One of ENR New York’s Top Young Professionals, Robert Kipp, talks career advice, construction industry trends, and more.
If anyone understands the value of using PlanGrid, it’s Robert Kipp. As lead superintendent for Tishman Construction, he’s responsible for managing 7 superintendents, 26 trades contractors, and 650 tradespeople — who are coming together to breathe life into the United States’ largest development and one of the most complex construction projects in history: Hudson Yards.
Robert discovered PlanGrid in 2012, when it was still in its infancy. He recalls the days of using basic tablets with simple PDF-reading software, which took forever to load, and his a-ha moment of trying PlanGrid for the first time:
“It just worked. I told the guys I was working with: this [PlanGrid] can do a lot more than you think it can do.”
With his iPad and PlanGrid always at the ready, Robert is known as the source of truth. Whenever he’s in a meeting and there’s a dispute, everyone looks to him and his iPad — thanks to the tough case he carries it in and its ability to resolve just about any issue, it’s known colloquially as his “magic box.”
We recently caught up with Robert when he was in San Francisco to ask him a few questions about his role, get some career advice for people looking to follow in his footsteps, and find out what keeps him up at night.
What does an average day look like for you right now?
I wake up at four o’clock in the morning, get my stuff going, get on the train at Rockville Center (that’s where I live — on Long Island). It’s about a 40 minute train ride into the city. I’ll check my emails, going through everything and making sure that nothing happened in the middle of the night that I wasn’t aware of.
Once I roll onto the site — I’m usually there between 5:30 and 6am — I’ll sit down and review my work plans for the day. Then, I’ll generally execute a superintendent’s meeting, with all the superintendents that work for me. We’ll come together in a little huddle and talk about the things we need to execute that day, or any issues that they need assistance from me with.
We’ll roll that out, and then it’s basically reigning in the chaos from around 7am until it starts to quiet down, around 3:30 or 4pm. Then I’ll sit back down at my desk, go over mini schedules, review documents, review change orders—I get caught up on all my paperwork. And then I generally leave between 5 and 5:30.
What (work related thing) keeps you up at night?
You can’t let it. It’ll drive you crazy. Construction is a very stressful environment, and you have to learn how to deal with stress. It breaks some people. Some just can’t handle it; when there’s so many expectations, it can be impossible.
So the way that I deal with it is to first take care of the important stuff. And if you can find someone better or cheaper than me, go ahead. I’ll go somewhere else.
What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
It’s not just construction related, but when I mentor my engineers, I tell them: no matter how much your manager cares about you, no matter how much your supervisor is a great supervisor and wants to help you excel, no one will manage your career as well as you will. You should take ownership of managing your career path — managing your individual development plan — every step of the way. And independently of your supervisors, have your own plan that you can show them, so they can understand your wants, needs, and expectations, and facilitate them.
What trends are you watching in the construction industry?
I think we’re going to see more automation, the advent of BIM systems. I don’t think it’ll overtake drawings because a lot of people find it very difficult to think in a 3D environment. You can get lost in the models. So everybody’s used to drawings — it’s the way we’ve been building for hundreds of years. You’ll see more robots, more drones… for example, just on my project, in Manhattan, we’re using a dragon line system.
Why should a person consider a career in construction?
It’s a tough industry, but the value I get out of it is that at the end of every day, I see what I’ve accomplished. So when you’re in an office environment — even in the construction industry, as a project manager or estimator — you can spend hours grinding through drawings, and at the end of the day, you look at it, and it’s just a stack of paper. What value do you gain from that?
At the end of my day, I’m walking the jobsite, and I see: we installed 300 feet of wall, there’s 5 more rooms built out, there’s 60,000 yards of concrete poured, we have 3 levels of steel erected — you just see it. And it’s probably because I’m a simple guy, but I get a lot of gratification from that.
I’m like, “look! We built this! Good job, guys!”
Learn more about how PlanGrid’s construction app can help you finish your project on time and under budget.