Construction Q&A: Skender Plants its Chicago Roots Firmly in the Bay Area

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Capital One

When Chicago, IL-based Skender Construction looked for opportunities to grow outside of its hometown, the choice may not have been an obvious one for a Mid-Western firm steeped in Windy City’s building business. Yet, it may be the entrepreneurial and fast-paced nature of San Francisco that made it an ideal location for the firm’s second office.

Skender entered the market some years ago, but it wasn’t until the company opened its office in 2016 that San Francisco became its true second home. The company has since grown and expanded its team and work across the region, and it is looking to make an impact in one of the most impactful regions in the country. Here, we learn a little more about the company through the eyes of Dan Polito, one of the leaders of firm’s initiatives in the Bay Area.

Tell us a bit about Skender. Who are you, and what kind of work have you been doing and are known for executing?

San Francisco, Skender Construction, Bay Area, Berkeley, Oakland, building development corporate office headquarters Google Facebook Cap OneDan Polito, Senior Project Manager, Skender Construction: Skender Construction is a full-service general contractor. We’ve been managing construction projects for clients in the San Francisco area since 2010, and we officially opened our local office at 101 Mission Street in 2016. Despite our relative newbie status in San Francisco, Skender is not new to construction. The firm was founded in 1955, and our clients include Google, Facebook, Motorola Mobility, Kraft Heinz and countless others. Recently, our work in San Francisco has been focused on office and retail tenant interiors, many in the technology and financial services space and ranging from complex build-outs to simple space refreshes. Some of the clients of our Bay Area office include Fletcher Jones, Capital One, Here.com, JPMorgan Chase, Preservation Partners Development, Harley Ellis Devereaux, ESD and Bay Labs to name a few. Our clients appreciate and find great value in our industry-leading Lean project delivery, focused on waste reduction across the project cycle. We are also known for our business innovation and commitment to employees, as a regular winner of Best Place to Work awards.

How has your transition to the Bay Area progressed? The winters are a little milder, but what else have you embraced since your move?

The Bay Area is a true marvel, beyond the overall economic success of this region, there’s also a phenomenal culture and care within the community that has been exciting for me to join. I know many will argue that the area’s popularity has forced it into something different than it used to be, however, I’d challenge this negative notion—the future is so bright here, you can feel it. As a relative newcomer to the region, I’ve personally seen a positive impact on the way that I live since I moved here. I’ve found so many healthy and invigorating options for contributing to the community, recreational activities here in the city and the amazing natural areas in this region. Personally and professionally, I’ve found this region to be both welcoming and inspiring, and I’ve met many others of recent arrival with this same opinion. I truly believe this region thrives off of the overall accepting and open nature of its community.

How big is your team in the Bay Area? What projects are you leading here, and how did you manage to engage with them?

Our team is growing; today, we’re at a count of 16 across our field and office employees. Of course, we also have access to the expertise and resources of our 200+ colleagues in Chicago. We’re currently leading a smattering of tenant improvement projects across the Bay Area, from Berkeley/Oakland to San Francisco, and even a couple all the way down in Palo Alto. Clients include JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, UCSF, HERE.com, Public Financial Management, Docker, Bay Labs and Paramount Group. A small chunk of those were existing Chicago-area clients, but the vast majority of our business here has originated from grass-roots networking efforts—that is, just hitting the streets and getting to know people here in the Bay Area.

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Capital One

Are there certain projects in the region of which you are particularly proud? Why? 

I am personally proud to have carried a campaign with Capital One across several major cities: Chicago, San Francisco and most recently, Oakland. I think it exemplifies what we strive for: building a high performing team that can serve a client and keep them doing what they do best.

Is there a certain type of product that you are pursuing or doing more today in the Bay Area?  

Our hungry and humble approach has led us into many different projects and product types. As far as our new business pursuits go, we strive for a true connection with the client. When that is in place, we have teams that offer expertise across a wide variety of product types, from commercial properties to specialty construction for seniors, affordable and multi-family housing. We’re blessed to have a young and ambitious team here in San Francisco, and access to a wide spectrum of efforts back in Chicago.

Where are you looking to grow? (industry, client, geography) What are your goals for that overall and the timing?  

We started with tenant improvement work, and we’re firmly established here in that community. Our next great opportunity will be to establish some of our other key markets: affordable and market-rate housing, healthcare and build-to-suit projects for commercial and retail. Personally, I’d love to get more involved with the biotech market. I’m personally excited for the fascinating mixed-use developments emerging that serve this industry and love the complexity involved with many of their spaces. I also think geography will eventually dictate having a team dedicated to all markets down in the South Bay. More to come on that front in the years to come!

How does Skender differentiate itself from other construction companies in the region? What unique value do you bring to the table that will help you achieve your projections and growth goals? 

We like to challenge the norm and transform the construction experience. Too often, the construction process is viewed with distaste, whether it be from personal experiences or horror stories of others. Why does this have to be? It doesn’t. Blending humility with hard work and collaboration can make a refreshing experience. We thrive on our people-focused culture, which is based on a desire to roll up the sleeves and put in some hard work on all fronts. Our culture, baked in the Lean Construction method, is based on collaborating with the entire project team, being responsible and transparent with our role, pulling on and striving off of lessons learned and an overall challenge to the status-quo. Our process is always flexible and focused on client needs, not the other way around.

In a market and region that is challenged with human and other resources, how do you manage to grow your business locally? 

We are growing through solid relationship building, intense planning and our Lean Construction mindset. Our leadership in the Lean Construction Institute was born from just the sort of challenges facing the Bay Area today: a need to focus on people and resource conservation. This effort is applied on all fronts: whether it be by where we cast our nets, balancing our staff vs workload or managing an already taxed subcontractor pool. We’ve managed to implement lessons learned from our 10+ year journey into becoming lean in all things, reducing wasted time and resources. This spans from applying better ways to schedule projects and lock in manpower, all the way down to how you organize life at home. This isn’t just true for Skender here in the Bay Area but is truly an overall industry and market concern. Just as many other industries have seen restricted resources force change and improved efficiencies, the construction industry is well underway a resource shortage, and we all have to adapt.

What are some immediate opportunities that you are particularly excited to work on in the near term? 

We are honestly just excited to keep delivering our projects, supporting our clients in this time of rapid growth, and see where this whole journey takes us. For example, we recently began discussions with a local favorite, Dandelion Chocolate, and their upcoming chocolate factory. I can’t help but think back watching Willy Wonka as a kid and wishing I could run around stuffing my face “sampling.” If things work out I might just be able to knock out a childhood dream here!

Is there anything that we’re not asking that we should be?  

I love the Bay Area and all it has to offer, personally and professionally. But if you were to ask me about sports, it’s always going to be the Chicago Cubs, Bears, Blackhawks and Bulls. Luckily, I get to see many of these teams when they come here to play their San Francisco and Oakland counterparts.

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Bay Labs