USA DNA VP Construction Interview Jim

Interview with Jim Brownrigg, VP & Business Manager at Turner Construction
DNA of a VP of Construction

In his role as Vice President and Business Manager, Jim Brownrigg is responsible for the day to day construction operations of the Houston Turner Construction Office. Jim has previously served as a Vice President in Turner’s Global Critical Facilities Market Segment, managing a group of technical construction staff and supply chain experts focused on mission critical equipment and systems. In this role, he completed over 20 projects in North America, Europe, and SE Asia. Prior to his current role, Jim was a founding member and served as Vice President for Turner Logistics, Turner’s supply chain management subsidiary.

Have you ever second guessed your career path?
Sure, I think it’s natural to step back and take some perspective on their career. It’s important, even if you stay on the same career path, because otherwise you can end up somewhere that’s not a great fit simply by following that inertia. Take that time to think about your natural abilities, your priorities and how your skills are being used, whether the direction you’re moving is satisfactory, whether you’re still learning and growing. But at the same time, every time I have stepped back, I’ve continued to look at Construction and see the opportunities to build high performing team, to solve age old problems. It continues to be a very motivating experience because of the challenges in front of us.  

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path and how did you overcome it?
I think the biggest obstacle has been that construction as an industry is very slow to change. It’s a very high risk industry and very resistant to change, for some good reasons, but also out of fear. While there are some great innovators in our industry, I think it’s been a challenge to continue to drive innovation and push change in the industry.   

Sometimes through sheer will! But also by finding a company, namely Turner, which has embraced the entrepreneurial spirit and the openness to innovate and change the industry. We look to hire people who want to find new ways to push the industry further along. Turner is a great fit for me as it provides that environment that welcomes, supports and rewards that sort of entrepreneurial spirit and innovation.    

What technical skills do you think are integral to role?
At different stages in your career those technical skills change. When I was starting my career it was my understanding of Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing systems, my background in that industry was a big reason for my success coming into a construction company. As my role evolves, it’s more about interpersonal skills and the ability to lead and build teams. In our industry your interpersonal skills and leadership skills are often over-shadowed by your technical skills, but as you evolve in your career, some of those communication skills, interpersonal skills and leadership skills become far more important.      

What is your advice to someone who is moving up the ranks in the field and wants to pursue a management/executive career? 
I think first you need to be successful in the role you are in.  People often looked too far ahead. I am someone who needs to know where I am going - if I am going to make a decision today, I need to know where I aim to be in 3-5 years. So I definitely advocate for setting those long term goals, but at the same time, I am keenly focused on being successful in the job I am in today. The key success factor for future success is past success.   

Have you ever worked abroad?
Yes I have. I have travelled for international projects across Mexico, Canada, Europe and some preconstruction projects in Asia. I think it’s more and more important to get that variety of experience. The reality is that construction and design is a global market, so having that experience and understanding the different delivery methods and financing methods around the world is becoming very important to know where construction in the US is going.  While we are a large construction market in the US, when you look at the overall global market, we probably are not as advanced in the delivery methods in some other parts of the world.  

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)
I think it’s critical to have decision making skills. The ability to do the research, to educate yourself on all the different factors, and then be able to make an informed decision is crucial. Organizations need leadership and direction in order to move forward. The inability to make a decision causes a domino effect throughout the business, which can end up being worse than making a bad decision. 

In your opinion, how important is networking?
Networking is important, but I think it’s value comes when you have an objective or a goal. Networking for the sake of networking is not necessarily useful, and can become detrimental. What are you hoping to get from a conversation and what do you have to offer? Networking to share ideas, to increase your own knowledge or someone else’s, to better the industry - those are all important. I don’t think that simply socializing with other people in the industry is adding value.  

Is there anything that the next generation should know?
We need to do a better job educating people about the opportunities that exist in construction. We’re facing a shortage of skilled trades, a shortage of estimators - there are lots of specialist areas that are huge opportunities and I don’t think young people are aware of them. A degree is still important as we need engineers, technical problem solvers and so forth. but now we have a serious skills gap in the trade level. There are substantial career opportunities to make a very good living from a trade.   

What advice would you give to the next generation of professionals aspiring to become a construction leader?
Get a strong foundation in something that you can get a level of deep expertise in. There is a lot of good construction knowledge out there but when you can understand how the foundations are poured, understand how the electrical system work, how the plumbing systems work, then you can provide real value to your owners, the leadership and the subcontractors team on the construction site.  I think you need to have some deep expertise that add value along the way, then you will get the opportunity to broaden your knowledge as you progress higher into senior levels.  But you have to have a niche or some specific areas of expertise to build a solid foundation in your first five to 10 years.