Our people bring the passion, drive and ingenuity to make great things happen for our clients, communities and industry.
Meet Our Relentless Allies
Earnest DeLoach, Jr.
Taking Risks, Blazing Trails and Spreading the Wealth
For a moment in time, the dream was to become an astronaut – until Earnest DeLoach, Jr. started the third grade. He jumped at every chance to be heard between oratorical competitions, essay contests and chatting to anyone who would listen. Earnest’s teachers always said he had the personality and characteristics to become a great lawyer one day – they were right.
At a young age, Earnest discovered his dream to defend and advocate for others. He knew becoming a lawyer would allow him to channel his passion to protect and serve the community. With full support from his parents, it was a career path he began to pave, but one that had never been pursued by family or friends. Earnest was a trailblazer.
His father, a Korean War veteran, worked as a heavy equipment operator within the construction industry for 30 years. His mother graduated from college with a math degree and became an elementary school teacher. His older sister graduated college with an accounting degree and became a fourth-grade math teacher. “We used to call ‘teaching’ the family business,” Earnest reflects.
Unbeknownst to Earnest at the time, his family’s professions would play an impactful role throughout his law career. After graduating from the University of Miami and Florida State University College of Law, Earnest moved to Orlando and worked for a law firm for two years before catching the attention of a small construction law firm in Winter Park. Without any previous construction experience, they took a chance on Earnest due to his willingness to learn.
In the early 2000s, construction was booming. The housing and multifamily markets were exploding, and Earnest was one of a few young construction lawyers in Orlando. During this time, he supported many clients gaining more knowledge around the industry with each milestone. Years later, when the market slowed down, Earnest decided to take a leap, and from 2006 to 2014 ran his own law firm. He represented dozens of clients in various businesses and industries: Fortune 500 companies, transportation authorities, school districts and more.
Every new client presented its own challenges, but that didn’t intimidate Earnest – it motived him to succeed. If he didn’t know the answer, he sought it out. Learning was a powerful tool, and he wasn’t afraid to use it – or share it.
Earnest’s desire to spread the wealth of knowledge drove him to become a speaker and part-time professor. Over the last 13 years, Earnest has taught classes at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) College of Law, Barry University - Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law and Valencia College. Across Florida, Earnest has been asked to speak at events, conferences, places of business, and universities to share his experiences and lessons learned throughout his career.
To Earnest, change wouldn’t be possible without risk, but it’s what you do with risk that determines an outcome. He believes the only way to manage risk is to confront it head-on to create optimal resolutions and success – in both life and business. Earnest built his career upon taking risks: declaring he wanted to be a lawyer, starting his own firm, becoming a part-time professor, and ultimately shifting his career in 2018 to work for Balfour Beatty.
With over $1 billion of active work across Florida, reducing risk is crucial. With a career full of experiences mitigating risk, Earnest is an expert. Ironically, he’s learned that most times, you must assume some risk to reduce and resolve it.
Scott Skidelsky, president of Balfour Beatty’s operations in Florida, praises, “Since joining Balfour Beatty, Earnest has been an incredible asset to the leadership of Florida serving his capacity as division counsel and business partner. He’s the perfect fit for our culture.”
In 2019, Earnest was promoted to vice president of legal for Florida. He has proven his expertise, but what makes him truly valuable is his ability to teach his teammates the importance of managing risk properly: taking measured risks, learning and improving constantly and spreading the wealth along the way.
Building Relationships, Teams and Solutions
“You have to be willing to step up and take responsibility for the situation at any given moment, in any sector of our work, and try to make a difference in every way possible.”
John started his career as an intern with Balfour Beatty’s Houston office. After he received his degree in 2013, he was assigned to serve as senior project engineer on the South Bend Memorial Children’s Hospital expansion. In addition to his role as senior project engineer, John also led the project’s Building Information Modeling (BIM) coordination. He participated in a very involved BIM coordination process which provided all stakeholders with a continuous, real-time flow of information, enabling the team to make informed decisions regarding sequencing and quality control on the project. John and the team developed many precedent-setting techniques that have been implemented as a best practice on current Balfour Beatty projects.
John now works in Austin as an assistant superintendent on The Independent - a multifamily project that soars 670 above the downtown area, making it the tallest building in Austin. As steward of Balfour Beatty’s Zero Harm program on the project, John’s number one priority is safety. He prides himself on taking ownership of safety for the entire project family. If he sees something on the project that looks unsafe, he starts a dialogue about it without delay. “What I feel to be unsafe isn’t always against the rules, but from my training with some remarkable superintendents, I’ve learned that safety is not just about the rules. Safety is about using your instincts to see potential risks and then figuring out how to eliminate or mitigate the risk for everyone’s benefit. We want to ensure everyone goes home to their friends and family, every day,” shared John.
His favorite part of being a member of a construction team on a large project like The Independent or the South Bend Memorial Children’s Hospital expansion is applying what he has learned and on a much larger scale. “Providing solutions-oriented results to help a client or a team reach their business goals is a remarkable feeling and extremely gratifying.” He takes great pride in noting the Balfour Beatty projects across Austin and being able to say, “I helped build that!”
As part of Balfour Beatty’s unique brand of construction, we strive to be active participants in the needs of those communities in which we work and play. John was instrumental in initiating a fundraising campaign featuring a rubber duck race in downtown South Bend along the St. Joseph River to benefit South Bend Memorial Children’s Hospital. When he returned to Texas, he was involved in coordinating Balfour Beatty's participation in the Austin Duck Derby, which supports the Boys and Girls Clubs of Austin.
When asked about being a Relentless Ally John answered humbly, “You have to be willing to step up and take responsibility for the situation at any given moment, in any sector of our work, and try to make a difference in every way possible.”
A Family that Grows Together Stays Together
When someone says that the people they work with are family to them, they don’t usually mean that literally. But for Rachele Phariss, the story is different.
From a young age, Rachele knew she wanted to pursue a career in the construction industry. She was fortunate enough to have an extraordinary science teacher who got her involved in a math, science and engineering program. Rachele was fascinated with the connection between these subjects and fell in love with the notion of helping build something impactful for her community.
She continued to pursue this passion during college, majoring in civil engineering at the University of California, Davis. While in her senior year, Rachele discovered Balfour Beatty’s internship program.
“My boyfriend at the time was interning at Balfour Beatty, so I knew about the opportunity through him,” says Rachele. “I was lucky enough to intern right in the middle of construction on the Freeport Regional Water Intake Facility in Sacramento, and once I graduated, they hired me.”
As a fulltime employee, Rachele had the opportunity to finish out the project she had started as an intern. Rachele’s boyfriend was also hired after his internship, and the two quickly became a Balfour Beatty couple.
“And now I’m married to him,” says Rachele. Just like that, Balfour was family.
Eleven years later, Rachele still boasts about the home she’s found within the company. She’s worked on numerous different civils projects, ranging from large-scale water projects to joint ventures between our infrastructure and rail teams, some of which she’s been able to work on with her husband. To Rachele, every project in unique, not just thanks to its learning opportunities, but also in the connections she forms with her fellow project team members.
“It’s our interaction that is kind of like family,” says Rachele. “I always make a connection and long-lasting friendships with the people I’ve worked alongside.”
Rachele is currently contributing to Balfour Beatty’s most significant integrated U.S. Civils and Buildings project, the LAX Automated People Mover. In a field that’s largely still male-dominated, it’s the people on this job – specifically the women – who have surprised Rachele the most.
“I used to be the only woman on the whole construction team,” says Rachele. “This megaproject is a good 50/50 mixture. I am seeing more women out there. I think it’s good. Something is changing, and it’s changing for the better.”
Rachele is deeply grateful for the growth and development opportunities has been afforded at Balfour Beatty. Between the relationships she’s built and the knowledge she’s acquired from her projects, Rachele is not the same shy intern she was when she started; she’s found her voice and her purpose. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Balfour Beatty cares about its people. That’s why I was attracted to this company, and it’s why I stay,” praises Rachele. “They really do treat us like family. My husband and I joke that our kids are going to be Balfour people, too.”
Leading with Purpose
Superintendent Pete Caley invests in the next generation of construction industry leaders
As a superintendent, Pete Caley recognizes the impact leadership has on nurturing the potential of others who are striving to make their mark in the construction industry, whether it’s his teammates, partners or even his own son. Throughout his career, Pete has found that traits such as kindness, respect and patience are fundamental to effective leadership. By embodying these qualities, Pete inspires passion and motivation within others, propelling them to achieve their dreams.
