Standing on the Shoulders Of Giants

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Andy Thigpen, Vice President of Construction


I like to think of our Osburn team as a new age construction group because we have a different way of doing things. We make smart, good team decisions. We communicate regularly. We approach building as a team. Our leadership team thinks outside the box. And all of that combined gives Osburn a competitive edge. We have a bright future. We don’t know everything, but we lean on the veterans who have seen it all. We have a great balance of tenure as well as fresh ideas. We look at those leaders who have been in the industry as our giants: builders who have stood tall for decades. We also have a fresh layer of leadership with new ideas and a lot of energy; leaders who are able to stand on the shoulders of those giants to help move the company even further. 


One example of our “thinking outside of the box” mentality was with our Pedregal project. This was a 1.5 M sq. ft. tilt wall food-grade regional distribution facility that had to be completed in record time. We approached the challenge with a new mindset. Instead of planning a traditional concrete pour starting at one end of the building and finishing at the other, we came up with a creative solution: to pour from opposing sides simultaneously and meet in the middle. By coming at the project from two different angles, we were able to cover the project with more concrete in less time, achieving a record-breaking concrete pour in just 42 days. Because we approached the project thinking about how we can achieve more in a new way, it benefitted both the client and the owner. On every project we’re trying to get better, and we are doing that by leveraging our veterans and offering fresh ideas. 


As the Vice President of Construction, I am responsible for all of Osburn’s field operations. We have over 1,100 “boots on the ground” field employees, and I make it my job to empower them with the tools and training to deliver a quality product safely, under budget and on schedule. Our field team comprises the biggest group of Osburn employees, spread across nearly a hundred job sites. With regular communication it’s important to remind them they are part of a bigger family. This is in direct alignment with our purpose at Osburn: “We exist to pour into people to build a foundation of significance.” When people feel significant they feel big. And when people feel big they do big things. I want our people to know their efforts and actions make a difference, that as craftsmen, their calling is reverant.


Traditionally in concrete construction, there has not been thorough, regular communication. Often people go in their own directions and meet infrequently. However, at Osburn, we believe consistent, reliable communication with each other is key. I make it a point to have daily check-ins with our field leaders to ensure we are all going in the same direction. Then our field leaders check in with their teams. This ensures everyone is on the same page. It’s a top-down approach: communicate from the top with an expectation for our teams to do the same, this way everyone gets the same message. 


In my life, I think that collaborative mentality about communication comes from the giants who came before me. I was born into a family of builders. Growing up, I was surrounded by people who wanted to help and share ideas. I have always leaned on my mentors – Superintendents who have been in this industry for 30 to 40 years.  One of those mentors is Jim Thillen, the Regional General Superintendent for The Beck Group.  Jim was recently interviewed on The Construction Leadership Podcast, and talked about his communication style, which influenced the way that I lead and communicate. I remember that instead of having the traditional inconsistent field meetings, Jim started a daily meeting with all of his teams when he was building the Renzo Piano building at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. Even today, daily meetings in this industry are rare. Jim started his team meetings every day at 6:15 a.m. then brought everyone together as a group at 6:30 a.m. to talk about what we needed to accomplish that week. I learned a lot from him.  


Jim was a forward-thinking Superintendent, and always kept the bigger picture in mind. “We have made better planners, organizers and builders from what we did on this project. We need to make sure that we make them better at what they do. That was the charge for our team.” Jim knew that our job was bigger than pouring concrete: our job was to make the people around us better. I know my life was made better because of mentors like Jim. 


Those mentors taught me about things like the value of daily conversation. Even though it has been years since we were on a job site together, I still call them two or three times a week when I need to talk through something. We talk about construction scenarios and they give me advice. They are always available to me when I need help. There is real power in those lasting relationships. 


Now I have guys who look at me as that mentor. I always found it fun to interview young Superintendents coming into the firm. Over time, as we worked together on a project, we built trust.  I never liked them introducing me as “the boss”. I always treated them as equals. Even though we have moved on to different companies and roles, these younger guys still call me regularly. They ask, “How would you look at this?” That means a lot to me. I may not know the answer, but we talk through how I would approach things. Together, we figure out a better way to do it. Those friendships are long-lasting and I think it’s due to the way that you treat people. I find that having young guys around me keeps me thinking outside the box. 


I’ve always had the philosophy that you should surround yourself with the best people you can find. I’ve surrounded myself with good people and plan to continue to do so. Every day, I hear Jim’s voice in my head saying, “You need to take what we do here and forward it to your next project.” From mentors like Jim, I’ve learned the importance of thinking differently, the value of daily communication, and that we are capable of making those around us better. That’s why we stand on the shoulders of giants: to build on the past so that we can move everyone forward.