US DNA VP Construction Interview Matthew

Interview with Matthew Schimenti, President of Schimenti Construction Company
DNA of a VP of Construction

Matthew Schimenti founded Construction Company in 1994. Since then Matthew and his team have earned a strong reputation for reliability and quality in the retail construction industry throughout New York, New Jersey and New England, with a specialty in urban construction within the New York City market. The firm’s client list includes many of the nation’s leading retailers, including Chipotle, Clarks, H&M, Kohl’s, REI, Sephora, Starbucks, Target, Ulta, Victoria’s Secret and Zara. Headquartered in Ridgefield, Connecticut, Schimenti Construction also maintains offices in New York City.

Was construction always your career path?

It was not my chosen career path, which would surprise many people because I am the third generation in construcotion. My grandfather was an Architect and my father was a General Contractor. I spent every summer working construction jobs, but I went to school for finance and marketing. 

My father asked me to spend a year in construction after college and I became enamored with the business. 

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path and how did you overcome it?
Personal development has been a challenge. As the business has grown and evolved, and as I have progressed in my career, I had to focus on personal improvement and development. 

I really used all the resources and expertise around me. Peer exchange, mentorship, networking – building relationships with people in the industry who know more than I do, or who have different experiences. The ability to pick up the phone and ask someone for input or for a different point of view is invaluable. It gives me a different perspective and lets me make a decision based on information and insight beyond my own direct experience. 

What attributes/characteristics do you believe are integral to the role?
You need to be able to develop people, which sometimes means resisting your problem solving instincts. Nurture the ability in yourself to stand back and let other people seek out their own solutions, or to support and direct without micro-managing. It’s very rewarding to coach, mentor or develop others, and to know you’re investing in the future leaders of your company. It does require being able to let go, which is something that I struggle with, but when you have great team members you want them to reach their potential. 

Since I believe developing talent is integral to success, I have made training and development a cornerstone at Schimenti Construction. Some key initiatives include leadership assessments and individual development plans that include participation in ongoing training programs.

What is your advice to someone who is moving up the ranks in the field and wants to pursue a management/executive career?
Arm yourself with experience of different job disciplines such as pre-construction and understanding conceptual budgeting. You need to have the business acumen to assess and interpret costs for both your business and your clients. Become a filter – don’t just pass information on, add value and insight.

In addition to maximizing all of the learning opportunities afforded you, it is also up to the individual to invest in themselves. This may be taking a course or seeking information from colleagues or online. What you put into yourself is what you get out, so it is up to you to take the opportunity. This is a journey and you need to arm yourself with experience. 

How important is it to be exposed to all areas of the business? 
It is essential. If you have weaknesses they will be exposed and it will affect your personal performance. Schimenti has a rotational program which includes pre-construction, operations and project management that allows our staff to gain this experience. 

Exposure to all parts of the business has been essential and vital to my personal development. I have spent time on a job site as a laborer and mason which has enabled me to understand field challenges. This broad-based exposure has laid the foundation for my career. 

What is the one thing you have to have to be a VP (or above) of a construction company in your opinion?
You must have the ability to handle pressure. When everything seems urgent you need to remain calm, gather information, determine priorities, make decisions and assign actions. You have to decipher what is going on around you and not personalize it.  As a leader, you must ensure that everyone on your team is pulling in the same direction.

In your opinion, how important is networking?

It is at the top of the list. New York is a large city, but construction is a small business. Being part of the fabric of the industry means you have resources to deal with situations as they arise.

Networking has been crucial in my career. I have mentors and peers who have shared their experience with me which is vital. I’m also aware of my role in passing my experience and knowledge on. As a VP or above you have to be willing to train, develop and mentor emerging leaders.

I continually encourage individuals to develop and maintain their professional networks. Participation with industry peers at both conferences and in professional organizations expands knowledge and generates ideas.

In your opinion, how important is social media for networking/helping one achieve their career goals?

Social media, particularly LinkedIn, is a part of networking as a whole. It lifts geographic boundaries and can help build your network and reputation. However, the next level is the difference and that is the interaction in person. Personal engagement is where you create relationships. I have found it is not the number of connections I have, it is the number of relationships I have developed within those connections which has made the difference.

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

Looking back, I would have spent two to four years working in a large reputable firm where I got to experience another structure and different processes.  I feel that would have made the evolution and development of my business slightly easier.

What advice would you give to the next generation of professionals aspiring to become a construction leader?
If you work hard and put the effort and investment into yourself you will reap the rewards. 

A career path is in steps, much like the path of a business and there are no shortcuts. It is also not just about achieving the VP status level it is about continuing to develop and evolve. Don’t change who you are in terms of character and integrity, and don’t back off – stay passionate.