Pete is a five-year company veteran with more than 25 years of experience in the construction industry. He leads the construction of complex tenant improvement projects for high-profile clients in the greater Seattle area.
During his time with HSW, Pete has delivered corporate interiors projects for tech industry clients that feature multiple floors of new or renovated spaces. This process often requires demolishing the floors to their structure and upfitting the space, from its bare concrete floor to pan decking at the ceiling, with new walls, HVAC systems, and mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) facilities. There have even been instances in which Pete has led project teams to effectively renovate floors measuring, at its diagonal, up to a football field in length (or 100 yards).
Supportive Leadership That Empowers Others
As a superintendent focused on the successful delivery of unique tenant improvement projects, Pete knows he not only needs to be a strong leader but also a kind, supportive and selfless teammate committed to empowering others.
“We cannot excel in our professional development journeys without the kindness of others,” Pete says. “As a leader, it is important to give the steering wheel to your teammates from time to time in addition to having the patience to show them effective methods to lead and complete a job. Whenever leaders facilitate these opportunities, they are inspiring others to thrive in their specific roles and potentially beyond.”
Pete recalls an incredibly meaningful mentorship opportunity that arose while he was working on a robust tenant improvement project. When a foreperson expressed an interest in learning new project management skills, Pete gave that individual additional leadership responsibilities and then provided valuable mentorship on how to successfully execute and achieve those tasks. For Pete, it was rewarding to observe this individual broaden their skillset to effectively manage new jobsite dynamics and project management strategies.
In moments like these, Pete understands that leadership involves introducing teammates to new opportunities outside of their assigned roles and providing genuine support every step of the way. He states, “As a leader in this industry, I believe that my teammates’ professional development will always start and stop with me.”
Pete also recognizes that becoming a leader in this industry doesn’t happen without the genuine, long-lasting support of a people-first company. He is honored to work with project teammates across HSW who have been with the business for well over a decade. It’s not uncommon for construction workers to be employed in transitory roles, moving from one job to the next across multiple geographies. But, at HSW, Pete values its family-like environment which is a significant contributor to the longevity of his teammates’ careers. A people-first culture is especially important to diverse teammates, because it values and respects the inclusion of different talents, perspectives and backgrounds.
Paving the Way for the Next Generation
Born in Seoul, Korea, Pete has noticed throughout his career that the prevalence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) on the jobsites where he’s worked has been very limited. According to Zippia, a data-driven career resource for professionals, 2.7 percent of superintendents in the construction industry identify as Asian. As the industry has joined forces to ensure greater diversity among the workforce, Pete is exceptionally honored to pave a trail for the AAPI community and is especially proud to witness his youngest son follow in his footsteps as a construction professional.
When asked what advice he’d give to the next generation of leaders in the construction industry, Pete offers these words of wisdom: “First you need to have desire and drive for your own professional development and success. This means finding a company that aligns with your personal and professional values and making it your priority to connect with someone in the industry who is passionate about your career development. Once you’ve found this, pay it forward and help instill that same desire and drive in others looking to climb the ladder.”
In a world where professional development is often dependent on the support and mentorship of influential leaders, Balfour Beatty is honored to have team members like Pete who are making conscious efforts to invest in the future of the construction industry and the talent that will drive it. His leadership and passion for others to excel not only supports the delivery of premier projects but also the relentless pursuit to serve as an ally in our industry, communities and beyond.
Paul Chang, preconstruction manager for Balfour Beatty in California, was awarded with the Albert R. Vallin Award for Estimator of the Year. With an impressive history of project estimating, Paul also proudly serves as the President of the American Society of Professional Estimators’ (ASPE) San Diego chapter where he promotes education, fellowship and professional development to ASPE members and the community alike.
Paul is originally from Peru and holds a technical degree in diversified tool & die stamping, a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management and is a Certified Professional Estimator (CPE).
Early on, Paul’s interest in construction began while he was working in the mechanical industry in Sao Paulo, Brazil. From there, his career took him to Nagoya, Japan, where he continued in the mechanical industry for another two years. Paul then made the move to the U.S., where he began working as an estimator in training with another general contractor in Dallas, TX.
Now, with 22 years of experience under his belt, Paul utilizes his expertise to help build educational facilities, hospitals, military projects and civic facilities among other markets. Paul is reshaping preconstruction by applying skills and practices he has learned and developed on his path through the trades.
His experiences in the field give him a tangible understanding of how projects develop and insight into creating a successful building experience. He has an instinctive passion to teach and innovate, fueled by a relentless curiosity and drive to employ best practices. In his current role, Paul is responsible for preparing budgets, estimates and pre-bid packages for future construction projects for Balfour Beatty’s Southern California clients.
Congratulations Paul on achieving this accolade! Your hard work and determination are making a mark on Balfour Beatty, the local community and the industry as a whole.
A Trooper for Highway Safety
Orival Thompson is no stranger to following the rules in his role as US Department of Transportation (USDOT) compliance manager at Balfour Beatty. In fact, there was a time in his life where he enforced the rules to protect the citizens of Florida as an officer of the law.
Orival served more than 36 years in law enforcement, with 21 of those years dedicated to the highway patrol in the motor carrier enforcement unit.
After retiring in 2016, Orival began a new chapter as a DOT compliance consultant for motor carrier companies, sharing his expertise and knowledge in highway patrol and DOT regulations. After serving as a consultant for our rail team, Orival joined Balfour Beatty as a full-time DOT compliance manager that following year.
“A lot of people don’t recognize Balfour Beatty as being a motor carrier company,” Orival explains. “Though we are a construction company, we use commercial motor vehicles to transport materials throughout jobsites. Because of this, we have a responsibility to follow USDOT guidelines.”
As the DOT Compliance Manager, Orival is responsible for ensuring Balfour Beatty maintains compliance with federal and state regulations required for commercial vehicles, including the management of Balfour Beatty’s USDOT score, which is a leading indicator of businesses’ driver safety.
Orival takes his responsibility as “gatekeeper” of our USDOT score seriously.
In fact, he conducts workshops across the US to educate our civils teams on topics such as pre-trip inspections, vehicle and driver violations, proper load securement and drug and alcohol requirements. Orival’s workshops are part of a larger, comprehensive safety and risk management plan to ensure the wellbeing of our drivers and all other drivers or members of the public they encounter.
"Highway safety is our ultimate goal,” Orival states. “The [USDOT] rules and regulations often change, and consistency across our business helps to prevent violations and demonstrate our commitment to Zero Harm.”
Orival is passionate about his role as a liaison between Balfour Beatty and federal/state regulating agencies, staying informed about the latest regulatory updates, qualifications and trends in the transportation industry to maintain Balfour Beatty’s driver safety score—a figure we are committed to continuously improving.
Orival’s personal mantra, “If you can’t do the right thing all the time, then you should not do it at all,” speaks to the integrity and wisdom he displays in his role and makes him a Relentless Ally for the safety of our people and the public on construction sites, roads and highways across America.
North Carolina A&T State University Project Team
Building Foundations at North Carolina A&T State University
Impactful student engagement plan revolutionizes engineering education at NC A&T University
In business, there are relationships. And then there are partnerships.
In Balfour Beatty, North Carolina A&T State University has found the latter. When this renowned historically black college and university (HBCU) retained Balfour Beatty to build its new Student Union, a mutual commitment was established to leverage this project as a teaching opportunity for A&T students. Through one of the most innovative and robust student engagement plans ever applied on a higher education construction project, Balfour Beatty has directly impacted more than 600 A&T students. Together, A&T and Balfour Beatty have revolutionized the educational experience within the University’s #1 program for engineers of color as ranked by Money Magazine.
Balfour Beatty and NC A&T collaborated with the North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development to develop this student engagement plan, whose approach to maximizing learning and development opportunities touched not only future builders but also the entire student body. A website was created and maintained to keep the campus highly informed and connected to the project. The University dedicated an area in its construction management school for engagement activities, where engineering students have received guidance on nearly every aspect of the construction process.
Members of Balfour Beatty’s project team, which includes six A&T alumni, have embraced their roles as mentors during the past two years on campus. Along with joint venture partner C2 Contractors, team members have provided students with a vast array of industry-related opportunities. From monthly project tours to guest lectures on subjects such as Building Information Modeling (BIM), scheduling, estimating, bidding, blueprint reading and more, this team has given of their time and talents—all to the benefit of up-and-coming industry professionals. In September 2017, the team set up virtual reality (VR) booth at the University’s Career Fair, giving students a lens into the industry’s most cutting-edge trend.
