Brent Gibson, president of Grand Rapids-based Construction Simplified, said his leadership has been tested by COVID-19 and all of its repercussions for the construction industry, but he believes the pandemic has made him a better leader. Gibson has found that clear communication with his team has been a crucial aspect to leading effectively. In a year filled with many obstacles for the construction industry, Construction Simplified is branching out into new projects, planning to grow its small firm of 10 people, and move into a new office space.
What have you found to be the most important thing about leading your organization during the pandemic?
Communication internally has been a clear north star. This year we knew how to build safely, but it was a question of can we be as productive from a site design side, conducting site visits and procurement of materials — it all comes back to communication. Luckily for us, it was natural to highlight that skillset because it is already one of our strong suits as a company.
Has your leadership style changed over the past year?
My leadership hasn’t changed, but it’s been tested and grown. It’s been uncovered and polished because it’s been challenged, and I think I’m becoming a much better leader because of the hurdles I’ve had to face.
Have you found ways to talk about and offer mental health resources to your employees throughout the pandemic?
I’m a huge culture guy and started this company from poor culture and my own passions to create a great company culture, but I have never looked at my team and said: ‘Do we need to talk about mental health?’ Our team naturally engages, we have a book club every quarter and do real cultural meetings, it’s not just values on the wall. We’re a team made up of owners, we all love what we do.
How are you looking to grow your company next year?
We’re in the midst of finalizing the design plan for our new office, which will be a four-story office with retail space on West Fulton. We haven’t broken ground but we’ve been raring to go. COVID-19 added a layer of uncertainty to planning the new office, but now we understand and feel confident in our ability to operate through COVID-19, and we know that (COVID) is going to be around somewhat indefinitely. This new office is a big vote of confidence to West Michigan and our way of saying ‘let’s keep moving forward.’
How have you worked through the supply chain issues causing long lead times and high prices for construction materials?
There is a conglomerate that owns the majority of building manufacturers that said if someone has never done business with them to a certain level then they are not taking on new customers, so in a sense we were forced to look for other options.
We’ve found an out-of-market building supplier because of the steel backlog. We just said we have to fix this issue, so we solicited an out-of-area building supplier that will be our independent steel supplier with shorter lead times. We’ve built a great relationship with them and now have half a dozen pre-engineered metal building projects slated for (2022).
Has Construction Simplified been shifting its focus to working on projects in different sectors?
We don’t just build projects, we’re also owners and represent clients through the entire project. We have worked with private developers and municipalities, and we’re now taking that step into the K-12 (school) market for a couple of reasons. There is a ton of work there and it is a huge market in West Michigan that is continuing to grow. We also like representing clients and bringing them value, and what better way to do that than to work on school projects that are resources for the whole community.