Steve Bestard, the new COO for Cincinnati-based contractor Messer Construction, has a wealth of experience to draw from.
After graduating from Purdue University in 1991, Bestard began working in Messer’s Cincinnati headquarters, eventually finding his way to the Indianapolis office in 2006. Now a 30-year veteran of the company, he was recently promoted to fill the COO role following decades of work in the Midwest. He replaces Mark Luegering, who served as COO from 2018-2022.
As COO, Bestard will oversee the company’s 10 regional offices in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina from the corporate headquarters in Cincinnati.
Here, Bestard talks about his beginnings with Messer, the projects he’s proud of and the challenges he’s overcome.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: What’s the construction market in the Midwest like these days?
STEVE BESTARD: The construction market in the Tri-State area, when you think about Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and all of our regional offices, we have 10 regional offices throughout the Midwest and the Southeast, and the markets are still pretty strong right now.
It's always going to be a little bit challenging to understand where the economy is going to go, and to make sure that we're paying really close attention to what might happen with a recession or downturn, but currently, things are still strong. We're battling the same challenges that that the market is providing, which are still supply chain issues and labor shortages and those sorts of things, but we're managing it pretty well right now.
How did the process of getting to the COO role at Messer come about?
We do a really great job of succession planning. And we have a really deep bench of leaders, I think some of the best in the industry. So that makes moving into the role a lot easier.
I've been at Messer for 30 years, my entire career. I'm deeply embedded in the culture and committed to carrying out the vision and the mission and the values. We’re an employee-owned company, so you're very close to what is going on in the organization throughout your career. You have access to a lot more information than you would with maybe a sole proprietor, and so I think it's prepared me well, and I'm looking forward to it.
What are some of the biggest hurdles you and Messer have had to overcome in the Tri-State area?
If you're talking about what's going on in the industry right now, going from the challenges that 2008-2009 brought, where it's a big downturn, and to where we're at today, where supply chain and labor shortages continue to persist. Low unemployment is a great thing for our communities.
But I really think that the industry has changed with a lot of innovation around how we work. We work safer, higher quality, better cost control. We always think of ourselves as a company that is a leader and on the cutting edge of innovation, whether that is technology or project delivery methods.
And I see that more and more owners are looking for innovation on their projects, particularly around delivery methods.
Because of today’s market challenges like rapid inflation, supply chain issues and a very tight labor market, owners are looking for contractors to provide innovative ways to get more dependable outcomes. This obviously includes cost and schedule, but also safety and quality.
Owners are bringing contractors on earlier in the process to allow us to be creative on securing long lead items with more direct purchases, monitor cost escalation day to day for more accurate budgets and secure the appropriate craft labor for the project. All of these things help the contractor better control safety and quality on a project as well.
The market conditions are also driving contractors to explore the use of higher levels of technology like AI to help predict better outcomes on safety, quality and schedules. I believe challenging circumstances help drive us to get better at what we do.
What are some of the builds you’re most proud of?
Our market segments are around higher education, healthcare, science and technology, industrial, federal and military. One of the ones I'm most proud of is a recent project we did for Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis, and Cincinnati Children's Hospital. Those are the kinds of projects that our folks really enjoy working on, because they know how much it's going to help the communities.
There are several other projects, but I think it's those projects that connect you to the community and [let you feel] that you're helping out folks that I think myself and others at our organization really enjoy.
What do you tell young people at your firm about making a career in the industry?
I would tell them that our industry takes hard work. There are some of the best people that they can have as mentors in our industry, and they should latch on to those who can help them. And always look for growth opportunities. I've been here at Messer for 30 years, and I get that question asked all the time: “Why have you been here for 30 years?”
I've been here for 30 years because we have had tremendous and consistent leadership that has always provided growth opportunities for everybody in the company. I was one that was willing to take advantage of those growth opportunities. That's what I would tell somebody, and I would tell them to be really good at the job that they have, and then people will recognize that and they will continue to move through the organization.