The Sundt Experience: October 2015
Mike Hoover brings more than 30 years of construction industry experience to his new role as Sundt’s President, which took effect on Oct. 1. (Dave Crawford will remain CEO while Hoover settles into his new leadership role.) Hoover is one of those rare leaders who worked his way up from laborer to executive, holding just about every job in between. He’s a mechanical engineer, a skilled carpenter and no stranger to the frequent relocations and long, physically demanding days that are common in our industry. Those are just a few of the things we learned about him in a recent conversation about his background, philosophy, and goals for the future.
What changes have you seen in the industry since you began your career?
There’s more competition now than there was even several years ago. Our owners are more sophisticated and our people are smarter and better than we used to be. The industry as a whole has upped its game, and I’m pleased to say that Sundt has led the pace with that change.
What do you like most about construction?
I like the pace of the work and the people who are attracted to the business. Construction draws good, smart people who are fun to be around. There’s never a dull moment. Everybody is attracted to building things and being able to point and say, “I built that.” But over the years I’ve really come to appreciate the people most.
What challenges does the construction industry face?
We’re coming out of the worst recession our country has ever had. It lasted longer in construction than most other industries, and the challenge we’re facing now is that we didn’t lose a lot of competition during the down years. Prices have been driven down by a number of forces, so we’re taking on a lot more risk for far less profit. We are feeling the effects of that, as are most of our competitors. I think that will change, though, as the economy improves.
You mentioned that there’s a lot of highly qualified competition in our industry. What’s different about Sundt?
This is a mature business, so you have to be very good in order to succeed. Sundt is known for providing a quality experience and value at a fair price while abiding by our core values. We’ve held true to that for a lot of years. You can’t say that about everybody out there.
The country faces many challenges: aging transportation infrastructure, the push to move away from fossil fuels, water scarcity issues, etc. What role can Sundt play in helping meet those challenges?
For years, Sundt has been working with the AGC to get a highway transportation bill passed to fund new transportation projects, and I think we could finally see it happen in the next couple of years. P3s (public-private partnerships) and other alternate funding options lie at the heart of the solution. We’re very alert to those opportunities and are pursuing a few of them now.
Environmental issues such as reducing power plant emissions present many opportunities for us as well. We also have a strong resume in water and waste water and we’re looking to leverage that experience to make it a bigger part of what we do. We have a lot of capabilities required for this type of work, and we’re keeping a close eye on how we might be able to use our expertise to get in early on emerging technologies.
Tell us about your background and early years with Sundt.
I started in 1978, right out of high school working as a laborer and mechanics helper in Tucson. I continued to work summers and part time during the school year while studying mechanical engineering at the University of Arizona.
After college I went to work with one of our competitors and then worked on projects in the oil fields in Midland, Texas and Los Angeles for a couple of years and then at a water treatment plant in San Jose doing mechanical work, mainly process piping. At that point I realized I wanted to learn more about structures, so I joined the carpenters union in Palo Alto and worked as an apprentice carpenter building bridges.
That’s when my career really shifted to heavy civil work. Going from engineering work into the carpenters union is a little unusual, but when I look back on it now I really learned a lot and I think it was a move that helped to advance my career. I finished my apprenticeship, became a journeyman carpenter and about three years later came back to Sundt.
Is it rare for the leader of a construction company to start in the field as a craft worker like you did? Do you think that experience is important?
It’s becoming more rare, and I think it is important. You develop a better understanding of the business by doing it and I also think it is important to understand how our people in the field work and how tough the lifestyle is. You should never lose sight of the fact that they are the ones who make it or break it for us. Being a builder is important to Sundt and it is good to have that mixed experience at the leadership level.
What are your favorite Sundt projects so far?
Some of the ones we’re working on now are among my favorites, and they’re game-changers in terms of their complexity and potential to open doors to new and bigger opportunities. I’m thinking in particular of the Sellwood Bridge in Portland, Banner University Medical Center in Tucson, and some of our power and water work.
Helping Clients Sustain Success
With more than 100 LEED™-certified projects in its portfolio, Sundt is a proven leader in meeting the needs of environmentally conscious clients.
The commitment starts with an internal culture that emphasizes sustainability, including Lean™ construction, which encourages as little waste as possible from the earliest stages of a project through completion.
