Friday in the Field: Putting the Client First

Derrick Hengstebeck
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Senior Marketing Manager Tana Burhans to discuss my various projects within the Energy Sector.

As a project manager with Faithful+Gould, building client relationships with communication and collaboration is crucial. 

Tana Burhans: So Derrick, how did you get into the construction industry?

I went to school for construction management, graduating from Purdue in 2008. My first position after graduating was in Houston, working with project teams in the Healthcare Sector, managing $25-100 million capital programs to build new hospitals until 2011. I then relocated to Chicago to work for a general contracting firm. After gaining a solid understanding of construction on the general construction side, I had a strong desire to represent the owner and develop long-term relationships. This drove my decision to come to Faithful+Gould in 2013. I actually just had my three-year anniversary with the company in July.

TB: Congratulations!

Thank you! I've really enjoyed my time here. Joining Faithful+Gould has allowed me to further develop my skills and work on some amazing projects with clients from around the globe. The environment and people are really well suited for the work we do and the camaraderie is irreplaceable. It definitely makes work more enjoyable to be surrounded by such an exceptional group of people, both on-site and in the office, who understand and appreciate the importance of collaboration and commitment to long-term relationships in delivering our services.

TB: We pride ourselves on our people and mentorship, particularly for on-site staff who can potentially feel disconnected from their offices. Have you found there to be opportunities to learn from senior staff?

Absolutely. I’ve had the pleasure of working with both Senior Vice President Trevor Green, who leads our Energy Sector and Vice President Carmelo Torrisi, who is the managing director of our Chicago office. Both have become mentors to me in my career development. Even when on-site, I feel very connected to both the Chicago office team and our overall Energy Sector team.

TB: What is your current role with Faithful+Gould?

I am a project manager, based in our Chicago office but working primarily on-site to provide real time constructive expertise on our clients’ projects. The bulk of my work has been in the Aviation and Energy sectors. I am usually working on several projects at once, grounded in the fact that they are all for the same client.

Communication is key. My role is to communicate the game plan so the team knows what to expect - from themselves and from one another.

This actually allows me to manage the overall relationship with the client, as well as the individual projects, in a more cohesive way. In my time with Faithful+Gould, I have taken on a wide variety of projects - anything from replacing circuit breakers to new substations - from conception all the way to completion.

TB: Is your role the same for all of your projects?

Well that’s kind of an interesting question. I am the project manager for all of my projects, that’s my role. But what that means varies based on the needs of the client and the specific project objectives. For instance, right now one of my projects is a 23-mile line national compliance project that requires certain clearances to be met, since the transmission line will go through a river crossing. It requires specific department clearances, dealing with real estate, paying for the easement on different lands from owners so we can get access to specific land. That’s a whole element of the project that is unique to a lot of what I’ve done before. All of our projects have elements to work around like this, so I am pulled in many different directions at once. It's a matter of coordination.

TB: What other projects are you working on right now?

I am continuing to develop my expertise within our Energy Sector. As our clients across the globe in this sector grow their businesses, they are looking to our teams to execute their capital initiatives in utilities, nuclear, etc. In addition to what I mentioned, I am working on several other projects including a replacement for a 50MVA transformer, 34kV circuit breaker replacement, relay upgrades, an underground containment tank project, and a battery replacement project over an existing substation, just upgrading the monitoring systems. I think that’s all I have going on at the moment.

TB: Do you like working in this kind of environment, with so much going on?

I do. I like this kind of work because it’s not monotonous. The projects we are managing for our clients are complex and there is something different to work on every day. It keeps me engaged and committed to the work we are doing in the Energy Sector and the business. Our focus and work in the Energy Sector has led to some really exciting opportunities for me. For instance, a project we completed last year involved superconductive cable technology, the first of its kind in the United States. That same year, I also managed the closeout of one of largest utility projects in the nation at a cost of more than $180 million, which was another incredible learning experience for me. To be able to work on both at the same time was a welcomed challenge.

TB: With all of the tasks to juggle, what takes priority?

With the Energy Sector, my attention goes to any work with a high risk of causing an outage because of the potential impact on customers. We are constantly working with our client teams to prioritize what needs to be completed that day and adjust lower priority items back to make sure urgent project issues are resolved.

TB: How do you coordinate all that's required?

Communication is key. My role is to communicate the game plan so the team knows what to expect - from themselves and from one another. That way, we can all keep our commitments. We have set meetings with all stakeholders, no one wants to waste one another's time. If we come prepared, everyone on the team including the cost analyst, scheduler and project management analyst are on the same page and know exactly what needs to accomplish.

We build trust with clients over time and in my opinion that trust is everything.

I’ve found that this is a crucial part of Faithful+Gould’s business philosophy: communication and collaboration. You have to set clear plans with strategic objectives and go from there. As project managers, estimators, etc., everyone who works here is very conscious of that, planning for the unexpected and keeping everyone on the same page in order to deliver our services as efficiently as possible to benefit our clients. On a personal level, I need to stay focused, especially when I’m working on more than one project. There are lots of different hurdles in each project that could fall through the cracks if I’m not on top of my game. It helps that I am a list maker and a priority setter.

TB: Was this level of multitasking new to you when you came on board?

In a way, yes. In my past positions I have been relegated to managing one project at a time. I was working on larger projects or programs, which were certainly challenging and great opportunities, but I didn’t get to build the kind of client relationships I do now. Coming from where I was, I’d basically manage a client on a particular project for a set amount of time. Upon close out, that relationship would end for the most part. At Faithful+Gould, with our client-focused strategy, even when we have a quick project turnover, we are consistently prepared for the next project with that client. That can seem daunting, but it actually makes sense for project planning.

TB: That’s a big element of our overall strategy: putting the client first.

Exactly. At Faithful+Gould, our work is driven by our relationships. When I work this way, there is still a lot to handle and prioritize, but trust is built over time and I can continue to improve my service delivery as I learn to understand the client’s particular needs. I am always focused on delivering our services for the client with a constant focus on the deliverables and overall relationship. Obviously, maintaining positive relationships with clients is important anywhere you go, but here that focus is more streamlined. We build trust with clients over time and in my opinion that trust is everything. Certainly as a project manager at a large utility company, trust is part of the job.

TB: Would you call that your secret to success?

Yes I would, but not just to my success, to Faithful+Gould’s success as a company. We have created an environment here where our clients are able to fully entrust us with their most sensitive jobs, with full confidence that we will deliver. That is truly the core of our business philosophy, one that I am proud to represent in my work.