“The Student Union project has been an incubator for education,” praises Andrew Perkins, associate vice chancellor, facilities at NC A&T.
Balfour Beatty has also helped facilitate networking opportunities with many of the 62 firms that comprise the project’s impressive 43% Minority and Women Owned Enterprise (MWBE) participation—a rate that more than quadrupled the state’s goal. Some students like civil engineering major, Christian Stowe, have worked even more closely with the team. Following his 2017 internship, Stowe praised his experiences on social media. “Learning about the complex design and build [of the Student Union] was amazing. I have learned so many lessons about construction that will help me fuel my career…”
Collectively, these efforts have elevated A&T’s already prestigious and highly sought-after engineering program. Many engineering students graduate with largely theoretical knowledge, having merely toured active constructions sites. At A&T, however, students receive continued, hands-on training that crystallizes classroom studies. “We’ve taken it to another level,” acknowledges Johnny Rankin, executive vice president for Balfour Beatty in Raleigh. Better preparation goes hand-in-hand with improved graduation rates, which ultimately boost recruitment, bringing the process full circle.
“When a student can walk onto a 150,000-square-foot project and witness the activities they’ve read about come to fruition, that student can be a contributor day one,” commends Perkins.
The Student Union project is scheduled to complete in spring 2018, and a highly anticipated ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held in July. A beacon for the campus, the new facility is a modern, glass-fronted structure bridging green spaces running from the Aggie Village Green to Aggie Stadium. Balfour Beatty plans to expand engagement efforts on a second campus project known as the ERIC building (Engineering Research and Innovation Complex), which is slated to begin construction in summer 2018. When complete, it will surpass the Student Union as the largest construction project to date at the University.
It’s been said that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” For an industry in which experiences outside the classroom are fundamental to succeeding in the field, the opportunities Balfour Beatty has and will continue to provide A&T students are invaluable. Although Balfour Beatty was contracted to build a Student Union’s structural foundation, thanks to this strong and synergistic partnership with NC A&T University, a foundation is also being built for North Carolina’s next generation of construction leaders.
Creating Relationships that are Built to Last
Much like starting construction on a building, creating lasting connections and relationships with clients and partners start with developing a firm foundation. For Nick Wegener, senior project manager with Balfour Beatty's Southeast team, setting the groundwork for a strong foundation in relationships not only showcases why he serves as more than a construction partner, but also his deep commitment to our clients' end goals.
Since joining Balfour Beatty in 2006, Nick has contributed to various projects in diverse market sectors across the Southeast from hospitality and commercial to multifamily and military housing. Initially beginning his career with Balfour Beatty on The Palm Coast Resort project in Florida, Nick soon shifted gears to working with the company’s military housing team based in Atlanta. At the time, Balfour Beatty was one of the largest builders of privatized military housing in the country. Nick’s work in this sector included the Navy Southeast Privatized Family Housing project—a multiple award contract (MAC)—and subsequently returning to his hometown to join the Charleston Navy Weapon Station project team.
But his versatility and 15 years of industry experience are not the only reasons Nick has thrived and advanced during his tenure with Balfour Beatty. Over the last 10 years, Nick has played an integral role in establishing a reputation for exceptional service and operational excellence with one of Balfour Beatty's largest clients in the Southeast, The Beach Company. He has also been instrumental in securing nearly $300 million in repeat work with this valued client.
Nick began fostering a relationship with The Beach Company on The Boulevard at Coleman in Charleston, Balfour Beatty’s first project with the premier developer. One of Nick’s core beliefs as a builder is that providing a seamless customer experience requires transparency and enhanced communication from preconstruction to final close-out.
Two months before The Boulevard was slated for completion and tenant occupancy, Nick scheduled time each morning to walk the job with the owner’s vice president and chief operating officer, Dan Doyle, over a daily cup of coffee meeting. These conversations surfaced critical information about remaining project goals and needs and empowered the team to deliver a premier residential and retail space for the local community to enjoy.
On the nine projects that have since followed The Boulevard, Nick has continued to raise the bar for what it means to be a true construction partner. Whether he is collaborating with the client on design changes, identifying alternate material or system selection, or helping navigate the market’s recent cost escalation and volatility that has led to longer lead times on key goods and materials, Nick is a consummate advocate for The Beach Company at every stage of the construction process.
"Our industry is a people-focused industry," says Nick. "People do everything from negotiating a deal to get a project ramped up to banging hammers on a job site to delivering a new project for the community to enjoy. It's crucial to deliver a successful project that we understand and build trusting and strong relationships with our clients."
Nick's expertise proved invaluable in 2020 while working on The Jasper, a recently completed luxury, 12-story mixed-use building in Charleston's iconic Harleston Village neighborhood.
During construction, project teams across the nation were grappling with manufacturing shortages in appliances among many other materials, and international shipping delays due to COVID-19. Understanding the ripple effect this could have as tenants began to move into their new homes, Nick quickly began communicating with the client to begin securing funding to ensure 219 refrigerators were delivered ahead of schedule while also identifying laydown areas while the units were still under construction. And when the project was experiencing difficulty securing the manufactured flooring from overseas? Nick didn't hesitate to spend hours on the phone working with multiple international manufacturers to ensure it was delivered on time for completion.
"My biggest takeaway is that communication is at the core of building a solid foundation with our clients and puts Balfour Beatty above the rest," adds Nick. "As expert builders, we know potential challenges that may arise during construction, and taking that expertise one step further to engage in proactive conversations helps our teams to successfully deliver projects safely and on time."
Providing industry-leading client services is what truly makes Balfour Beatty more than a general contractor. Nick is a shining example that by putting people at the heart of what we do, we build more than just structures. We build lasting relationships with our clients, partners, and teammates that ultimately transform the communities in which we build.
Paving the Way for Drone Innovation
It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. For Senior Preconstruction Manager Nick Puckett, that proverb might be better phrased as curiosity is the cultivator of innovation.
Recognizing their vast applications to enhance project management, Balfour Beatty’s Charlotte team invested in a drone. But they needed the right person to effectively lead a drone program. Although the technology was completely new to Nick, without hesitation he raised his hand and went to work—all outside his day-to-day preconstruction responsibilities.
After months of studying, Nick obtained his Remote Pilot Certificate through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and began formulating a strategy for capturing, analyzing and leveraging drone data. Attending Autodesk University furthered his understanding of how web-based platforms like Site Scan could transform raw drone images into actionable intelligence for project teams.
Nick quickly discerned one of the drone’s major advantages: due to the rapid speed with which drone software generates an incredibly precise point cloud model, it enables quality control to take place in near real-time in the field.
So how do drones produce such precise models? The drone operator establishes ground control points (GCPs), which are longitude and latitude coordinates spaced strategically throughout the jobsite. While in flight, the drone takes pictures of the site in a predetermined crosshatch pattern with significant overlap to capture sufficient angles for the creation of a 3D model. Site Scan allows users to import and overlay contract documents to check progress, validate inconsistencies with work in place as well as spot safety or logistical issues.
On The Jasper, a 12-story, mixed-use development in Charleston’s historic district, the team needed to create as-builts of elevated concrete slabs over formwork before floors were poured. On similar projects, the Charlotte team used a laser scanner. This required a specially trained teammate to scan the space, ensuring every building element from the post tension cables to electrical conduit was captured.
Creating a 3D image from the laser scan takes approximately four to eight hours. Should a discovery such as a missing MEP plumbing sleeve be identified, this lag time was generally prohibitive of a team’s ability to rapidly course correct in the field. By comparison, when Nick conducted the drone flight on The Jasper, he was able to generate a model in just two hours while on-site.
According to Nick, the choice of reality capture technology isn’t an “either/or,” as laser scanners have enhanced applications for interior spaces, especially on renovations where as-builts may be missing or inaccurate. It’s the drone’s rapid mapping ability that makes it a game changer for identifying issues before they adversely affect a project’s schedule or budget.
“As we seek to embed lean solutions into every facet of our business, Nick’s ability to provide a line of sight into projects before the first shovel hits dirt until the ribbon cutting is a true differentiator,” says Bill Lorenzo, vice president of project solutions in Charlotte. “Nick’s initiative speaks volumes about his passion for Balfour Beatty and the clients we serve.”
On the UNC Charlotte Science Building project, a 130,000-square-foot instructional and research space, the team is only just beginning to tap into the benefits of drone technology. The project required extensive demolition, including a decommissioned masonry smoke stack. The University capped the smoke stack, but the team did not know what material the cap was comprised of, which was critical to predicting where it would fall.
