Laura Okell: Thank you for sitting down with me today. I understand you've been traveling a lot recently.
Thanks Laura, it's my pleasure. I actually just landed back in the U.S. a few hours ago. My work requires me to travel to Mexico about every two weeks.
LO: That sounds exciting! As I’m sure you know, Faithful+Gould just opened our first office in Mexico, with plans to open another in the coming months.
It is an exciting time in the country with a lot of opportunities to work. We've been fortunate to collaborate and learn from the expertise of the exceptional teams in Mexico for many years so it is great to see our presence increase in the country. Even though I work on site, I am pleased to see how this expansion through our new offices in Querétaro and Mexico City, and to be leading one of the projects that has really been the spring board for that growth in Mexico.
LO: How do you mean?
Well, the driver of our expansion into Mexico has been to support and better serve the key clients who we have built strong relationships with. I have been on the front lines with one of these key clients in the Manufacturing Sector.
LO: What are you currently working on?
I am a senior project manager, supporting one of our client on a large manufacturing facility in Mexico.
LO: How long have you been working on this project?
This current project has been in progress for a little more than a year. However, my roles and responsibilities with this client have evolved over the five years I have been working with them. In fact, I have been with them since I started with Faithful+Gould.
...the driver of our expansion into Mexico has been to support and better serve the key clients who we have built strong relationships with.
I was brought on specifically as a member of a large construction management team supporting this client on a 520,000-square-foot expansion of existing plants in South Carolina. Once that work wound down, many of the involved Faithful+Gould staff transitioned to other projects and clients, but I had built a relationship that allowed me to stay on board, managing smaller projects that didn’t require such a large team.
Today, in addition to my role as a key team member for our client in Mexico, I help to manage the client's two large plants in South Carolina, serving as an engineering advisor for any new construction needs. I split my time between my base in Lexington, South Carolina, and Mexico. I have racked up a lot of frequent flier miles.
LO: Did you always want to travel?
Honestly? No. That surprises a lot of people but this is a completely different experience than what I expected in my career. I’ve always said I didn’t want to work away from home but I’ve really grown to enjoy working abroad. Being able to travel to parts of the world that I might never have outside of work has been incredibly rewarding, both professionally and personally. I’ve experienced a working culture that is very different than my own and I feel have learned lessons that have made me an overall stronger project manager.
LO: What has been your biggest lesson?
It's the small things really. In Mexico, the workday doesn’t start until close to 10:00 in the morning and goes to about 7:00 or 8:00 at night, and that’s not even taking into account the additional hour time delay. So when I’m here, I can’t really get much done before lunchtime and am often getting calls with project questions as late as 9:00 PM. The experience has definitely made me more patient and productive with my time.
Being able to travel to parts of the world that I might never have outside of work has been incredibly rewarding, both professionally and personally.
I've also been able to brush up on my Spanish. I studied for a few years in college, ironically thinking I would probably never use it and pretty much put it on the back burner after that. I had to have a crash course once I started traveling to Mexico, so I took some modules with Rosetta Stone and now I’m happy to say I have been able to converse in a day-to-day atmosphere. I think that learning the language is an extremely valuable tool for anyone working in construction given the expanding opportunities and work to be done abroad, particularly in Mexico at the moment. I understand this on a personal level, having worked with the same client for nearly five years and grown a relationship that has been mutually beneficial.
LO: How have you enjoyed working with this one client consistently?
I have really grown to understand the client and I think that’s crucial to delivering our services. In particular, it’s been great in my current position, where I perform a dual role. To start, I am the technical subject matter expert for anything civil. This can range from geotechnical to structural issues. I am also required to handle the technical side of bid packages, while evaluating the cost and schedule. Ultimately, my position covers both the business and technical sides of our work. I’ve taken full responsibility for assisting our client with a full service package. It’s an interesting mix of responsibilities, but I feel it’s actually ideally suited to my abilities based on my somewhat unconventional background.
LO: What do you mean by that?
I graduated with a master’s in Civil Engineering from Clemson University and also got my MBA from the Moore Business School at the University of South Carolina.
I think that learning the language is an extremely valuable tool for anyone working in construction given the expanding opportunities and work to be done abroad...
In my opinion, project management is more oriented to the business side of things, but when working on the engineering side of operations, you need the technical background and understanding to be a good project manager.
LO: That’s interesting, and you feel that this has helped you in your work?
Absolutely. I think it has been really critical as I’ve moved up in my career. When I started, I was working with a big project team, I was strictly technical, paired with another team member who handled more of the business side of operations. As my responsibilities have increased, both with the client and at Faithful+Gould, and managing my own projects, I have been required to handle both technical and business concerns. My background has really proven to be a life jacket in this sink or swim situation.
LO: Would you encourage others in this path?
I would. That’s been a real takeaway over the years and the advice I would give myself on my first day: understand your client and try to become the strongest asset you can for them. In my experience, the more you work and grow your relationship with a client, the better you will understand their process and needs. That’s really at the core of both my personal mission statement, and our current expansion into Mexico. We value our relationships with our key clients and are committed to developing them based on their expanding goals, wherever that takes us.