Blach Construction is rewriting the blueprint of Silicon Valley, marrying design-build expertise with prefab innovation to redefine how we build our future. In this episode, we sit down with Dan Rogers, President of Blach Construction, a pioneering force in the world of design-build and prefab innovation. Dan is here to reveal the secrets behind Blach Construction’s meteoric rise and its commitment to revolutionizing the construction landscape. From the fusion of design-build and prefab innovation to adapting to industry trends, Dan covers everything relevant about Blach Construction in this evolving world of technology. More than that, Dan also shares the shift of focus to solution-making, ensuring the right cultural fit when hiring, and a unique approach to leadership that might make all the difference. Join us in exploring the transformation and innovation of Silicon Valley and stay ahead in the game.
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Transforming Silicon Valley: How Blach Construction Leads With Design-Build And Prefab Innovation With Dan Rogers
When you get started in your career, you have no skills, and you have no friends. Even if you have a wonderful degree from an esteemed construction management program. What are you going to do? You get into your career, you see problems and you take the initiative to solve those problems. As you do that you build your skills and your network of contacts.
My guest is Dan Rogers. He is the President of Blach Construction and that’s exactly what he’s done over his career. In our conversation, we trace his career path from getting into construction influenced by his dad to the presidency of Blach Construction, which is an innovative general contractor out of Silicon Valley. We talk about that innovation from the perspective of how the industry has gone towards a design-build approach in the last years.
Blach has married that with a prefabrication approach that has impacted the productivity of the workers involved in the construction projects. Our conversation revolves around that aspect of productivity and innovation, and I know you are going to find it deeply interesting. Feel free to share this with other people who you think would benefit and let’s dive right into my conversation with Dan.
Dan, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me.
It’s great to have you on. You are the president of Blach Construction out of the Bay Area. I know you have been in the industry for many years. Can you just tell the audience a little bit about yourself and how you got into construction?
It’s pretty simple. My dad was a home builder in San Jose. I grew up around residential construction. Most of my friends through high school worked for my dad. We did a variety of things. There are a couple of things I learned there. I loved the business but I also didn’t want to be a hands-on builder, to be honest, for my whole life from a work standpoint.
Back then, only a couple of construction management programs in the State of California. I ended up going to Chico State and had a phenomenal group of seasoned professional professors all industry folks who retired and wanted to move to a college town and teach. There’s a practical education from a group of folks that I got to know very well and some of them are still an interest for me now.
I went to Humboldt State, I used to be on the rugby team at Humboldt so we would travel over and play Chico. That was always a lot of fun. As you as you got out of college, did you have a Construction Management Degree?
What was the biggest surprise prize that you found going into the construction industry with your shiny college degree? What was the biggest challenge you had?
I had a huge challenge right out of the gate. At that time, the average student graduate from that program had between 6 and 10 job offers on average. I graduated in December of ’92 and for anybody who was working back then that was the tail end of a severe recession. It was an interesting period in my life. One of the best things that happened to me was I interned at a couple of places that were extraordinarily difficult internships to get. I had a gold-plated resume coming out of school in terms of experience. You think you know it all, you are ready to go trying to tackle the world, and all of a sudden there are no jobs.
One of the companies that put me on scholarship for my last years of school made me a job offer and then they rescinded it about three months before I started because they had a massive downsizing. I came out of school all excited and then found myself in a place like, “I have to go find a job.” This was a pre-internet and pre-cell phone.
This was like looking through the classifieds of the San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury under construction engineering to find a job. It was a challenging period because it was a place I never thought I’d be. Through some contacts and a bunch of hard work, I landed a job with a company called SummerHill Homes in Palo Alto building single-family developments throughout the peninsula and South Bay.
As you were there, were you a project engineer or project manager type of idea?
I started as an assistant superintendent on a single-family home development in Sunnyvale.
That was a little more hands-on than being a PM or a PE, a little more involved with the field.
There are moments during that phase when I went home a night in question like, “What I was doing with my life?” It was a different role than I expected, but it was at a time when I needed a job. I had to pay rent. I look back at it, those years were probably some of the best from my early formative years in terms of dealing with adversity trying to get a lot out of people, and learning a lot on the fly. They ran these jobs extraordinarily lean and so it was myself and a colleague of mine. He became a great mentor and a good personal friend and is still a friend now who taught me a lot. The two of us had to take a lot. You had to learn each day on the fly. I was extraordinarily underqualified for what they had me doing. It was an interesting start to my career.
Let’s talk about that a little bit more because this happens all the time when someone comes out with their shiny degree. They go into the job site and immediately the foreman or the guys or gals in the field are just looking right through you. What advice do you give to a fresh college graduate who’s whatever position they are in whether it’s an assistant superintendent, a PE, or something like that? What advice would you give to them in terms of how to show up on the job site?
Show up early and make coffee in the morning. Come in each day with a mindset of trying to grow and get better. We hire all these great kids who come out of these great programs, they are brilliant, but the reality is their knowledge base of what we do is in the infancy stage. There’s a period of them realizing that as they start to plug in.
I was having this conversation with another executive, there are probably very few people who love their first job. I didn’t love mine. It may take you a few years to get settled into your career path. It may take you some time to find even within an organization a role that you love. It’s about realizing when it’s hard when you are in it, but that you are growing tremendously during those early years. Embrace that and start laying the foundation of a personal network throughout whatever organization or industry you are in. That’s the biggest.It may take you a few years to get settled into your career path. It's about realizing when it's hard that you're growing tremendously during those early years. Click To Tweet
That’s a tremendous insight there. You are in a role now where you are far above that positionally, but you are observing the people that you have hired. How do you communicate that insight to them when you have someone talented but perhaps going through a hard time as they are beginning their career? How do you retain those types of people in your organization long term?