Thanks to a recent drone flight, Nick was able to inform the team of the cap material in a matter of minutes, enabling the team to safely proceed with demolition work on an occupied campus. The Science Building team has also used models developed from drone flights to verify as-built underground utility locations.
“Weekly flyovers allow us to track our progress against the schedule,” says John Schlobohm, senior project manager for the Science Building project. “It’s also great for logistics planning on such a large site. Aerial shots help us see where work is taking place and equipment is staged to look ahead and plan for upcoming work.”
On the South Charlotte STEAM K-8 project for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the drone flights Nick conducted allowed the team to quickly make an informed decision that could have otherwise resulted in schedule impacts. Once the team excavated to grade, they discovered a portion of unsuitable soil. Presented with the choice to either remediate that soil or haul in new dirt, they needed exact measurements to make the best cost decision. Using Site Scan, Nick was able to calculate the number of cubic yards in a matter of minutes compared to the traditional method of hiring a surveyor which could have taken days and stalled work.
Drone flights don’t just provide accurate data. That data is also incredibly accessible to anyone with a WiFi connection. Kerrigan Sadler, project engineer on the South Charlotte STEAM K-8 project, was able to quickly learn Site Scan and works in collaboration with Nick to harness the drone’s full capabilities. “It improves communication between all members of project teams with near real-time data shared through the cloud,” she praises.
Founder of Wal-Mart Sam Walton once said, “Curiosity doesn’t kill the cat; it kills the competition.” To lead in today’s highly competitive construction marketplace, contractors must live and breathe innovation.
That innovation begins on the front lines with teammates like Nick who not only believe there is a better way, but are also driven by a passion for continuous improvement. A learner and a leader, the sky’s the limit for Nick as he leverages drones to help revolutionize the construction industry as we know it.
How do you remain a good neighbor on a 1.1 million square foot mixed-use project that could adversely affect parking and interrupt the normal flow of pedestrian access to surrounding merchants?
If you’re Nick Cusanelli, general superintendent on Portland's Block 216 project, you work with a local artist to create a hip urban mural on a 200-foot pedestrian walkway of course.
“I have a goal for continually upping our game and taking projects to the next level, this project was no different. It was important to help beautify the area with a family-friendly outdoor temporary mural, while also supporting businesses in the area that often suffer due to construction by making the project look less like a construction site and more like a user-friendly part of downtown. We need to ensure we’re acting on our promise to be good community partners” shared Nick.
Nick worked with artist agent Kali Grey to find the perfect talent for the beautification project. Kali presented three portfolios to choose from and Nick chose the artist eyedrawp because of his signature hand-painted, abstract style of vibrant colors and patterns – allowing the viewer’s mind to personify the different forms and make a personal connection. The artist's style also aligned well with the merchant wayfinding posters provided by Portland’s Downtown Merchants Association, which also line the pedestrian walkway.
Feedback from the community, client, and trade partners has been overwhelmingly positive with numerous comments on how they appreciate the mod vibe and community feel the mural brings to the block and to downtown Portland.
In Nick’s honor, the team affectionately named the pedestrian walkway 'Cusanelli Walk' to celebrate his unique contribution to this signature downtown project.
The mural will remain up for the duration of the two-year project and will continue to help beautify the area and drive awareness to local businesses that are still open nearby.
Writing the Book on Customer Service
A simple Amazon search reveals an absolute bevy of books written about customer service. If these authors are to be believed, customer service is both an art and a science. And that makes perfect sense. Intuitively, we know that the people who provide the best service – whether it’s an insurance broker or the rep who answers the late night something-is-wrong-with-my-cable call – engender loyalty and have the technical know-how to get the job done.
If you’ve ever met Project Executive Mike Wehner, you know him to be a rare amalgam of both. For an industry as service-oriented as construction, Mike is a true gem. Not only has Mike established himself as one of North Carolina’s most trusted retail and corporate interiors experts, but he has also cultivated one of the strongest client followings in the business.
To understand why Mike has become the first call for countless clients, you need to hit the VHS rewind button to a different time and place. Upstate, New York in the 1980s to be exact, where neon is all the rage and New Kids on the Block are, well, new. Mike’s father, a residential construction mason, took his son to countless home sites and taught him the industry building blocks before he was allowed to date. The summers he spent with cinder and clay would serve as the foundation for his entire approach to project management. But for a time, Mike wasn’t entirely aware that a passion for building was blossoming.
You don’t need to look any further than the diploma that hangs in Mike’s office to understand just how unaware he was. Although he continued to secure part-time masonry work throughout high school and college, Mike graduated from the State University of New York at Buffalo with a degree in environmental science. It’s hard to avert destiny, though. A trip visiting friends in North Carolina coupled with the then widespread availability of industry work was all it took to return Mike to his roots.
If you’ve eagerly awaited a slice of wood-fired bliss at Brixx Pizza in Huntersville, NC you’ve unwittingly enjoyed the fruits of Mike’s labor. If you’ve ever stepped off the LYNX light rail and into the hub of activity that is Charlotte’s Epicentre, Mike’s handiwork spans as far as the eye can see. He’s also become the builder of choice for corporate clients like TIAA-CREF, First Citizens Bank and Compass Group USA.
Under Mike’s leadership, Balfour Beatty has enjoyed repeat successes with each of these clients. Although the renovation to Compass’s Global Headquarters, for example, was Mike’s very first job with Balfour Beatty, he quickly developed a relationship with the global foodservice leader and has marinated it to perfection over the years. Compass knows it is important to select a construction partner that follows its own recipe for success: great people + great service = great results. And they certainly had that in spades with Mike, a fact affirmed when the project won a first place Eagle Award at the 2014 Associated Builders & Contractors Excellence in Construction competition.
“Mike is very customer focused and makes us feel as if we are the only client he supports, which I know is not the case,” praises Marty Scannell, senior director, real estate and facilities for Compass Group North America Division. “He is always available and accommodating and does a great job of pointing out value engineering alternatives.”
It would seem that if anyone was qualified to write a book on customer service, it would be Mike Wehner. But he’s the first to tell you that his secret is really quite simple. “I treat every project like I’m building it in my own home,” he asserts. “I want all my clients to know they are my number one priority.”
If Mike ever gets tired of construction, and we’re pretty sure he never will, perhaps his will be the next best seller on customer service to hit the shelves. Until then, we’re pretty glad he’s on the other end of those owner calls.
Melissa Thacker has always had a healthy curiosity for the world. As a kid she often took things apart just to see if she could put them back together. “One time I took apart my brother’s gaming system,” she chuckles, “he was not happy.”
Melissa’s first exposure to construction came through her mom, who owned a pool construction company. Even at a young age Melissa was involved in the business, helping to install and repair equipment - but she had other plans in mind for her own career path.
After serious consideration of law, journalism and advertising, Melissa was finally confident that she knew her career destiny: construction management. Any concerns about working in a male-dominated industry were brushed aside - with the benefit of her mom’s wise experience and encouragement.
Melissa first came to our attention while competing in a student competition run by the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) that asks students to create Request for Proposals (RFPs) based on real-life projects.
Balfour Beatty was assigned to review Melissa’s team’s RFP on-site at the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. According to the team, Melissa was a stand-out performer who immediately impressed with her aptitude and thought-provoking questions. It wasn’t long before Melissa herself was part of the team, with two successful back-to-back summer internships.
During her internships with Balfour Beatty, Melissa contributed to three major projects – including retail, residential and hospitality/entertainment. She also had the opportunity to be mentored by some of Florida’s most influential operations leaders, including Andrew Marshall, senior project manager; Neal Ernest, general superintendent; Ryan Walters, project engineer; and Brian Prebenda, vice president of operations.
“Neal and I often had lunch together, and we would talk about my future career and interests,” recalls Melissa. “It was always clear that the team wanted me to do whatever was best for me, and we would talk a lot about what that could be.”
In the end, Melissa determined that the personal investment demonstrated by her leaders meant Balfour Beatty was the right company for her. When an opportunity came up for a full-time time position she accepted immediately.
“No company gave me the same feeling,” says Melissa. “Although it’s one of the largest construction companies in the nation, it feels more like a family - something I feel is hard to find.”
Now a proud graduate of the University of Florida and a full-time Balfour Beatty teammate, Melissa is encouraging of anyone who is considering an internship. “From hands-on field experiences to teambuilding activities with executive leadership, the internship experience here is second-to-none. I don’t think I would have developed the relationships that I have in this company without having gone through the internship program, “says Melissa.
