Plant Construction Executive Grows Hope

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What is the most crucial work responsibility you have today?

Maintaining the culture of Plant. Between [co-general partner] David Plant and me, that is our most important job outside of the day-to-day demands of meeting deadlines and production goals. If you don’t have the culture, you become very average, and the larger you are, the harder it is to stay above the mean. I’m not sure that we are doing it, but we are conscious of it.

The thing that I think makes us different is that we have almost 100 percent of the people here—200 or more at the moment—who all get it. It is remarkably consistent from the labor foreman in the field to the executives in the office. They all share the commitment to getting it done regardless of the obstacles. It is a huge achievement. It has happened here because people tend to stay here, and everyone has worked together for a period of time. When you are busy and hiring, it becomes many times more difficult to make sure that those people learn to do the things that you want them to do. It is not that it is complicated, but if you are one new person in 10, it is different than if you are one new person in five. Obviously, we do hire people and have added a number of people in the last year. We are a lot larger and busier than we were two years ago. Construction is a cyclical business, and having to change size comes with the territory.

How unusual is it for someone in the construction industry to be an architect?

It’s not unique, but it is unusual. Certainly, trained construction managers and engineers predominate in our industry. When I was in graduate school [in 1973], I was working for an architect and a friend who was working for a construction company offered me a job with a $1.50 an hour raise, a 50 percent increase: It went from $2.50 to $4 an hour. I found that I liked [construction]. When I was in architecture school, I was always more interested in buildings versus the profession of architecture.

How do you compete with the big general contractors that do business in the Bay Area, nationally and even internationally?

Within the type of projects that we consider ourselves qualified to do and are good at, we don’t have any problem competing with anyone, and we do it all of the time. We don’t have the breadth of geographic base or the project types they do because they are so much bigger, but within the type of work we do, we expect to be the best, and that doesn’t relate much to size.

How would you compare demand today versus 2000?

I hope it is different from 2000 because that ended abruptly and badly. This to me doesn’t seem as crazy yet, even though the prices of real estate are appreciating. The volume of construction in SoMa, where we have a tremendous amount of work now, might make it the hottest real estate in the country, and Silicon Valley is very busy. But it never lasts at an even pitch. It seems to me from my narrow point of view that the cycles are getting shorter and more extreme, but I’m not sure if actual facts bear that out. The construction business itself is always about adapting to cycles and trying to diversify yourself, so when the cycles happen in different industries, you have something to fall back on.

Why did you agree to work with the City of Hope?

Well, two of my best clients, [TMG Partners Chairman and Chief Executive] Michael Covarrubias and [TMG partner] Richard Watkins suggested that I might do it, which was surprising and flattering to me, and part of that process was visiting City of Hope. When you see how incredibly smart the people are and what they are doing, it is mind-boggling. It is just amazing the level to which they have taken the investigation of diseases and the molecular workings of humans. They are much smaller than their main competitors and are not a part of any large tax-supported institutions, and that makes them need money but also able to do things that the larger research hospitals affiliated with mega universities won’t or can’t do. So I came away very much enthused about raising money for them. It’s an easy sell. There is not anyone’s life that isn’t touched by cancer, and they are curing cancer in some cases, and it is pretty amazing.

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