. 

Sometimes you need to take a step back and try to figure out where we are really trying to go, instead of focusing on where we are right now.” 

As for overcoming it, it’s an everyday battle. I think that’s where company leaders have to step in and provide that long-term view, and then share that perspective with your managers, your teams. Share your vision for the future, emphasize the focus on quality and customer service, and tell your project managers, superintendents, your front line laborers how their successes contribute to the company and to that overall vision. Place their roles in the context of that big picture so they feel like part of something bigger than just their day-to-day tasks.

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

Don’t hurry out of your time in the field. The field is the most important role and time you can have in the construction industry. When you’re early in your career the office seems great – it’s got AC, it’s more pleasant – but in the field is where you’re honing your most important skills. Problem solving, dealing with different people, leading sub-contractors and other employees – those skills are more important once you move into a management role. 

I also think that in the field you see the impact of mistakes more. We all make mistakes, it’s an important part of learning, but in the office maybe your mistake ends up being dealt with by the superintendent or the assistant superintendent. In the field you don’t have that buffer. That’s a good thing. That will let you learn faster from your mistakes, and when you do get to the office you’ll have a better understanding of how your decisions affect those who are in the field – the people who are doing the actual building. 

We have an intern program, or really an assistant project manager program we have started here for guys who want to be in the industry, they spend a month or two here learning how to understand drawings, then we put them out in the field. They are going to be project managers hopefully, but if they can’t hack it in the field working with superintendents they will never earn their respect back in the office.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I’ve always enjoyed the sales side, the marketing and the estimating. It brings out my competitive side –  you want this job now how are you going to get it? Does the owner like you, are you going to go in low and try to build a relationship? There’s a lot of strategic planning and positioning, especially as a young company that’s constantly evaluating where we want to be and who the right clients are. 

What is the one thing you have to have to be president of a construction company in your opinion? 

You’ve got to have a lot of patience. In this industry things won’t always go your way. Here in Houston we’ve been battling five months of terrible rain and there’s nothing any of us can do about it. That’s mother nature. So you have to have patience and recognize that tomorrow’s a new day. 

If you take everything that goes wrong very personally and let it people see your frustration then you will lose a lot of respect as a leader and companies suffer because of that.  

In your opinion, how important is networking?

I think it’s an important part of being competitive. I enjoy it, I like spending time with customers and potential clients, hearing what the other guys are working on.

Sometimes in construction people want to skip that sales side, they want the numbers to speak for themselves, but then you’re just battling over price. If you build good relationships and do good work then you can sometimes get a project with a higher margin on it because that person wants to work with you.

What social media channels are you on?

We use the two biggest ones that are LinkedIn and Facebook, we are working on expanding that component of the business along with all our web presence. We’re trying to be more proactive than reactive because it’s clearly becoming more important, but the industry is only slowly moving in that direction. 

How has your role changed in the last five to 10 years? What lessons from that time period would you pass on to the next generation?

When I started the company it was just me. So if something went right I got all the glory, and if something went wrong there was only one person responsible. Now we have 26 employees. You have to be willing to let go and let other people get deals, manage projects, make decisions. It’s my name and reputation so it is hard to delegate, to let other people figure it out, especially since if something goes wrong then that will come back to me.  

As a leader you need to accept that when things go wrong you take blame, but when things go right you give praise to the team. It was hard to make that transition, from one person who does everything to steering the ship, but it’s the only way the company will grow and expand.

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

Don’t try to rush your progress. A lot of people are always looking for the next step, the next job title or promotion. Take the time to really master where you are before you worry about taking on other tasks. 

Most companies will give high-potential people more tasks and responsibilities. Allow a lot of that to happen naturally. I spent eight years with a very large construction company, moving assistant project manager through their training program all the way up to senior project manager. It was a gradual progress, you were always doing the next job above you, and when you mastered it then you got the title. 

Don’t feel like just because economies are doing well, or construction marketplaces are doing well that you need to rush your career progress. If you move too fast you’re setting yourself up for failure by taking on a role you’re not ready for. Be willing to take your time with your career. It’s not about paying dues, it’s about mastering one step at a time.