As a project engineer, Melissa can now appreciate how her interests have evolved from takings things apart and rebuilding them - to building huge structures from scratch with a team of great leaders and friends around her.
It seems the same curiosity that fueled Melissa as a child is still alive and well in this talented young professional who is only just beginning to make her mark.
At Balfour Beatty, we prioritize people and making a positive impact on the communities in which we live and work, embracing our responsibility to engage nearby residents and stakeholders on changes happening in their backyard. This is a responsibility Maxwell Kesselly doesn’t take lightly.
Maxwell is a paving engineer on the $666 million Southern Gateway project in Dallas, Texas where he manages and assists a crew in constructing curbs, sidewalks, driveways and concrete riprap. Often, this type of work can indirectly or directly affect nearby homes or businesses.
“It’s important for our project team to inform residents and business owners about the construction changes happening in the area and make sure they understand what’s going on,” Maxwell explains. “Our public information team does a great job at communicating with them virtually, but sometimes we go talk with them in person as a good faith effort to show how much we care.”
For Maxwell, ensuring the community is informed and safe is key in building relationships and trust with residents in the area—two of the many core company values that attracted him to Balfour Beatty.
When Maxwell joined Balfour Beatty in 2019, he had already witnessed the Dallas Horseshoe project team’s success in engaging the community while working for another contractor. In addition, he heard many positive reviews about the project team’s Zero Harm culture and commitment to ensuring the project is safe for everyone on and off-site. Knowing that Balfour Beatty shared his values for community and safety, Maxwell knew Balfour Beatty was the place for him.
“When working on highways during live traffic, safety is critical,” Maxwell emphasizes. “You have to know the hazards, the entry/exit points and the areas where a vehicle might accidentally enter the work zone. In addition, you have to constantly be aware of the environment around you.”
Maxwell’s experience and passion for community engagement stems from his time in college at Alabama A&M University, a Historically Black College/University (HBCU). In college, he participated in student activities and organizations such as the National Society of Black Engineers and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated – both organizations having strong community service values. As a member and leader of these organizations, Maxwell volunteered with holiday food drives for local families, tutorial programs for elementary school students and other activities that anticipate the needs of the local community.
Today, Maxwell finds excitement in building new roads, being involved in major traffic switches and watching highway construction progress from start to finish.
“As a paving engineer, I make sure all the flatwork is precise and correct,” he says. “I take pride in getting the work right the first time.”
As Maxwell progresses throughout his career, he hopes to one day become a project engineer for highway construction, overseeing multiple disciplines. His passion for community exemplifies Balfour Beatty’s people-first culture, enabling us to build trust with our customers, deliver sustainable solutions and leave a positive, lasting legacy through the projects we are entrusted to build.
Charting His Own Course
A third-generation builder, North Carolina native Matt Stephenson knew from a young age that he would continue the family tradition and build his career in construction. What he could not have predicted, however, is that he would develop a reputation as one of Charlotte’s most adaptable and diversified builders, meeting the evolving needs of his clients and partners.
Matt grew up with a hammer in hand, spending his high school and college summers working on his father’s residential jobsites. After graduating from NC State University with a degree in mechanical engineering, Matt obtained his North Carolina general contractor license and spent the first several years of his career as a mechanical estimator on domestic and international power plants.
In 2014, Matt joined Balfour Beatty in a preconstruction role focused on mission critical projects, where his MEP expertise contributed to the development of reliable estimates and commissioning of data center, call center and central energy plant projects. Matt was fascinated by the highly complex aspects of mission critical mechanical systems, where contractors must prevent even a millisecond of downtime.
Although Matt thrived in preconstruction, a hunger always existed within him to physically build the projects he had planned conceptually hundreds of times over. When Matt was approached to join the team’s commercial ranks, he jumped at the chance.
That opportunity came with major changes and challenges: a transition into operations that began with managing the construction of a five-story, precast parking deck. Matt was eager to break in his boots and embraced the unknown with an unwavering confidence in the team that surrounded him. Predictably, the project met every definition of success, completed on time and under budget.
“Every day in construction is unique,” says Matt. “Is there a procurement issue? Is there a fit-up issue? Is there a weather impact? You learn how to tackle each challenge and become a better project manager because of it.”
Matt further solidified his dexterity as a project manager on the award-winning Frankie's of Charlotte, a $30 million, 18-acre family fun park. From complex sitework that included cutting and filling 250,000 cubic yards of dirt and erecting a 1,500-foot-long, 40-foot-high mechanically stabilized earth wall to an intricate electrical system with colossal voltage, Frankie’s demanded a detail-driven, collaborative leader. Matt recorded some firsts on this one-of-a-kind project, and so did the town in which it was built. The team executed the installation of 28 rooftop HVAC units via helicopter—a first in Huntersville, NC history.
Frankie’s owner Doug Godley praised, “I have worked with many construction companies since opening our first location in 1990. With the completion of this project, Balfour Beatty has set the industry standard for what it means to deliver a quality product with professional performance.”
As a mission critical construction expert, Matt knows a thing or two about redundancy. But as his career progresses into new markets from high-end interiors to government facilities, it is proving anything but predictable. Matt’s chameleon-like adaptability isn’t a survival tactic in this progressive industry—it’s what makes him thrive. No matter the market, customer or end user, Matt’s focus on providing consistency, value, intentional communication and superior service remains the same. With calloused hands and a compassionate heart, Matt looks forward to tackling his next challenge and welcoming change as a catalyst for growth.
Blooming in Balfour Beatty’s Growth Culture
Layli Pietri shares her inspirational journey from jobsite administration to minority business development director
Layli Pietri didn’t take the conventional path to her role as minority business development director for our Mid-Atlantic team. She didn’t start out with an engineering degree or walk in the door with a background in construction. She didn’t know much about the process from blueprint to buildout.
Instead, she came to Balfour Beatty with a willingness to learn and the motivation to develop new skills. She found a nurturing environment and mentoring colleagues in our people-first culture, and the combination has resulted in a rewarding and successful 26-year career with Balfour Beatty. She’s still counting—and now she’s giving back.
Layli built her career working in diverse roles and positions, transitioning from administrative assistant and office manager to purchasing specialist and small business manager. In her current role, Layli is responsible for ensuring compliance with federal, state and local government requirements for subcontracting with small and minority-owned businesses.
Her unexpected journey into this specialized field started when she moved from Alaska to North Carolina and needed a job as a young mother to help support her family. Despite not knowing much about the construction industry, Layli took a leap of faith when she saw a posting for an administrative role at a construction jobsite.
The hiring manager saw something special in Layli. Once onboard, Layli learned quickly, often performing duties outside the scope of her responsibilities. Noticing Layli’s instinctual abilities and willingness to learn, the project manager offered her the office manager position, and a company leader was soon born.
Layli’s career evolution took her to purchasing, where she further honed her skills in cultivating strong supplier relationships. Her supervisor on that team recognized her skills and positive, “can-do” attitude and invested time in teaching her to read blueprints. Layli subsequently studied estimating and was given opportunities to dabble in new skills along the way. She was becoming versed in the full process from bid to build.
As Layli grew in every stage of her career, she credits her colleagues’ belief in her potential and supportive guidance as having made all the difference. Because of her experiences, Layli advocates for mentoring programs not only to empower the next generation of builders with the confidence and skills to advance in their careers but as a vital vehicle to achieve greater diversity and inclusivity within Balfour Beatty and the construction industry.
“I learned from the ‘school of Balfour Beatty,’ and my career grew from there,” Layli explains, noting that each role helped her develop a more holistic understanding of the industry and how she could bring greater value to the organization.
Shifting Gears and Discovering Her Passion
When working in procurement, part of Layli’s responsibilities included overseeing supplier diversity. She soon recognized a need to develop a comprehensive tracking system to more effectively meet diversity, equity and inclusion goals. Layli played an integral role in developing a robust local program and best practices, which she has subsequently shared across the company.
Celebrating her 26th anniversary with Balfour Beatty in December 2021, Layli recognizes that her inspirational career trajectory was not dependent on luck or working alongside colleagues who advocated on her behalf but rather on the company’s culture.
“Continuous improvement is deeply embedded in our DNA,” praises Layli. “Balfour Beatty understands the value in trying something new to learn and grow. And we offer that to people in their careers in a responsible way that is not only beneficial for the individual but also the company.”
Throughout her tenure, Layli has witnessed Balfour Beatty’s passion for advancing the industry—both culturally and operationally—play a critical role in developing relationships of mutual trust and respect with trade partners and suppliers. Thanks to the outstanding outreach efforts of diversity leaders like Layli, Balfour Beatty has established a reputation as a general contractor of choice for minority-owned and small businesses. And, as we mentor these partners, we are strengthening the communities in which we are privileged to live, serve and build.
