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Behind the Build: Interview with Nick McComb, Superintendent, Cupertino Electric

In this week’s edition of Behind the Build, we speak with Superintendent Nick McComb. Starting as an Apprentice, Nick has excelled in his career at Cupertino Electric, Inc.(CEI), a top 10 ENR Specialty Contractor, and now runs some of CEI’s largest Bay Area electrical projects. Read below to learn more about how Nick ensures safety on the jobsite and which construction technology he considers himself to be a “superuber user” of.

What does Cupertino Electric do?

At Cupertino Electric, we essentially build any kind of electrical project possible. We build data centers, power plants, commercial campuses, solar projects, hospitals and more. We’ve done construction projects for nearly every Fortune 500 Company in Silicon Valley. We also have a Utility Division that supports utility companies with outages, rebuilds damaged power lines, and also builds substations and solar farms.

I love the variety of projects that we work on. Working at CEI allows me the freedom to be creative. I’m not stuck in a box and I get to figure out how to do a job faster and more efficiently, every time.

How has your career grown while at Cupertino Electric?

Since 2004, I’ve gone from working as an Apprentice, to Journeyman Wireman, to Foreman, to General Foreman, to Site Superintendent, to my current role as a Superintendent. There is no shortage of opportunities here at Cupertino Electric. It’s a great place to work and the only limits are the ones you impose on yourself! I’ve been fortunate to be trusted with, and responsible for, electrical projects as large as $100 million with nearly 500,000 man hours. Because of the trust I’ve established and variety of projects we build, I look forward to a rewarding and fulfilling career here.

How do you ensure safety on your team?

We build safety into our culture. We expect safety to be considered in every aspect of what we do because of the safety mindset that employees share at CEI. Our teams are aware of their surroundings without being told to do it–it’s truly a lifestyle at CEI.

It took a long time for us to get to this point where our workers know they should prioritize safety above all else, even efficiency. We don’t expect them to stand on the top of a ladder that’s too short when they’re installing a light fixture to save 10 minutes. Instead, we now observe them walking back to the trailer to grab the right one. What’s required of them is that they do it the right and safe way, so that they go home to their families and come back tomorrow healthy. It’s been a challenging migration of thought because productivity is also a focus. We set our standards at the highest level to make sure that we achieve our intended safety performance, meet schedules, and keep our people safe, happy and healthy.

What’s your favorite part about working in the construction industry?

It’s seeing the inner workings of all the companies that we build for. Since we’re in Silicon Valley, we get to see leading-edge offices of some of the biggest technology powerhouses. We build lab spaces and get to look behind-the-scenes at some of the world’s emerging technologies. I find it very interesting to see how the spaces we’ve built are actually used, once we finish the building.

What do you think is the most challenging factor about working in the construction industry?

The pace at which we build things and high expectations by the owners and general contractors are the most challenging components of working in construction. You have owners working with designers to figure out what they want. Then, you have builders who are trying to put the pieces together, all while trying to stay on the owner’s schedule. Meanwhile, there are constant changes being made. Designers are trying to add their input, and the contractors are trying to build simultaneously because of fast-track deadlines. Add BIM (Building Information Modeling) to it and it can get even more complicated!

We never start a building that’s completely designed—I’ve never taken one set of drawings and made that building come to life. There’s always been some level of indecision and questions. Everything always changes—sometimes on a really big level!

How do you use PlanGrid?

When it comes to PlanGrid, I’d say I’m a superuber user. I use it all the time. I can take a whole set of drawings with me wherever I go and I always have my iPad with me for quick access. If I’m in meetings, I can pull up any information needed and I can give responses to nearly any question being asked.

Right now, my team uses PlanGrid to take photos and create issues every day—it’s how we’re getting information for change orders. I also have daily reports loaded, such as field tracking logs and task plans. In addition, we are maintaining submittals and RFIs to keep everything at our fingertips.

Overall, PlanGrid makes my life simpler and our construction more accurate because we have the most current set of drawings and information readily available for our front line to utilize.

What advice would you give the next generation of builders?

Embrace technology.

Many in construction are resistant to technology, especially some of our older generation builders and electricians. While it may be easy to think, “this is how we’ve always done it and it’s worked,” some of the tools that are coming out now are world-changing. Although I agree with some of that mentality, the overall trend with most of this technology is very positive.

You have to embrace technology up front and learn to use it. It will most likely help to improve your job.

Further Reading:  One Year Later: Is Construction Any Closer to Fixing the Productivity Crisis?

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