Q&A with San Diego Project Director John Messick

 |  Sundt People


How His Commitment to Lifelong Learning and Collaboration Helps Him Stay on the Cutting Edge of the Industry.


The built environment captivated Sundt project director John Messick at an early age, inspired by his father who worked as an operating engineer in New York. He and his dad would work on projects around the house together, which sparked Messick’s interest in construction. This interest evolved through high school and college, where he said he worked pretty much any construction job he could get – whether that be as a mason’s laborer, residential carpenter, or a painter. What started as small, scrappy, handyman projects led to opportunities building custom homes and commercial tenant improvement projects. At that point, he was hooked.

Throughout his career, Messick has been an industry advocate of processes and tools that enhance collaboration and reduce waste; he has built up extensive experience using alternative project delivery methods, including design-build, lease-leaseback, CM at risk and CM multiple-prime. He has also been recognized as Project Manager of the Year by the American Subcontractors Association, is a LEED Accredited Professional with the U.S. Green Building Council, a Designated Design-Build Professional with the Design-Build Institute of America, and a Certified Professional Constructor with the American Institute of Constructors. He has made a name for himself not only at Sundt, but throughout the construction industry in his 34-year-long career.


Q: Can you give me a summary of your educational and career background?

A: After three dreadful semesters pursuing an architecture degree in New York, I transferred to Arizona State University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in construction engineering. I joined Sundt In 1991 and was assigned to the UC Davis Medical Center project as a field engineer. Preparing detail drawings, providing building controls to lay out foundations, columns, walls, embeds, etc., and coordinating concrete pours with our self-perform crews and trade partners allowed me to see firsthand how each building system came together. During my three years as a field engineer, I developed tremendous respect for the skilled craft personnel who put work in place – and that respect has only grown stronger through the years.

I transferred to the San Diego region in 1994 to work on the Love Library project at SDSU.  This was a special time for me: Love Library was one of my favorite projects, relocating to San Diego opened new doors, and I got married.  Shortly after, I started attending graduate school and earned an MBA from SDSU in 1998. I’ve been in San Diego since, have held virtually every position possible at Sundt up to and including regional director, and have never stopped learning.


Q: How did you find yourself at Sundt?

A: While attending ASU, I was active in the student chapter of the Associated General Contractors (AGC). I met Doug Pruitt (former Sundt CEO) and Terry Abair (former Southwest District project director) while volunteering at an AGC conference in Arizona. Truth be told, I bought Doug and his wife a round of margaritas and our initial conversation developed into a relationship that I still value today. I kept in touch with Doug after graduating and joined Sundt two years later.

I love this company, as it’s provided ample opportunities for me to grow, take on more responsibilities, and work with amazingly talented and disciplined people. After 32 years with Sundt, I’m also grateful for how the company looks after its people. Our Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) provides a pathway for achieving financial independence when it comes time to retire.


Q: What does a person need to do in order to be a successful project director?

A: In the Building Group, most of our projects stem from repeat work that is negotiated with sophisticated clients who value qualifications and teamwork in addition to price. Retaining existing clients and finding new owners whose values align with Sundt’s are critical to our success. I also seek opportunities that allow owners to benefit from Sundt’s self-perform services whenever possible, such as structural and site concrete. We’re better able to control schedule and quality when we self-perform work.


Q: How has the industry changed throughout the course of your career?

A: The construction industry has evolved in so many positive ways since I first started. The tools, technologies, and systems we use today enable us to make data-driven decisions and run projects in a more predictable manner. Our systems, combined with a continual focus on developing and investing in our people, have enhanced the quality of our projects, made the work environment safer and more satisfying.

We’re also seeing more and more owners embrace collaborative delivery models such as progressive design-build, CM at risk, lease-leaseback, and CM multiple-prime. These delivery methods allow us to engage with owners and design teams early in the design process, where we can shape and pre-plan the best approach to each project in a transparent environment. This enhanced collaboration further contributes to a fulfilling work experience for our clients, trade partners, and Sundt.


Q: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in construction?

A: If you’re just starting out in construction and want to make the most of your career, find a mentor who will help you chart a career path and provide guidance. Once you have clarity on what you want to do, focus on ways you can add value. To gain a broader perspective of the industry, engage in professional and/or owner organizations that align with your interests. Continually look for ways to learn through on-the-job training and by earning additional credentials through certification programs from leading organizations like the American Institute of Constructors, Design-Build Institute of America, and US Green Building Council.


Q: What do you love most about your work?

A: The people. Sundt has a depth of talent and professionalism that’s uncommon, and it’s what attracts sophisticated clients and talented design professionals to partner with us. For me, being able to develop and complete landmark projects with incredibly talented people in our community is remarkably satisfying.

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