“As you experience success over time, whether as an organization or an individual,” Layli encourages, “you should be asking: ‘Am I reaching out to help others grow? Who am I helping behind me?’”
Coming full circle from her first days on a jobsite, Layli now mentors others. She proactively develops partnerships with Balfour Beatty teams in other geographies on government contract pursuits and projects. She helps others learn the critical nuances of small and minority-owned business goals that governmental clients establish and how to effectively collaborate with those partners.
In a volunteer capacity, Layli works with numerous organizations including the National Association of Minority Contractors, the Society of American Military Engineers Small Business Council and local Asian, Hispanic and Black Chambers of Commerce. She also serves on the Board of Directors of Washington Building Congress.
But her greatest joy comes from mentoring those right in her own office.
“What keeps me here is the people. So many of us are friends, true friends,” she says. “We care about each other, and there is a tremendous willingness to share knowledge. All you have to do is ask. I hope everyone knows that.”
To learn more about Layli’s exceptional career journey, read her profile in Latinas in Construction. To read in English, open in Chrome and select the Google English translation.
Blazing Trails and Building Skyscrapers
Laura McWilliams began college with the goal of pursuing a degree in architecture, but she soon discovered that her passion leaned more toward a technical field than a creative one.
With a deep appreciation for the complexity and scale of construction projects, Laura changed course and obtained a degree in construction management from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, a top-ranked school for construction superintendents.
After graduating, Laura began her career with Balfour Beatty as an office engineer. Her first opportunity would be both life and career-changing. As a member of the New Parkland Hospital project team, Laura experienced how teamwork and industry-leading operational excellence brought the dream of a 2.1-million-square-foot, 862-bed, LEED® Gold hospital to life for the Dallas-Fort Worth community. It would also ignite a passion in Laura to pursue one of the career paths less traditionally traveled for women in construction.
Transitioning from the Office to the Field
Laura credits her early career development to two of Parkland’s general superintendents, Sam Moses and Aaron Blair. By exposing Laura to on-site activities, these industry veterans helped her understand how construction drawings translate to real-world field applications. Their mentorship played a pivotal role in shaping her career trajectory.
“Hospital projects are highly complex, and all the details and moving parts made every day so exciting and busy,” Laura recalls. “I realized how much I enjoyed being in the field."
After completing the Parkland project, Laura decided to refocus her ambitions on becoming a superintendent—one of the least common career paths for women in construction. In fact, according to the National Association of Women in Construction, approximately 10% of construction workers are women, with only 1% representing the field (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Although Laura was cognizant of the industry’s widespread gender imbalance, she felt unwavering support from her mentors and colleagues at Balfour Beatty and never doubted her ability to succeed.
Since that time, Laura has contributed to iconic and highly complex projects such as the 50,000-square-foot First Baptist Medical Center, Park District and The Independent, a 58-story residential tower and Austin's tallest building. Most recently, Laura completed work on Victory Commons One in Dallas.
Developing a Team Environment
Although superintendents are responsible for ensuring quality work is executed safely and on schedule, they also play a vital role in building a thriving team culture that extends to Balfour Beatty’s trade partners. On every project, Laura strives to replicate the model team environment she experienced on the Parkland project by establishing strong and collaborative relationships, encouraging open communication and maintaining a positive outlook.
"I walk the job after the morning huddle to connect with the project team, ensure everyone is working safely and provide my teams with feedback and encouragement. This constant movement of walking the site benefits our team, safety, project quality and schedule," she says.
Laura has also observed that effective teambuilding extends beyond the jobsite. By facilitating opportunities for regular team lunches and outings such as bowling or baseball games, Laura helps build more personal and meaningful connections between colleagues.
"We spend our workdays together, sometimes including a weekend rotation, so providing a positive atmosphere and safe environment where people work well together is essential. It's easier to find solutions as a team in a positive and collaborative environment that supports diverse viewpoints," she maintains.
Leading as a Woman in the Field
As Laura has grown in her career, assuming greater levels of responsibility and leadership, she has witnessed the industry make tremendous strides to become more diverse and inclusive. And while there is still a great need to eliminate barriers and create opportunities, Laura believes technical proficiencies are the great equalizer. “If you’re good at your job, you earn respect—on or off the field.” When Laura encounters misconceptions or stereotypes, she reframes situations by establishing clear boundaries based on her position, without regard to gender.
To encourage more women to pursue careers in the field, Laura advises “Don't feel out of place on jobsites, and don't be afraid to ask questions. The more you learn, the better you're going to be. Providing different perspectives will make you an asset to any team."
To build momentum around diversity, equity and inclusion within Balfour Beatty, Laura has been a steadfast advocate for Connecting Women, an employee affinity group that connects teammates across all disciplines. In addition to serving as a professional network, Connecting Women provides a safe forum for practical discussions about common challenges women face in the industry and supports opportunities for professional development.
Although Laura has achieved tremendous success in her career to date, she has her sights set as high as the buildings she has brought to the Dallas skyline and will continue to raise the bar as a Relentless Ally within her teams, industry and community.
Senior Project Engineer promotes minority recruitment and mentorship, critical conversations around racial equity and unity among diverse teammates in the construction industry.
If you ask Kofi Afriyie, Balfour Beatty senior project engineer in the Mid-Atlantic, what the best times of his life were so far, he will unhesitatingly respond that being a student at Morgan State University were the best four years of his life.
At one of the largest historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) in Maryland, Kofi was a civil and structural engineering student with a thirst for construction industry knowledge and a desire to support and prepare minority students’ transition into an evolving and increasingly diverse workforce.
Morgan State gave Kofi the opportunity to thrive in a supportive environment and to further immerse himself in Black history and culture. During these four years, he learned his alma mater’s rich legacy of moving the needle on civil rights for African Americans, which heightened his passion for advocating on behalf of young, Black, engineers entering the construction industry.
Kofi strived to make an influential impact outside of the classroom for his peers at Morgan State. As a University Innovation Fellow, Kofi formed and led a team who spearheaded the development of an ideation and makerspace at Morgan State’s School of Engineering. This included securing funding from the institution, finding an underutilized shell space on campus and transforming it into a safe and inclusive place for students to collaborate and innovate.
Kofi was instrumental in establishing Morgan State as the only HBCU to have a Chi Epsilon chapter of the Civil Engineering Honor Society. As President of Chi Epsilon’s 141st chapter, he made it his goal to help each and every member obtain an internship to help grow their professional skills and increase their chances of securing a job after college.
Kofi remains engaged with his alma mater to continue vital work in transitioning African American students into the professional workforce. Through Balfour Beatty’s partnership with Morgan State, Kofi serves on the advisory board of the college’s Construction Management Program and is a member of the company’s Mid-Atlantic recruiting committee where he orchestrates visits to the college to recruit new and diverse talent for the company. As a former Balfour Beatty intern Kofi also makes himself available to the young recruits on the job by mentoring and coaching them to success.
But Kofi isn’t stopping there.
When the unjustified killing of George Floyd and protests against police brutality triggered critical conversations nationwide, Kofi joined African American employees across the country to share and deepen the company’s understanding of the Black experience within Balfour Beatty and the wider industry. Taking a leading role in Balfour Beatty’ newly formed Network of Black Leaders and Executives (NOBLE) affinity group, Kofi moderated an employee panel at Balfour Beatty’s Inaugural Together Allies Summit that discussed a comprehensive plan for greater equity and inclusion for Black employees.
From explaining unconscious racial biases and social injustices to discussing the importance of recruiting and mentoring the African American workforce, Kofi and panelists introduced crucial conversations that opened eyes for employees across the business. It was in this panel that Kofi presented an overarching theme that rang true throughout the entire Together Allies Summit – being comfortable being uncomfortable.
Kofi is determined to be a force for lasting, beneficial change that begins today. In his own words: “The construction industry must work to normalize conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion, and integrate individuals from diverse background into our labor force to bring real change throughout workplaces across the nation. We know when we accept the different backgrounds of others, actively listen and work cohesively to approach and solve problems in safe and inclusive environments, we can provide a unique and authentic value to the projects we are entrusted to build.”
He also praises the work of vested Black team members and the NOBLE affinity group for collectively leading the change and giving employees a platform to address systematic and social injustices impacting minorities in the workplace.
