US DNA VP Construction Interview Eric

Interview with Eric Brody, COO/Partner of Wonder Works Construction Corp
DNA of a VP of Construction

As Chief Operating Officer/Partner of Wonder Works Construction Corporation, Eric Brody leads the operations of one of the New York area’s most highly respected construction management, general contracting, and real estate development firms. In addition to day-to-day operations, he is in charge of business development with partner Joseph Klaynberg and heads up the firm’s development division. Mr. Brody’s tenure at Wonder Works began in 2012 as Director of Construction. In 2015 he was named partner and took his current position.

Have you always aspired to becoming a VP (or above) of a construction company?
No, as a young man I wanted to be an entrepreneur – I always wanted to be in control of my own destiny. 

I started out as a personal trainer as a way into the fitness industry and worked in sales and general management, but the returns in the gym business were not consistent with the commitment required. It’s better to own the real estate than to operate within it. So I went back to school to study real estate development. 

I launched my own development company in 2003, but that’s also a medium-term investment strategy so in the shorter term I developed a project with a general contraction in 2007. After the successful completion of that project, we structured a partnership within his existing construction company. In two years as a partner revenue increased 10 fold and I was named Chief Operating Officer. 

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path and how did you overcome it?
I build in NYC. It has a long history, it has high barriers to entry, and it’s a dog eat dog world. Those are just a few of the barriers. Another one is the competitiveness of the market which drives down profit. So the challenge is find a way to run your business and make money on the thinnest of margins.  

We have put systems in place to ensure we maintain best practice.  Adopting the model of owning the real estate helps. In the end efficiency is key, and having a team around you that is motivated to succeed. 

What technical skills do you think are integral to role?
It’s not technical skills that are utilized at the upper management level. Your path to the upper management level may have included a high level of technical skill. It’s your ability to lead, motivate and strategize that are integral to your role in upper management.

What is your advice to someone who is moving up the ranks in the field and wants to pursue a management/executive career?
Seek more responsibility, it will lead to opportunity. If your next role or project seems overwhelming then you know you are on the right track. You need to see challenges as opportunities. And don’t run from risk, understand it and embrace it.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
Completion of a project. When you’re done and you walk away from the finished product.  That can’t be taken away from you by anyone. It is everlasting. 

What is the one thing you have to have to be a VP (or above) of a construction company in your opinion?
Success is 99% perseverance. To succeed at this level in the industry you have to be the hardest worker in the room. Take the most responsibility.

In your opinion, how important is networking?
Very important – this role also involves you being a business developer.  You have to be out there speaking to people, gathering leads, referrals, getting your face out there.  Know your market and what the competition is doing. Business is done with people not with money. 

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

Yes and no - college allowed me to find myself and find the right path, but if you are lucky enough to realize that sooner, then I would have skipped school. 

Compared to 5 or 10 years ago, in your opinion how would you say your role has evolved?
It hasn’t change that much with me except that as we get bigger the work becomes scalable, instead of doing a $100K value project you might be doing a $100M value project.  The perception of risk changes as things get bigger but the same skills, strategy, and mentality allow you to succeed at any level of project.

Is there anything that the next generation should know?
Have no fear. You’ll make mistakes but it’s how you react to those mistakes that, matter, how you overcome them and persevere that are important. Remember the ultimate goal, to complete the building on time and on budget. At the end of the day, that is what matters. Mistakes throughout the process don’t mean failure on the ultimate goal. 

What advice would you give to the next generation of professionals aspiring to become a construction leader?
You need to understand and respect everyone that works for you. No job is too menial, no task is beneath you. Don’t be afraid to pick up a hammer. You can’t lead someone that you don’t respect because they will recognize that in you. It alienates people.