“Our corporate commitment has paid off, due largely to the efforts of the Sundt Sustainability Mentor Group, which includes representatives from all of our business units,” said Sundt Sustainability Champion Dan Osterman. “One area where our team has instituted significant change is in our reduction of waste generated at project sites. This year alone, our corporate standard of waste diversion increased to 75 percent, up from 50 percent, on all Sundt projects.”
Green From the Inside Out
The Sundt Sustainability Mentor Group is a team of employees that promotes environmentally responsible practices at the company’s offices and jobsites. The mentorship program has also increased Sundt’s involvement in sustainable organizations like the U.S. Green Building Council and Greenroads.
The group has helped cultivate green expertise among Sundt’s employee-owners, expanded its national profile as a green leader and focused its sustainability goals to achieve greater results and effect positive change in the environment.
Sundt’s commitment to become one of the top green contractors in the nation is taking root. The company recently advanced to 30th from 46th on the Engineering News-Record Top 100 Green Contractors list and to 26th from 40th in Building Design + Construction’s Green Building Giants rankings.
Making Old Main New Again
One of the reasons Sundt is climbing the list is located just a few miles from its Tucson office. Old Main, constructed in 1891, was the first building on the University of Arizona campus. Time and wear left the structure in need of more than a makeover.
Sundt was selected as the design-build contractor for the project and started the massive overhaul in late 2012. The project architect was Poster Frost Mirto.
“It was falling apart on the inside,” UA Associate Director of Planning and Public-Private Partnerships Rodney Mackey said. “It was losing relevance.”
The historic structure was stabilized and restored with modernized building systems that increased its energy efficiency. The biggest challenges, Osterman said, were keeping the historical look of Old Main while modernizing the interior all while working in a busy part of campus with classes in session.
The building was completed in May 2014 and later certified LEED Silver by the U.S. Green Building Council. At 124 years, it’s the oldest building in Arizona to receive LEED certification.
“We felt it was important to leave as many elements as possible from the old building,” Mackey said. “It has the original, single-pane wood windows from 1891 and we were still able to get LEED Silver certification.”
Old Main is just one example of helping clients achieve their sustainability goals. Other Sundt projects that have achieved LEED certification this year include the LEED Platinum certified University of California, Davis Tercero Student Housing Phase III complex in Davis, California and LEED Gold certified Butler Elementary/Puentes Middle School in El Paso, Texas. Sundt is also completing construction of the Sellwood Bridge over the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon, which is being built in accordance with the Greenroads International sustainability rating system for transportation projects.
“Owners care about having sustainable elements in their projects because consumers are being more selective about what building they work or live in,” Osterman said.
The 125: Transforming Our World Since 1890
This year, Sundt celebrates 125 years of transforming America with our customers and communities. Since 1890, we have been bringing innovative solutions to some of the country’s most ambitious and complex projects – often building structures that were the first of their kind. We are proud of our legacy, excited about the future, and grateful to the customers, partners and employee-owners who made our success possible.
While much has changed since Sundt was founded, over the last century and a quarter we have adhered consistently to the following truth: when we focus on the success of our customers and our communities, when the assets of our organization and the energy of our employee-owners is devoted to rising to the challenge of our customers’ projects, the world changes for the better. We thrive on the challenge of turning your dreams into reality.
The 125 isn’t just a corporate anniversary; it’s a celebration of the transformation of the built environment. What better way to mark the occasion than to document this transformation and share it with our customers, employees and partners? That’s what we have done with The 125, a book that includes 125 examples of transformation through innovation, creativity and disciplined execution.
The 125 is organized into five chapters: Precision, Movement, Inspiration, Environment and Beyond. From a lunar launch pad to a linear accelerator, a top secret embassy in Moscow to a first-of-its-kind bridge in Texas, each story in The 125 centers around a vision, a challenge and a creative solution. Many are iconic projects that have transformed communities and shaped skylines, such as the Reunion Tower building core in Dallas, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and many others.
Most of the innovations from The 125 are being shared on our blog. We’ve also assembled stories about the creation of the book’s 3D cover (designing and printing it internally turned out to be an innovative process in and of itself), the competition that invited university and community college students to help design the book’s chapters (and who won scholarships for their work) and more. We hope you’ll visit often to read and enjoy these stories because they’re not just ours; they’re yours, too.
In short, The 125 is a celebration of what we have accomplished together. As an employee-owned builder, it has been our privilege to bring the vision of our customers and partners to reality for the past 125 years. We look forward to the challenges and opportunities for innovation the next 125 will bring. Let’s keep building America together.