From his days at Morgan State to his career as a project engineer, Kofi is making influential strides and demonstrating why representation matters at all levels in business. As he gives recognition to his experience at Morgan State as some of the best years of his life, Balfour Beatty is equally honored to have this Relentless Ally helping to drive change in the construction industry.
A passion for people first
Kim Hodges knows how to pivot to follow her passion, a journey that took her through the halls of Fortune 500 companies like Pfizer and Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the rigors of public accounting and two master’s degrees before finding her calling as a human resources (HR) leader at Balfour Beatty.
Every step along the way prepared Kim to bring a unique perspective to HR. With her business background, she understands how people drive company operations and financial performance, and with her HR background, she knows how company operations impact people. “Interactions are always personal,” she explains.
Construction as a Career Choice
In an industry where workforce shortages are common and the need to attract and retain top talent is vital, Kim’s experiences in college, as an intern, entering the workforce and making a career transition provide valuable insight.
“We need to start our outreach as early as sixth or seventh grade to let kids know they can have a wonderful career in construction. We have to start building that pipeline through outreach and internships,” she says.
The Value of Internships
Kim knows first-hand just how invaluable internships can be for students. As a student at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), one of more than 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in the U.S., she was required to complete three internships that provided a year-and-a-half of work experience at Fortune 500 companies before graduating with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration.
“HBCUs offer a wealth of untapped talent. If we identify a shortage, gaps in talent or positions with high turnover, we can work with HBCU leaders to develop intern programs that prepare people for careers in construction and that also meet the needs of students,” says Kim.
Drawing on her own experience as an intern, Kim identified some best practices that can help elevate Balfour Beatty’s intern programs. For example, some companies help students by making it financially viable for them to participate through paid internships and, in some cases, by assisting with housing for students who need temporary living arrangements when an internship is located at a distance.
To further enrich her intern experience, at one company Kim was paired with a senior leader as a sponsor. Her sponsor helped in ways that would grow a career—he gave sound advice, made introductions that helped her build relationships and provided access to high-level projects. In addition, Kim observed how companies that maintained contact and followed up after an internship stood out. “I received a note that said ‘We hope all is well. Good luck with your midterms!’ along with a gift of cookies,” Kim recalls.
Meeting the Needs of Today’s Workforce
To help Balfour Beatty attract emerging industry talent, Kim keeps pace with what young people seek in a career and workplace culture.
“Young adults are looking for a holistic life experience, where work and home are not completely divided and their concerns can be shared. They want to know if a company is globally aware and caring, like with our participation in Bridges to Prosperity. Young people are interested in hearing about opportunities to grow their careers or make lateral career moves, how Balfour Beatty communicates with employees, how we responded to COVID-19 and whether we are keeping at the forefront of technology.”
Early in her accounting career, Kim experienced the power of lateral opportunities when she was asked to work on people-oriented committees. She served on a company culture council tasked with improving employee engagement and a learning and development committee. These experiences were transformative.
Not only did Kim realize how much she enjoyed working with people but she also saw how critical employee engagement is to collaboration and enjoyment at work. “The best events bring people together, create greater camaraderie, ultimately leading to deeper connections and more of a family atmosphere at work.”
Pivoting to Find a Perfect Fit
Knowing she wanted to work more with people, Kim looked for an opportunity to shift over to her company’s HR department, but there were no openings. So to launch her new career path, Kim went back to school and earned a second master’s degree in HR and certification as an HR professional from Georgia State University (GSU).
A friend recommended Balfour Beatty to Kim, and she soon found her perfect fit. In her role as HR manager, Kim appreciates how Balfour Beatty’s people-first culture enhances employee engagement, learning and development opportunities and local team cultures.
Once, Kim ran into a former accounting coworker who asked why she transitioned to HR. Kim says, “I’m in it for the passion! I’ve found my fit. I love working with people who take pride in what they do and are focused on becoming one collaborative company.”
At Balfour Beatty, where our people are our greatest strength, Kim’s passion for people ensures that our people-first culture is ingrained in everything we do.
“In college, I chose to hide my sexuality and did so for many of the same reasons other young LGBTQ+ people do. I simply wanted to be accepted for who I was.
“I didn’t want my sexual preference to make my friends uncomfortable or people to think of me any differently than they had before. Over time, however, it broke me down mentally to portray myself as someone I was not. By the time I was looking for internships, I had found myself longing to work in an inclusive and accepting environment where I could be unapologetically gay.
“I wanted to be my authentic self so much that I practically jumped when I received the opportunity to move to Dallas and intern with Balfour Beatty.
“I was overwhelmed and excited all at once. I didn’t know anyone in Dallas other than the friendships I had made with my intern classmates. Little did I know that my first internship, and the friendships I formed, would leave a lasting mark on my life and, later, introduce me to my future wife.
“A year later, I accepted a position as a project engineer with Balfour Beatty. I knew Balfour Beatty was a great company to work for based on my internship experience, but I was still hesitant to reveal my sexuality in the workplace. Although I had made great friends and knew they would be accepting and supportive, I wasn’t sure if the company would fully support and protect me based on my sexual preference. I was honestly terrified of losing a job I loved and being torn away from the friends I had come to cherish.
“At the time, I didn’t personally know a woman in a leadership role at Balfour Beatty, much less one who identified as a lesbian. I thought that moving to a new city with a fresh start would solve my problems, but I had just inherited a new set of very real fears shared by many members of the LGBTQ+ community. I even found myself wondering if my benefits would extend to an LGBTQ+ family or if I’d face bias around, and be passed over for, opportunities because of my sexual orientation. These are all everyday worries that many LGBTQ+ people feel when they are closeted at work or, sadly, even if they are ‘out’ at work.”
Ripping Off the Band-Aid
“For most, coming out in the workforce is a difficult and very personal decision. I struggled with it for a long time and tried to convince myself that being out with friends and family would be enough. As time passed, I knew that I couldn’t be the best version of myself at Balfour Beatty until I felt comfortable in my own skin. This led to my ‘rip the Band-Aid off’ decision to bring a date to my company Christmas party. To my surprise, I was welcomed with encouraging words and excitement, a milestone that changed everything for me.
“Were there people who disapproved? Maybe. But for the first time in years, I honestly stopped caring what others thought, which released so much pent-up anxiety and fears seemingly overnight. I started focusing on what I loved about my job and why I chose to pursue a career in construction. It meant a lot to me to be recognized based on my work ethic and merit versus what I thought I would be judged for.”
“In 2020, Balfour Beatty accomplished a DE&I milestone when it launched the Building PRIDE employee affinity group, representing the LGBTQ+ community and allies within the workplace. It was a true highlight of my career when I was asked to join the inaugural team.
“I was inspired to connect with LGBTQ+ employees from across the business and work toward a common mission: Strengthening Balfour Beatty as a diverse and inclusive company that encourages a culture of respect for all sexual orientations and gender identities to better reflect the communities in which we work, live, and play.
“Balfour Beatty also hosted an inaugural Diversity Equity and Inclusion Together Allies Summit, which consisted of company teammates across the nation tuning in virtually to nearly 11 hours of DEI-dedicated conversations and programming. It provided meaningful peer-to-peer discussions and roundtables led by our affinity groups, Building PRIDE, Connecting Women, and the Network of Black Leaders and Executives.
“We discussed intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality in the workplace, professional development for women in construction, microaggressions, and the importance of straight allies, among other meaningful topics.”
Being the Exception to the Rule
“To bring everything full circle, I recently got engaged to that same woman I initially met years ago during my internship, and we celebrated with all of my Texas teammates at our quarterly meeting—a surreal moment when I look back over the last 10 years. I’ve been lucky enough to have incredible mentors and given opportunities to step up at work, within my local community, and as an LGBTQ+ representative. There is no doubt my journey is a success story.
“It’s also important to acknowledge that I am the exception, not the rule. There are so many stories of harassment and discrimination in the workplace that often go untold because of the fear of retaliation or losing one’s job.
“I ask that employees and, most importantly, employers really look in the mirror and ask themselves if they’re doing everything they can to listen and support those with experiences and perspectives that may be different than their own. Change starts at the top, and the support disseminates from leadership to the employees.”
Turning Pain into Purpose: This Veteran Uses War’s Wounds for Good
In a sudden, violent burst, shrapnel ricochets through the air like fireworks, slamming combat medic Jordan Webster to the ground. Before the cloud of dust and smoke clears, Jordan spots a crumpled silhouette on the ground only a few feet away. It is his brother-in-arms, who just a few minutes prior, switched places with Jordan while en route to attend to other wounded soldiers. As he watches blood stain the dry dirt of southwest Baghdad, Jordan knows that for this brave soldier, there will be no wounds to pack and no tourniquets to tighten. Like thousands of Americans who gave all in the name of freedom, Jordan’s friend will leave this war-torn land with fifty stars and thirteen stripes bearing eternal witness to his sacrifice.
