As Change in Leadership Takes Place, New Cumming CEO Says Company is at an “Inflection Point”

Cumming, David Baird, San Francisco
Gateway of Pacific in South San Francisco, for which Cumming is providing cost management services.

By Meghan Hall

David Baird, CEO

2020 was a hectic year for many, and Los Angeles-based Cumming added to its to-do list by introducing a new chief executive officer into the mix. In January, the international project management and cost consultant completed a years-long transition, with David Baird officially becoming chief executive office in January of 2021. For Baird, the process comes after nearly two decades with the firm and at a junction for the company. The Registry recently connected with Baird on how the company maintained its growth last year despite a chaotic 2020 and an “intense” succession.

You have a long history with Cumming, working for the company since 2004. Recently, you assumed the role of CEO. In your time with the company, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned about the industry and the business of construction? Why do you consider these to be the most important? 

From a business and construction standpoint, you cannot stand still or rest on your laurels. You have to strive for continuous improvement and continue to be innovative.

How have you seen Cumming evolve as a company over the course of this time?

The company has undergone incredible growth and evolution over the last 17 years. I started off as a Cost Management Technician in the San Diego office in 2004, and as I’ve grown and availed myself of new opportunities, I’ve seen the company do the same. We have moved into new geographical markets, diversified and expanded our service offering, and strengthened our brand awareness, all while maintaining our quality of delivery and high rate of growth. The Cumming team is truly a meritocracy and it’s been a fun ride!

Cumming’s succession plan was in the works for several years; what are the main goals of Cumming’s succession plan?

We are at a point in the lifecycle of our business where we are seeing a generational change; it’s an inflection point where we can drive the company forward and take Cumming to the next level. We have a tremendous amount of talent within the team, so our succession plan is focused on accelerating their growth and preparing them to step up into management and leadership roles within the organization. To do this, we must maintain rigorous growth and continue to expand the business while being the best at what we do. With the leadership team we have in place, we have the horsepower and grey matter to take the organization to the next level over the next 5-10 years.

As Cumming looks to grow and expand, what markets/sectors is it looking to tap next? Why? 

We have a rolling five-year strategic plan that is primarily focused on expanding our sector diversity, service offering, and geographic reach. We are seeing technology and social tailwinds in the data center, semi-conductor, and e-commerce sectors as well as demographic tailwinds in the education, healthcare, and life sciences markets. We have always been a very metric-driven organization, which has allowed us to proactively manage our business. We are now translating some of these internal tools into management tools for our projects, which is leading to high-value services for our clients. Exciting times ahead!

What are some of the challenges the company faces as it executes its succession plan, and how does Cumming plan to tackle them? 

We are a people-oriented business. Recruitment and retention are and will always be a challenge within this industry. We have a great in-house Talent Acquisition team, which has won multiple industry awards for the transparency of their recruiting process, but it doesn’t stop there — it’s all about the team member experience throughout their journey within the organization. It’s critical that we have the tools in place to show a path for upward mobility within our team. Working with our Learning and Development team, we have created an internal growth ecosystem for team members at all levels within the organization, from interns to the executive level.

You will be stepping into the role following Finlay Cumming, the company’s founder and CEO. What has it been like working with Cumming on the transition? 

One word: intense. It’s been an intense 18 months working more closely with Finlay, but it’s also been exceptionally rewarding. The challenge of the pandemic added to the complexity of the transition, but also confirmed how strong and talented our team is. We proved our collective ability to adapt and succeed no matter the challenge and our culture has never been stronger.

What are you most looking forward to in your new role? Why?

 I’m looking forward to accelerating our innovation and use of technology within our business and industry. We can add so much more value to our clients by being more innovative and providing creative solutions to their construction programs and projects. We have come a long way in these last 25 years! I’m also looking forward to seeing the talent we have within our team continue to flourish, and for our team members to reach their full potential. Accomplishing great things requires great people, and that is the reason our strategic initiatives are so heavily focused on expanding our team.  

This year has been tough for many within the construction industry, and yet Cumming has managed to grow its team to 900 members and its revenue to $225 million. From your perspective, what specific business strategies has Cumming employed to remain successful? 

There is no doubt that 2020 was the toughest year yet. Every year brings new challenges and every challenge requires change. In 2020, these challenges were immense, and the management team had to be agile in addressing them for the long-term benefit of the company and our team members. Through everything, we have remained true to our overall strategy of focusing on diversity of geography, sector, and service. This has served us well over the last 25 years and, coupled with our M&A strategy, will continue to serve us well moving forward. Fundamentally, we will continue to be a firm that is dedicated to providing high-quality service that exceeds the expectation of every client.

On a more general note, where do you believe the industry is heading after an eventful 2020? What trends do you expect to either remain pertinent or become relevant? Why? 

I touched on this briefly earlier; the uses of technology and data are going to be critical in the industry moving forward. We work on more than $400 billion worth of construction projects every year — that is an exceptional amount of data and can make a huge difference for our clients and their projects if it is harnessed in the right way. 

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