Friday in the Field: Being the Owner’s Eyes and Ears

Wm. "Skip" Perry
I sat down with Senior Marketing Manager Michael LePostollec to discuss my work in the Pharmaceuticals Sector in our Boston office.

Michael LePostollec: Hi Skip, thank you for chatting with me today.

It’s my pleasure Mike, welcome to the Boston office.

ML: How long have you been with Faithful+Gould?

That’s somewhat of a loaded question. I’ve been in my current role, as a senior project manager, since May 2011. However, for 16 years prior to that, I worked for myself as a construction consultant. Faithful+Gould was actually one of my clients and I worked on several project management jobs for the company, working onsite as a consultant. Working directly with Pharmaceuticals Lead Roger Scott, I learned a lot about pharmaceuticals manufacturing facilities in my time on these projects, as well as about Faithful+Gould as a company. I grew to really respect the work culture.

I got the call from Program Director Paul Johnson, from our Houston office, in 2011. He asked, "Can you be in Wyoming on Monday?" and I jumped at the chance to come aboard. I worked onsite in Wyoming, then in Houston for two years for one of our key Energy clients, BP. My current Pharmaceuticals project began here in Boston. It’s a really unique project and my skill set was what they were looking for, so, here I am.

ML: What project is that?

Right now I am working on a large scale restoration of a building that actually turns 90 years old this year. Construction began in 1924 and it was fully operational in 1926. It is a former food manufacturing facility that was renovated into a world class pharmaceuticals laboratory. Today, it is on the national register of historic places in the United States, which makes it an extra special job for all involved.

We have had a continued presence providing project management for a key pharmaceuticals client who has occupied the building since then.

Our Boston team actually came on board as part of the original refurbishment, with Lead Project Manager Paul Krieger and Senior Vice President Paul Male working on the fit out. We have had a continued presence providing project management for a key pharmaceuticals client who has occupied the building since then. Today, my work is focused on the exterior restoration.

ML: What does that entail?

Well, to make a long story short, the building had fallen apart on the outside. This is not uncommon with older buildings. After years of wear and tear, they break down and we’ve essentially had to partially demolish parts of it and rebuild, while maintaining the integrity of a building registered as a historic site.

There’s an expression I’ve heard that to do a project like this well you have to “take down a whole wall and put it back up”. While that applies somewhat, I feel it’s important to distinguish that you have to take it apart, find out what’s wrong, determine a solution and apply it, then rebuild it. Otherwise, you’re bound to duplicate mistakes and gloss over issues that will make history repeat itself. The idea with this kind of refurbishment is to get to the core of the problems and walk away with the building in better, more protected shape than it was before.

ML: What have you found at the core?

Well, this is a very large scale project so we’ve found a lot. Among other things, as we were taking the building apart, we found that there were holes through the concrete wall, causing damage to the inside of the building. A lot of that is due to simple water damage over time.

ML: That’s funny you mention that. I live in 150-year-old row house, and this is exactly the problem that we’ve been fixing.

Then you’ll understand, this is common with many older buildings, no matter how well they were originally built. This was a magnificently robust building. The walls are a foot thick of solid concrete. But you’ve got to remember that it was designed in the 1920s. There were different standards and different ways of doing business. For that matter, there were different materials available. They didn’t have stainless steel construction materials back then! No matter how great a building is, it goes the way of all flesh eventually. That’s where we come in.

It’s iconic and I’m pleased that we have been able to help preserve it, while also repurposing it, making it into something new and useful, in this case, a world class pharmaceutical facility.

ML: Coming from Philadelphia which, like Boston, is a city that has a lot of historic architecture, I’ve seen instances where developers look at problems like you’ve described and decide, "Okay, let’s tear it down and start over because it’s cheaper."

Well, you’d hate to see that with a building like this. It’s iconic and I’m pleased that we have been able to help preserve it, while also repurposing it, making it into something new and useful, in this case, a world class pharmaceutical facility. It’s a really unique project and I jumped at the chance to come aboard.

ML: What is required when working on a project like this?

It’s a process that requires really good communication, teamwork and understanding of the construction process, from the demolition on. It is specialty work with many elements to consider and without that understanding you’re going to run into trouble.

ML: What kind of specialty elements do you need to consider?

For one, a construction site of this scale is not static, it’s fluid. While we’re working on the exterior, we have 1,200 people coming in and out of that building throughout the day: scientists, some of the greatest minds in the world, who are brilliant, but may not necessarily see what we do and recognize risk as it happens, simply because they don’t know what to look for. That’s one of the things I bring to the table, as an OSHA instructor and a licensed builder. I come to the job site with a set of eyes that a lot of project and construction managers don’t have.

ML: How does your focus on safety affect the way you work?

It’s invaluable. As the owner’s eyes and ears, that’s a huge part of my job. If I see anything that holds any potential risk at all, I address it right then because when it comes to safety on a project site, what you least expect can get you into trouble. You have to be vigilant. As a result of our vigilance on this project, we have had more than 50,000 man hours on this job already and not one lost hour due to injury or accident.

ML: That is impressive.

Thank you. When they hear that, people tend to say, “You’ve been so fortunate!” But I think it’s important to note that it’s no coincidence. We are fortunate because we are diligent, and we work at it. So, we’re continually making sure that the general public is safe, pedestrians are safe, the client’s employees are safe and our team is safe. We have very strict safety policies and enforcement.

ML: So, you’re not just coming up with the plan, but you’re making sure that it is being properly executed.

Absolutely. To me, maintaining safety is as important as building the building. Truly, one isn’t greater than the other. They’re interlaced and you can’t separate one from the other. Let’s face it, budgets and schedules are important but there are only two things that clients are going to remember when we’re done. They’re going to remember if there were any accidents, and does the thing work? So, the whole thing together is a package you can’t separate. When we’re long gone, we leave a legacy in the work we do.

That level of experience and expertise is the core of our value offering.

Our job as the owner’s representative is to make sure the owner is getting full value, and their intent is being met. To do this, we work with contractors of all sorts: laborers, masons, carpenters, electricians etc., as they focus on their individual tasks. We look at the whole product, see how those tasks fit together and represent the client as the owner’s eyes and ears, ensuring that there is no harm to the environment, no harm to an individual, and no harm to the equipment. We look at the whole.

ML: How are you able to do that?

Well, it’s obviously a lot of work but we have a very good team including the owner, engineers and the construction superintendent that I am very grateful to be able to lead. When you get a team that really has no egos and all are focused on the task at hand in that way, it’s rare and it’s invaluable. 

That level of experience and expertise is the core of our value offering. I’ve worked with a lot of construction management firms around the country over the years and there’s no substitute for a dedicated team that simply knows what they are doing.

ML: Would you attribute your success to that team?

I would. Working on a project of this scale is like playing football: Every player’s performance depends on the performance of his teammates. You can talk all you want about Tom Brady getting rid of the ball so fast but you have to remember, you can’t get rid of the ball unless there’s a receiver open and he has been given time. As confident as I am in my role as the team leader, I need to have a team alongside me that can deliver what the client needs.

That’s the way I look at it anyway. It’s a team approach. We each know our roles and I just happen to be the guy who manages it overall. When we work together this way, it’s really well controlled, safe and productive.