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Dominic Daughtrey Continuous Improvement Manager, Sundt

Behind the Build: Interview with Dominic Daughtrey, Continuous Improvement Program Manager, Sundt Construction

In any industry, it’s often the company you work for, not the specific role itself, that makes a difference in your job. For Dominic Daughtrey, Continuous Improvement Program Manager, making the move to Sundt was a significant turning point in his career due to the values and culture of the company. “It was a breath of fresh air to see a company doing something entirely different from others in the industry,” he says.

“From my very first experiences at Sundt, I felt re-engaged in the industry because I cared about the company and the people.”

Before working at Sundt, Dominic worked in the construction industry for over 15 years. In this week’s edition of Behind the Build, we speak with this construction veteran to learn more his journey from Habitat for Humanity to eventually working for an ENR Top 400 Contractor. Read on, below!

How did you get into construction?

It’s a long story, but it starts with my parents. I grew up in trailers in Texas. Even though my dad was a farm boy from West Texas, he was brilliant and worked hard. He graduated with his bachelor’s degree and was valedictorian at Texas Tech. In graduate school, he also graduated top of his class. After he got his MBA, it was in 1989, right before the stock market boom in the ’90s. We relocated to New Jersey so he could commute to his new job at Merrill Lynch on Wall Stress in New York. He worked there for 11 years and retired at 38.

With his new time, he started working in construction for Habitat for Humanity. That’s how I got into construction. I was 15 and he would bring me on the weekends doing concrete, framing and anything else that was needed.

How did you start working at Sundt?

When I first started doing construction, my perception of the industry was that it was a bunch of rough guys doing rough work in a rough business. In my early 20’s, I got into federal contracting. It felt more specialized and sophisticated than what I experienced previously. The work was exciting, and it involved going to federal military bases and other interesting locations. Nevertheless, what I still didn’t love was that the “tough guy” mentality remained. It felt like it was always “us” versus “them” – the only way to win is if the other side loses.

Before I came to Sundt, I had heard nothing but good things from their values to how it’s a 100% employee-owned company. When I started there, it was a big culture shift. I had been in construction since I was 16, nearly 15 years at the point I started at Sundt, and I was jaded. It was a breath of fresh air to see a company doing something entirely different from others in the industry. Sundt is a company that holds every employee equally accountable. We don’t beat up on subcontractors and take advantage of smaller businesses.

From my very first experiences at Sundt, I felt re-engaged in the industry because I cared about the company and the people.

How do you think Sundt’s strong values drives success?

At Sundt, I’ve made alliances with some like-minded people, and we’ve always just tried to do better. We always want people around us to succeed and be empowered to come up with solutions on their own. In construction, we’re working with such small margins, but crunching numbers isn’t the key to success. 

If you focus on the people and the quality of life, it pays off.

For instance, are the people on your site happier, more content and more engaged? Even if you did something that didn’t save you a dime–it might have even cost you–if it empowers and engages your workforce, it’s a win.

The byproduct of happier staff is that they solve problems on their own. In turn, you have more revenues and your margins increase, in addition to more satisfied clients who pay you more.

What gets you up in the morning?

Every day, I get to do something that I’ve never done before. If I knew I had to do the same thing every day, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning.

I love the skinny branches–I’m constantly out on them tap dancing. Change and new experiences don’t scare me–they motivate me.

At the same time, I have to bring self-awareness into the equation. Not everyone thrives on change and newness. For instance, when I’m moving forward with improvement ideas and talking with people, I’m usually saying something like, “This is an amazing opportunity. Why would anybody not want to do this?” While all these things may be true, it doesn’t mean it’s not new. No matter how great the benefits are to the end user or the front line workers, hearing “new” can be scary. I have to continue to educate on the benefits and show how change can pay off enormously.

It helps to explain where I’m coming from, too. I came into my current position six months ago. Before that, I was running projects and staff for 20 years. I entered this new position with experience doing it all–from managing people, budgets, forecasts, schedule and more. There could always be a better way of doing something, and I’m trying to share my vision based on everything I’ve seen over my career.

What project has given you the most pride?

My favorite project I’ve worked on would be the Long Beach VA hospital in Long Beach, California. It was one of my first heavy civil projects in my career, and I started it when I was 26.  I was there for three years. It was also my first major PM role on the federal contracting side after working for smaller contractors, and it was wildly successful. It gave me a resume that launched my career.

The project itself was extremely challenging. It was the first design-build heavy civil project that the Army Corps of Engineers’ Los Angeles office had done. Although they had done design-build projects before, never had they done it on the heavy civil side.

How do you get the most value out of PlanGrid at Sundt?

It involves educating people on maximizing the utility of the software. Right now, many people associate PlanGrid with plans in the field–they aren’t fully educated on the software.  They think, “Ok, with PlanGrid I can look at my plans in the field, and it’s easy.” While this is true, it’s only about 40-50% of the total value you can get from it. For a company to pay full price for the software and the team is only getting 40-50% out of it, that’s a lot of missed opportunity. Therefore, our goal is to educate our people on all the ways they can use the software to make their jobs easier.

Is there a PlanGrid feature that you or your team couldn’t live without?

It’s the ability for our whole team to be working off the same set of drawings at the same time without it housed in multiple places. If we have plans and documents in various locations, it increases the probability that somebody will be working off the wrong version, and the new set won’t be updated.

With PlanGrid, having everyone communicating on the same single source of truth and sharing that same information across different devices instantaneously is super crucial to moving a project forward.

What was your “aha” moment using the software?

One of my superintendents was old school. He didn’t want to change the way he had been working for 30 years. However, when he saw PlanGrid on an iPad, he said, “Oh, this is amazing.” He embraced it right away. Being able to see that transformation from someone who was so resistant to change was eye-opening. It made things so much easier for him, and he saw the value right away. Sometimes, people don’t want to try something new because they are afraid it’s going to be intimidating and make them feel incompetent. PlanGrid doesn’t do that though. Instead, it complements their competency, enhances their capabilities and makes them look awesome.

Further Reading:  Behind the Build: Interview with Kara Hermann, Project Manager, Sprig Electric

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