In this month’s edition of Powered by People, get to know Brett Roberts, Project Manager at Hooten.
Your first interview to join Hooten was in a restaurant and under some unusual circumstances… tell us about it!
My first interview with Robert took place the summer of 2016 a few days after the first catastrophic flood in Historic Ellicott City. Main Street Ellicott City was completely shut down, and in just a few days, Hooten had secured a catering room in Eggspectations for use as a temporary office until a permanent location could be found. There was no room in the ‘office,’ so we talked in a booth out in the restaurant. Though Hooten was not the right fit for me at that time, I knew the group was a resourceful bunch!
You and your wife have both been teachers, how has that work experience helped you in your role today?
It is interesting how I am often asked about the career change and the apparent disconnect between the two. Without a doubt, there was expert knowledge to gain as I transitioned into construction, but in reality, I use the same set of skills managing a construction project that I did as a classroom teacher and I think it applies to pretty much any career. A successful teacher manages the classroom with all of its personalities and interruptions. Similarly, every project has its own personalities and interruptions and to succeed, they must be continually addressed and managed.
You’re also an Eagle Scout. How did that shape your outlook and perspective moving into your college and early professional years?
Looking back, earning the rank of Eagle Scout was one of the highlights of my youth because, unknowingly, it laid the foundation of persistence, focus, independence, and empathy. The life of a teenager pulls in many directions and it is both easy and understandable for a youth to drop off and lose interest. This happened to some of my friends I was sure would become Eagle Scouts before me. Investing the time and energy on completing the requirements to reach the top reinforced the benefits of setting goals and following through that I applied as I completed and worked through college and into my adult life.
What attracted you to working at Hooten? What brought you here?
I knew Robert had already assembled a resourceful group of people and by the time they reached out to me again in 2019 the timing was different. The company had grown and was now undertaking a larger new construction multi-family project with more in the pipeline. In my conversations, I could see the plan for sustaining and growth and I decided I wanted to be part of it.
What’s the most rewarding part of your role?
Almost 100% of the construction projects we undertake are for affordable housing. Much of my construction career has been spent in Affordable Housing whether from the Owner/Developer side or the Contractor side. At the end of the day, it is satisfying to go home to my family knowing that I helped, in my own small way, create a quality, safe, and healthy home for individuals and families that would otherwise find themselves living in a completely different situation.
Are you a “keep it in Excel” kind of guy or do you have another favorite PM tool you really love?
I am an Excel guy, though I am not necessarily a traditional numbers guy. Information is only useful if it is organized and retrievable—from the schedule of values of a small subcontract to an inspection log tracking the thousands of individual inspections that need to successfully take place to complete a project.
What’s your #1 project management pet peeve?
I try not to have pet peeves because they generally interfere rather than help; however, a peeve of mine that is consistent is the inability to differentiate between urgent, important, and impactful items and those items that are either not urgent, important, or impactful. There is only a finite amount of time in a day, week, and project. Spending time focusing on an item that is not as important or urgent as another item is detrimental to the success of the project. There are appropriate times to be in the weeds, but a project manager cannot be in the weeds all of the time.
What advice would you give to younger professionals who are in their first or second jobs and considering a career in this field?
Construction can be a very personally rewarding profession—particularly if you enjoy seeing a product of your work. However, hammer and nails are only a small piece of a successful construction and you need to be open to quite a bit more. Construction is not an educational field; however, if you are not a lifelong learner, construction is not the place to be. Standards and best practices constantly evolve and if you don’t stay up to date, you will quickly be left behind, watching others move right by you.
Any unusual hobbies, interests, or collections that people may not know you have?
Music is a huge part of my life, although I have no innate musical talent. I am getting a huge kick out of passing my passion for music onto my kids, adding songs to their Spotify, and taking them to concerts. Other than that, it is being outdoors and breathing the air, whether at the beach or in the mountains.
What’s your top piece of advice for people suddenly working from home during the COVID-19 crisis? Any tips?
2020 is year that will live in the memories of everyone for a long time because of COVID-19. Most of the memories will be of the stressful and difficult times. Though I am not entirely working from home because of the realities of construction, I remind myself this is an opportunity to discover a new way to work. It’s not necessarily a better or worse way, but simply a different way. It is another tool to keep in the toolbox for use again in the future. On the personal side, be thankful rather than resentful that you may be working at home, right beside your family who is at home with you.