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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 3, 2017 1 year ago

Focused priorities

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Size matters in construction. But one of the largest builders in Florida seeks to maintain a local feel for every client.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Executive Summary
Company. Skanska Industry. Construction Key. Company stays focused on core business areas


Soft skills in the workplace are nice. But at Skanska, the global construction giant, executives and field supervisors are just as worried about soft tissue.

The soft tissue of thousands of employees, that is.

The company, in Florida and on worksites worldwide, starts every day with stretch and flex sessions. It's a 10-15 minute calisthenics routine designed to reduce soft tissue injuries common in construction, in the back, knees and other areas. Employees get down while in work attire — colored vests, helmets and walkie-talkies on their hips.

Fred Hames, Skanska USA general manager and executive vice president for Florida, says the pre-work exercise is both real-time protection against injuries and a real-life example of the company's commitment to its employees. “Our industry says it's acceptable to have a certain amount of injuries,” says Hames. “That's not acceptable to us. It's one of the core foundations we have has a company.”
Adds Hames: “Nothing matters more than going home safe.”

That's a big task at Skanska. The company, with its Florida headquarters in Tampa, does $400 million to $500 million a year in construction work across the state. It has about 280 employees. Current and past projects in the region include a $122 million main passenger terminal at Tampa International Airport; a $108 million eight-story patient tower for a new Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida in Fort Myers; and a nine-story tower at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, a $152 million project completed in 2013.

The son of a pipefitter, Hames joined Skanska in Georgia in 1998. A criminal justice major at West Georgia University, he was going to be a police officer in Atlanta. But after doing some construction work with his dad and other companies, he was drawn to industry, mostly from the pride in building something, he says.

New York City-based Skanska USA, a subsidiary of Skanska, a $7 billion global Swedish company, opened a Tampa office in 1994. Its first project was 100 N. Tampa St., a 42-story tower that's the tallest building in downtown Tampa. Hames came to town for what he thought was going to a one-project assignment in 2001. But he loved the region so much he and his family decided to stay.

The Florida division was doing about $120 million a year in revenue when Hames was promoted to help oversee business development for the state in 2004. He has since overseen more than $3 billion in projects statewide in nearly every market sector, with a focus on health care facilities, life sciences projects and academic medical centers. He was promoted to general manager and executive vice president for Florida in October 2011.

“We've ebbed and flowed through a lot of different market cycles in Florida,” Hames says. “But we have not stopped growing since 2002. And we don't peak and valley. We don't try to pick up work because there's a hot market in one particular sector. We stay focused on our core business.”

Hames, in a recent interview with the Business Observer, talked about his career, Skanska's big reach in Florida and the reasons behind the company's success.

How did you build Skanska's book of business so steadily in Florida?
When I got down here and started to run local operations, I looked at what makes us great in this market. And what I found was our success was in areas where a lot of others didn't want to do the work. They didn't want to do a vertical expansion of a hospital. Projects like that were too hard and complicated. But that's where our expertise was. That's where our people were inspired and really enjoyed the challenge. So we built our market around that expertise.

How have you been able to sell Skanska as a local company to clients who want to see decision makers at job sites?
We feel construction is very much a local business. We challenge all our local offices to get engaged. We want to be a true business partner. Not just a vendor just coming in to do work.
We're a huge national contractor. We are the big boys. We bring a lot of different strategies and components and resources to the table. But for an owner, in say Fort Myers or Sarasota, what they don't want is what I call commando construction. That's some company that comes in, does a job and then leaves and is never available.

How do you get employees engaged in the work the firm is doing, when the projects are so large?
The clients who we work for touch a lot of our people directly. Moffitt Cancer Center has saved the lives of multiple people who work in this company. That touches them and their families directly. When people recognize that this isn't just a construction project, but that this is my cancer center or the place where my kids were born, it's a big deal. That's when employees buy into it. That allows us to get connected to the places where we work.

In what ways have you and Skanska in Florida addressed the widespread labor shortage?
It's an interesting dynamic we are dealing with because people left the industry and are reluctant to come back. But part of the labor shortage is because of the (large) amount of work going on in the state. There are a lot of good skilled people in the market, but right now the subcontractor trades can choose who they work for. And if you're not creating the environment where they can be successful, they won't give you their best labor.

How do you create that environment?
We aren't going to ask them to do something that pushes them out of their comfort zone. We want to simplify the way things are built. We're using tactics like flat procurement, pre-fabrication, centralized management and helping to train individuals.

We want to take the burden off the smaller subcontractors. That's been very successful for us.

What about creating a successful environment for millennials, the next wave of employees in an industry that skews older. How has Skanska handled that challenge?
The young culture is very dynamic that comes into our organization. Our industry has to realize the days of walking out to the job site with a tape measure are over. People are working with different kinds of technology. Projects have to be built faster. Projects have to be built more efficiently. When you embrace the thought and the difference of thought from the younger people who come into this business it's incredibly powerful.

So when they come in we shouldn't just say, 'Hey, you have got to do it this way because this is the way it's been done for 20 years.' We want to empower them to say 'Hey, what's a better way?' That's what young people want. They want an opportunity to try to do something differently.

Why is Skanska so attentive about safety?
As new people enter the market, how they work from one contractor is not always the way they are expected to work on our jobs. So we have to be very diligent and we have to be very clear about our expectations. People want to work on our jobs because it very organized.

When we start out our day, we start with stretching, flexing and calisthenics for 10 or 15 minutes. Then we pre-test plan our day so we know exactly what everyone is doing. That not only helps safety, but also helps with efficiency and our production.

In this industry as you build things faster, my No. 1 priority is making sure people go home the same way they showed up. I don't have any issues looking any client or owner in the eye and saying 'No one
goes home hurt.' The reality is, nothing is worth that.

How have you evolved as a leader in the past decade?
You learn a lot in this industry. The key to being successful in this industry and growing is you have to be a listener. You have to keep your ears open and your mouth shut. There are a lot of hard knocks in this industry. You have to learn from them. You have to embrace them and not let it happen again.


Skanska USA
Headquarters: New York City; subsidiary of Stockholm, Sweden-based Skanska.
Revenue: $7.1 billion in 2015; one-third of total Skanska global revenue.
Employees: 11,000
Business units: USA Building, USA Civil, Infrastructure Development and Commercial Development
Offices: 31 metro areas nationwide
Florida offices: Full-service offices in Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale; boutique offices in Fort Myers and Gainesville.
Source: Skanska

Building smiles

Florida Skanska executive Fred Hames says one of the best things the giant construction firm does to retain employees is create a “care for life” culture.

One notable example comes from the Skanska crew building a new $62.7 million research and education center at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in downtown St. Petersburg. The workers can look up and across the street and see one of life's most heartbreaking scenes: kids receiving chemotherapy treatment.

But the Skanska crew could also see All Children's nurses doing their Friday Dance Party, where hospital staff and kids let loose a bit. So the construction crew recently launched their own dance party, in sync with the patients across the street. “Every day, you walk into the cafeteria and walk past the┬ákids,” Assistant Project Manager Brandon Page says in a recent Skanska blog post on the dance shows. “You see the issues they are dealing with from the chemo. And you want to help make their day a little brighter.”

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