Have you ever had a feeling that you were destined to pursue a career only to find out you were completely wrong? For Henry Escobar, he thought his calling was to be an architect. But a few years of university and one internship later, he found he would rather build instead of design.
Now, Henry works as project manager for the Houston-based general contractor Tellepsen Builders and hasn’t looked back. He’s been working with the company for nearly 12 years, beginning right after college, and gets to be where he loves–on a jobsite. In this installment of “Behind the Build,” we speak to Henry about what inspires him to come to work each day and how his career priorities have evolved since starting a family.
What first got you into construction?
My father works in residential construction. Growing up, I worked with him during the summers and Saturdays. Just the idea of building was exciting. That led me down a path of being an architecture student in college at Texas A&M University. During my junior year, I did an internship with an architecture firm, and that’s when I realized it wasn’t for me.
Then, I did an internship with Tellepsen Builders the following summer, and that’s when I realized construction is what I wanted to do.
What made you realize you didn’t want to be in architecture?
I think I didn’t want to be stuck in an office behind a computer all day, every day. Even though it’s a big part of what I do now, the advantage of being in construction is that if the project is big enough, we have an on-site office. I get the best of both worlds. I get to work behind a computer at a desk, but I’m on-site.
Do you remember what it was like on your first day in your first job?
I clearly remember my first day in my architecture internship because I was tasked to order some samples. I called the number they told me to call. I didn’t know the address of where they were supposed to send it. I didn’t know anything, and I was stumbling and scrambling. The guy on the other line was saying, “Oh, you’re having a rough day?”
Just over the years as you’ve been working in construction what has evolved?
In my experience, document control has changed significantly. I think over the years not only the way we review drawings, but also the way we access drawings has evolved. For example, everybody used to have large sets of paper drawings. Now, we carry an iPad with digital files of all the drawings.
Also, the amount of safety procedures that our company has implemented has increased over the years. While this has caused more paperwork and more things that we have to do, more safety procedures ultimately benefit every project and employees.
What inspires you to come into work every day?
Our owner has a phrase that he says. He says that “we build buildings of significance.” The projects that we work on are projects that help the community and people, whether it’s churches, universities or K-12 schools. Just knowing what we’re doing will impact people in the long– run is exciting to me.
As I get older, my perspective changes, because life evolves. Now I have a daughter, and in a few years I’ll be able to drive around town and tell my daughter, “Hey, your dad built that.”
Are there any projects that you’re particularly proud of?
I think the one that stands out in my mind is a student success center for a junior college here in Houston. It stood out in my mind for two reasons.
First, it was the first project that I was allowed to manage by myself. I had some oversight, but I was allowed to manage it for the most part by myself. Secondly, it was relatively close to home, so it was part of my community. There were people that I knew, including my niece, who took advantage of this building.
What do you spend the most time doing?
In construction project management specifically, the paperwork side of things is not that difficult. I think the most difficult part is just dealing with people. Not in a bad way, but you just have to know how to deal with different situations. You have to know the temperament of the people you’re dealing with, whether it’s the architect, owner or subcontractor. Just managing personalities, knowing how to handle this person is not the same way you handle that person.
What drives you crazy about work?
What drives me crazy about work is when people aren’t on the same page, and when people don’t have the same end goal of a successful project. Every project is challenging as it is, and the team needs to keep the owner’s success front and center.
What do you want to share with the next generation of builders?
What I would share with the next generation of builders is your career is not everything. As you get older, you’ll have to learn how to balance your career with family life and with kids.
I’ve been married three and a half years, and I have a four-month-old baby, so it’s a new stage in my life. Family is so important. I don’t want to be one of those people who sacrifice their families for the sake of their careers.
There’s a stage in life for everything. There will be years where you can focus on your career 100% because you don’t have other responsibilities. Then maybe you’ll be married, and your responsibilities change. Perhaps you’ll be a parent, and then your responsibilities change again. Just understand you’ll need to balance all the changes in life with your career. Find a company that supports you throughout these changes.
What do you think we can do as an industry to attract more people?
I think we could attract more people by just informing them of what construction and project management is. There are so many people who have a misconception of what it is. Just educating younger generations, high school students and even college students about what exactly it is that we do would help them understand that this is an excellent field to work in.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I want my legacy to be somebody who gave it his all and was very committed to the task before him. I also want to be remembered as a people person, who understood that my ability to work with people was the most important part of my success.
I come from a Hispanic background. I speak Spanish and English fluently, and that gives me a chance to interact not only with the architects and the owners but with the laborers because I speak Spanish. I’m able to talk to them, so leaving a legacy of this is not just the guy who runs things. No, this is a guy who sat with the laborers and painters and had conversations.
People are ultimately more important than the tasks I have to do, even though I have to do them. But there’s always time to listen to whatever they may be going through.