Last month, San Francisco-based contracting firm Swinerton announced that its president and chief operating officer, Eric Foster, would replace Jeff Hoopes as CEO of the 100% employee-owned company. Hoopes, who retired from Swinerton in December after leading the company since 2013, recently joined the board of directors of tech-based contracting firm Katerra.
Since joining Swinerton in 1982 as a project engineer for the company's structural division in San Francisco, Foster progressed through several roles from project manager to division manager, and most recently as the company’s president and chief operations officer.
With offices in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Seattle and a range of other markets, Swinerton works on a variety of construction projects from multifamily to aviation.
Here, Foster talks to Construction Dive about taking over the reins as the 12th CEO in the 132-year-old company's history.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: What are the biggest challenges facing your company these days?
ERIC FOSTER: Our very healthy economy is a blessing and a challenge. Attracting, training and retaining employees at both the administrative and craft levels is a focus of ours right now.
How are you addressing that issue?
FOSTER: On the administrative side, we have reinvigorated our university campus recruiting program and now actively participate at 17 campuses. In addition, we have created a team of employees focused on professional, technical and leadership training.
On the craft side, we are using our expertise in concrete, drywall, electrical, carpentry, millwork, cleanup, and other areas to perform these trades with our own labor force. With our robust craft services program and offerings in both technical and jobsite leadership training, we are able to recruit and retain craft employees. Many of our recently hired journeyman workers have told us they see a long-term career path with Swinerton.
What role does technology play at your company?
FOSTER: Construction technology is a constant focus. Change and improve, disrupt yourself or die. Eric Law, who previously founded the software company EADOC, heads up our innovation department. Some of the innovation that this team is working on includes:
- Experimentation with robotics and construction
- Strengthening our data analytics processes to make better informed decisions
- Automation of our solar projects with a focus on pile and module installation
- Wi-Fi connectivity on all projects from start to finish and from property line to property line.
Do you see a slowdown on the horizon as many industry experts are predicting? How will you prepare for one?
FOSTER: While we are not seeing a slowdown anytime soon, it is inevitable that one will occur as our industry is cyclical in nature. We are blessed to have the institutional wisdom of 132 years to help us prepare in the event that it does.
Slowdowns usually come in a wave and affect certain areas at a time, not all at once. We are currently operating in 17 cities across the country, including our Dallas and Spokane offices, which we opened last year to complement our established geographies and support our clients wherever they are.
Having more office locations also gives our employee-owners opportunities to move and grow with the company.
We are also active in 16 market types including aviation, education, healthcare and solar power, which we believe will stay strong in the next slowdown. In addition, we are diversifying our services offered with mass timber fabrication and prefabricated housing solutions.