Fifteen years later, Jordan can still recall every detail of that deadly IED explosion down to the oppressiveness of the desert air, thick with the scent of hot lead and diesel fuel. It is Jordan’s first combat mission in Iraq—a day of days that would define and divide his life much in the same way history is separated by B.C. and A.D. There is only before, only after.
Although Jordan would go on to execute many missions during the year in which he was deployed with the Scout Sniper Unit as part of the U.S. Army 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Division, in many ways time ground to a halt on December 27, 2005. With fingers curled around the cold metal of an M4 carbine rifle and medic bag slung over his shoulder, Jordan learns to measure the distance between life and death in inches and seconds. It is a lesson that will prepare him well for a future career in construction safety.
But when Jordan returned home to his next duty station in San Antonio, Texas, building a career outside the military wasn’t on his immediate radar. Neither was seeking support for his invisible wounds that would later be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and survivor syndrome.
Many nights, Jordan would wake to images of bullet-riddled buildings and mouths gasping for their last breaths, his heart racing in rhythm with the crack of sniper fire. “It’s like looking at the sun,” Jordan compares, “the images are burned into you.” Other nights, sleep would elude him entirely. Hailing from a long line of soldiers who shared stories of heroism in war but never its horrors, Jordan did not seek help for nearly two years.
Although Jordan has accepted that his personal battle may always rage on, he has turned pain into purpose by raising awareness within the construction community about the importance of mental health and suicide prevention. It would take exposure to a potentially fatal yet highly preventable construction accident to set his destiny in motion.
Stationed halfway around the world managing an emergency medical clinic at Camp Stanley in South Korea, Jordan was accustomed to triaging almost every type of illness and injury. But when a construction worker was rushed in, having suffered electrical shock when his boom lift contacted an energized power line, Jordan felt overwhelming emotional exhaustion. “The compassion was there,” Jordan recalls, “but I didn’t have any more capacity for exposure to horrific injuries.”
A career change was in order, but what, Jordan pondered? He enjoyed working with his hands, and growing up, had visited construction sites with his grandfather who owned a door subcontracting company. Dynamic, challenging and demanding complex problem-solving skills, construction checked all of Jordan’s boxes, and he enrolled in Texas A&M University’s construction science program.
The stars further aligned when Jordan interviewed for an internship with Balfour Beatty on The New Parkland Hospital. When asked if he would consider working with the safety team due to his medical experience, Jordan responded “I’ll do anything you want,” hiding his skepticism.
It wasn’t long before Jordan realized he had not only found the perfect career track, but also a home and another ‘band of brothers’ at Balfour Beatty. When he woke up late one morning, he feared reprimand or even the termination of his internship—despite disclosing his PTSD diagnosis. Instead, he was met with compassion and a reminder that Balfour Beatty puts people and their health first in every situation. “Balfour saw in me a skillset no was else was looking for and created a safe, supportive environment where I could contribute,” praises Jordan.
And he’s been a key member of Balfour Beatty’s Texas Buildings team ever since, creating a safety culture for teammates and trade partners grounded in three principles: production, safety and quality. For Jordan, these facets of project performance are inextricably linked. “I’ve heard people say, ‘Production is our problem. Safety is our problem.’ No, it’s one team, one fight.”
Jordan’s experiences in Iraq give him a unique lens into the mindsets of our trade partners, many of whom are immigrants trying to provide for their families. “If I’m a worker, and you give me a six-foot ladder when I really need an eight-foot ladder and tell me to go do this task, I’m probably going to do it.” For Jordan, that’s where psychological safety comes into play. By showing workers that we care about their safety and wellbeing, mindsets shift, and they become more comfortable voicing needs and concerns.
Jordan Webster’s unlikely journey to become a construction safety leader began in a different continent and under tragic circumstances. A few inches spared his life on December 27, 2005, while it claimed the life of a brother-in-arms and a friend.
Real heroes rarely boast about their acts of valor. They sign up and stand up, never counting the cost. And if we aren’t careful, we can miss the ones like Jordan walking quietly among us, continuing the mission with a servant’s heart and a soldier’s unwavering duty.
Balfour Beatty is committed to creating an inclusive workplace that recognizes the unique value, skills and experiences that veterans offer. Looking to build your career alongside veterans like Safety, Health & Environment (SHE) Director Jordan Webster? Click here to explore our current opportunities. Learn more about Balfour Beatty’s veteran recruitment efforts and why the construction industry is an ideal fit for veterans.
It’s not just business, it’s personal
Gildardo “Gil” Fullen has always been a people-person. One of eight children, Gil was the first in his family to be born in the United States after his parents and siblings immigrated from Guadalajara, Jalisco.
As a student at Long Beach State University, he tried his hand at astronomy, aerospace engineering, interior design, architecture, and mechanical engineering before finding the right fit in construction engineering management and graduate studies in civil engineering.
Overwhelmingly, Gil found it was the people and management tasks he enjoyed most. After exploring every facet of the industry, he was able to zero in on his true calling: working with people and building projects.
Gil embraced life in the field with a passion that’s still evident today. Just as he did in his college days, Gil explored all the various roles and responsibilities, working his way up from an intern to field superintendent, and learning the technical facets and soft skills towards becoming a very well-rounded project manager.
Realizing that his teammates were his best teachers, Gil made the effort to absorb as much as he could from everyone. "The field is really important if you want to learn the technical aspects. I saw all of the subcontractors as my teachers and I would pull them in and ask questions related to their expertise. I was learning from the field as much as I could”.
One of the best lessons he picked up was that knowing how to build relationships was just as important as knowing how to build structures and, in many cases, can make all the difference in the success of a project.
Through a combination of technical, people and relationship skills, Gil quickly earned respect in the field and the California education market (a focal point for much of his career). It also earned him a major promotion. At 32, Gil became the youngest vice president and first Latino executive of Barnhart (later acquired by Balfour Beatty).
This promotion was a huge source of pride for Gil and his family. He also saw it as huge opportunity for those around him: “When I realized I was the only Latino executive I told myself I have a seat at the table now, I can impact people, support their growth and serve as a minority leader to motivate and inspire others.”
Around the same time, he took on another more personal role – father to his daughters, Makena and Avarie. Suddenly his work resonated on a more personal level. “I visited a school district to assess their existing facilities during a summer school day and saw kids with red sweaty faces because the air conditioning wasn’t working. I wouldn’t want my daughters in this type of learning environment. Having children made it more personal, it wasn’t just about business, it’s about building an environment that’s going to help kids.”
Gil’s personalized approach matched by high-quality work has been instrumental in solidifying Balfour Beatty’s success and expertise in the California K-12 and higher education markets. The work we perform has consistently been rewarded with repeat work and some of our most enduring client relationships. As Gil explains: “The more we successfully deliver our projects, the more our clients advocate for us in their circles. When we get a new client, we want to keep them for decades. When they see we really are interested in doing the right thing for them and the wider community it makes a huge difference.”
Many of the relationships he has built in the field are still a part of Gil’s life today. After almost 20 years in operations, Gil transitioned onto our Business Development team, where he continues to focus on building successful long-term client relationships.
Gil is equally committed to connecting with his teammates - particularly the younger generations rising through the ranks - and responding to their individual needs, whatever they may be.
As Gil explains: “I mentor people to not only take over my role but to support them, help them. Just being there for people is important. Through the years, when they face barriers or issues, they confide in me. Sometimes it’s personal issues and they trust me to listen and support them.”
Seeing people thrive on an individual level is important to Gil. As an outspoken champion for diversity and inclusion, Gil has participated and presented at numerous diversity-related industry events including the Women in Construction USA San Francisco conference in 2019. He also teaches at the Coalition for Adequate School Housing Organization – School Facilities Leadership Academy and volunteers as a coach through Landmark Education, a leadership program he has supported for the last 20 years.
Although Gil has made a name for himself as one of the best builders in the business, he credits all his success to the human connections he has forged throughout his career. Whether it’s speaking in his native language to Latino employees on his jobsite or speaking up for the kids in his school district, Gil has always put people and relationships first.
Gil is a shining example that by putting people at the heart of what we do, we build more than just structures. We build lasting relationships with our clients, partners and teammates on an individual level that can benefit entire communities.
For Gil, what we do is more than just business, it’s personal.