In honor of National Mentoring Month, we’ll be sharing several interviews throughout the month that highlight Hyder employees whose career growth has been directly impacted by mentors.

Next up in the series is Jacob Walters, who we had a chance to talk with as he was wrapping up Keystone Resort’s Outpost Restaurant Expansion. Thanks for your time, Jacob!

An Interview With Project Superintendent, Jacob Walters

Dana: How do you view mentorship? What value do you see in mentorship?

Jacob: I think it’s absolutely crucial in this industry to learn from those who’ve gone through the experiences in the past. Construction is different from many other careers because every single project is different, especially when you are out in the field. Every single job has nuances. Every single job has things to learn. Every single job has new aspects of construction and being around superintendents who are willing to take the time to explain stuff is huge.

Dana: How have you been mentored throughout your career?

Jacob: Looking back…I started on the Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital under Tim. Aside from just learning facts about construction and sequencing, you learned attitudes, behaviors, how to handle subs, how to handle problems and situations. Tim was someone who always seemed to have his stuff together and looked at things objectively with the idea of, “Let’s get a solution figured out and let’s move from there,” rather than just causing a whole shit storm and causing people to get all upset.

From the animal hospital, I went to Fitzsimmons where I worked with Ron for almost two years. It was a long time. Ron was someone who always had his head deep into details, always looking seven steps ahead. He refused to go through that process without dragging me along with him. “Jacob, what’s going to happen after this? Jacob, what are you going to do here, then this, then this, then this?” And at first it felt like, “You need to chill out, dude. I can’t keep up with this.” But it really taught me that there’s something behind the plans you’ve got to figure out more in depth of, not just, “There’s a wall here. Frame it. Put drywall up.” What’s it going to look like when it’s done? What other things do we need to think about before we lay this out?

I always credit Ron to me being able to pull apart details and that’s something I always try to pass on to those working under me.

Being part of the Lone Rock team was huge. It was a great opportunity and experience, being able to get insight at any time from such a diverse group, something that’s more difficult on smaller projects and something I think helped me develop immensely.

Aside from just those in the field with me, there was a lot of coaching that came from Rene, from Scott, from Doug, from PMs, it’s always helpful getting advice from those that aren’t on site every day because they usually bring a different perspective or help you look past the ‘tunnel vision’ that may develop from getting bogged down in the trenches.

Dana: It’s interesting hearing how you were influenced by the different superintendents you worked for.

Jacob: There’s also experiences where you learn how not to do things. A past superintendent I worked under was very crude in the way he handled subs. It just rubbed me the wrong way and made me realize I don’t want the mentality where a sub would come to you with a legitimate problem and your answer is, “It’s your scope. Figure it out. Come back to me when you figure it out.” It’s not the way I want to carry myself or carry my job. So aside from taking all the benefits from supers, it’s also important to learn what things that you might not have liked and use it to figure out your own management style.

Dana: I think that’s really a great way to look at that, that everything is an opportunity to learn about how you want to lead others. What do you feel like your responsibility is to get training and mentorship from other people?

Jacob: I definitely think the mentee needs to speak up and say, “Hey. I could use some guidance on this right now.” On the other hand, I think it could have been beneficial if there were some means of, “All right. You’re at this phase of construction. What’s your plan for this? What’s your plan for that?” Not really nitpicking all the fine details of what you’re trying to do, but just kind of getting you to think about something.

Some kind of a higher level oversight, especially someone who was in my position in Vail, which was my first time on my own. I really appreciate being able to make my own decisions and run things how I want to run things, but someone to be a voice there saying, “Did you think about this? Did you think about that?”

Dana: Especially when you’re early in your career, someone needs to be making sure that you’re asking those big picture questions. That is possibly something to learn from too as a protégé, that you realize early on in your career, you might not be thinking about those big picture things. And so going to someone who’s either your project manager or someone you have your one-to-one meetings with and saying, “Hey. I just want to make sure that I’m thinking about the bigger picture here. What questions do I should be asking?”

I like your stance that there’s a certain level of proactivity that needs to happen as a mentee to make sure that you’re asking the right questions. Michael was telling me he can ask a lot of questions.

Jacob: I mean, that’s what you need to do. I have told him there are times that I don’t have time to explain this, but if you’re not asking questions, I’m either assuming you know it or you don’t care enough to figure out what’s going on. Him and Mitch both, I was always pushing them to understand why I’m doing things, thinking about what the next step is, trying to get them beyond, “This is where things need to go,” to, “How are we going to get there?” Understanding the method behind the madness.

Dana: Is there anything else that you would want to say about mentoring or specific mentors that you feel like you want to thank?

Jacob: Lou definitely made a strong effort over the last couple months to continually reach out to me. Even if it was of out of the blue sometimes, just calling me, check in, see how things are going, either listening to me rant about something or whatever it was. Even if he’s not answering specific questions or coming up with answers to problems on the site, it’s still nice to have someone checking in and seeing where you are and how everything’s going, someone who understands the position I’m in, has experienced it. There was one evening at Outpost where we learned there was a major bust in surveying and the concrete crew was mobilizing the next day. Lou happened to call and heard my rant about the surveyor’s problems but convinced me the shape was simple enough to layout the building with strings and tape. Sure enough the next morning I dragged Michael out first thing and we laid out all the building footers within pretty good tolerance. It wasn’t even a geometry lesson that I needed but rather someone saying, “You’re capable of pushing this forward, do it.”

Dana: I think that’s great that he is actively reaching out to you, sometimes having someone who just has a fresh perspective…it’s not about the details so much as it is about having someone separate from your job.

Jacob: Kyung has also been a third party mentor, mostly as a result of him coming out to stay in Avon for his jobs and needing an excuse to grab beers at night and just venting about stuff. And he has a strong opinion about what needs to happen on my site and what time. He helps you with the stick with your guns and force something through and don’t take shit from nobody kind of mentality.

Michael and Matt both are also great PMs to work under. I think we have similar mindsets, and we’re in the same region on the Insights wheel and it helps having someone think similarly as you do. Matt was very trusting and helped me build confidence on my first project (Hot Springs). He’d listen to my means and methods, help me build my case or argue against it, and develop a clear path one way or another. Similarly, Michael was someone I could always trust on Antlers, and we built on that at Keystone. We were delt an interesting hand between the owner and subs, but he was always there to push me to keep things moving and always remain ‘calm, cool and collected’ regardless of circumstance. As a superintendent, it’s always reassuring to have a PM who will not only back but encourage your decisions and work with you through the ‘do whatever it takes’ mentality phase of the job.

Dana: I can see that. Sometimes you get your best ideas from people who are very different from you, but you feel like you have to explain yourself a lot more, whereas someone who’s already operating at the same color energy as you, you feel like, “I don’t have to explain this to them.”

Anything else that you would want to say about mentorship in general?

Jacob: In general, it’s always nice when superintendents share experiences and help each other out. I get a sense of pride if a superintendent asks me a question, because they respect what I can bring to the table or my experience. And it makes me want to reach out also.