We do several things internally. The GC business creates some challenges in terms of logistics. We will hire a young professional out of school. They will come in. We will give them the basic training to get going. They are usually assigned to a project that’s outside of the corporate office and it’s somewhat of an island or can be. What we do early is prepare new employees with a cross-sectional group of mentors at all different levels.
The biggest thing when you are new to an organization or an industry, it’s just you have zero contacts. We try to team them up with people at varying levels that they feel comfortable with but to try to answer their questions and help them understand contacts and realize that struggles are normal. The reality is we hire all these phenomenal kids now who have succeeded so well academically. Not succeeding is a huge issue for them. Quite frankly, many are afraid to feel it because it’s a different environment than the academic environment.
We look for all of these unique things in our hiring process and skillset. We have a very robust college recruiting program that we had in place for nearly twenty years and it gives us a great opportunity to bring young talent in and then get to know Blach Construction and us to get to know them at a deep level and make sure that it’s a mutual fit for both sides.
On the mentorship aspect of it, is that something that’s intentionally done where you are going to someone and saying, “I’d like you to mentor Sarah as she’s getting through the first few years of her career.”
We do several things. We rotate people. We have used them outside a consulting group called Lighthouse and we run all new folks that we think have management leadership potential. We have now put about 60 or 65 folks through that and focus on the company’s values but on this concept of trust. When trust is established amongst people and their deep connections, the results and outcomes become exponential.
We try to get them to understand our company’s value system. This concept of trust in an organization and amongst your colleagues, everybody goes to that program. We have a specific assignment of mentors that happens amongst our HR and our hiring recruiting team that we think are good resources for folks as they come in to rely on and that’s been an instrumental aspect of our new employee orientation hiring startup and getting integrated into the company.
In your experience, what are the most important aspects of establishing trust in a relationship?
It has to be earned over time. You can talk about trust but you are making credit deposits and you build those up over time. We have a very diverse group at the leadership level across the board and that group demonstrates a high level of trust that transcends through the organization. With a brand-new person coming on it may take them a while to see it. We have an extraordinary culture in our company. Trust is a big aspect of that and it’s palpable at some level when people walk in our door.
When you say diverse, what do you mean by that?
Our company and the whole industry, and quite frankly, the country focus on this issue of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We started focusing on it many years ago in all transparency, primarily focused on gender. We put a super intentional focus on trying to hire as many qualified women as we could out of construction and engineering programs. Now, our leadership team in round numbers is about half female, which is unique for a general contractor of our size in California. We think it’s provided us with a tremendous amount of value. As we move forward, we are just continuing to try to diversify the company in all aspects and make sure that everybody who walks through our door feels highly included.
How have you balanced the pursuit of diversity with the need for performance? Is there any tension in that or have you found that that tension has been something that you have been able to work through?
There is a tension or I would describe it as uncertainty. We have started focusing on this issue intensely a couple of years ago. We have made extraordinary progress, but it’s a sensitive issue. It is primarily because it’s somewhat of a nebula. It’s a massive spectrum of an issue when you are talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Defining it, which is the phase where, as a company right now, we brought a consulting group in to help us focus on this issue. They are working with our leadership team after going through focus groups throughout the company to try to develop a clear roadmap for folks so that when we are talking about this subject, people know exactly what we are talking about. When we take a lot of the uncertainty and the guesswork out of it, there won’t be as much uncertainty, frustration, or confusion around the topic, quite frankly.
It’s interesting that you talk about that because I look at construction specifically but business in general, in the sense of team sports. When we look at professional sports and when it comes to diversity like on a sports team, at the end of the day, what we care about is winning. I don’t care who you are if you can contribute to the winning of the sports team. Do you see where I’m going with the analogy there?
Yes. That’s been our mindset.
As you are involved in your career, at what point did you get into more of a leadership role?
As I mentioned, I started at SummerHill Homes. I was there for about two and a half years. A woman that I worked for in one of my internships became a recruiter and was at that time, Stanford University was ramping up their building group to take on a lot of the issues that had happened from the Loma Prieta quake in ‘89, and then just a big building program. At that time, Stanford was one of the largest owner-builders in the Western United States.
They were ramping up their team. I left SummerHill and joined Stanford University and their capital improvement program team as a project manager. It was interesting. I was probably 25 or 26 years old in a new different environment. Over about six years, I kept taking on bigger projects and more diverse projects. At that time, Stanford was probably building some of the most complicated and unique projects anywhere on the planet, things that had never been built before.
It was fascinating all in a very political environment. At the end of the day, Stanford is a phenomenal institution but it’s an institution. A lot of challenges when you are doing $300 million or $400 million of work a year on very complex jobs that have never been built before. I look back at that time there, and I learned so much about the industry because I saw it from the owner’s perspective. I saw it from being an owner with huge challenges in terms of trying to just define, we get researchers that were doing such specialized research that every element of their lab or their studio had to be invented.
It was this dynamic environment and then to see it from that standpoint, and then to understand the design process, because we were managing that, and then also the construction process and the client management. Our client base was everything from the athletic director to the head of the law school and the head of housing. It was a diverse group of projects we built. Over that time about seven years, I went from being a project manager to being second in charge of that group. It was like a full-time MBA program over the seven years I was there. I probably learned more working there than I would have gone to grad school there. I learned an incredible amount and cherished my time there.
Being on the owner’s side and seeing that owner’s perspective, what’s the biggest misconception that contractors have in terms of the way that owners approach projects?
Being a contractor, it’s a little bit hard to say, but I will be honest, I just think that the average project manager for GC, their view of the process, the project, and our industry is very narrow. It’s very difficult to understand the broad picture unless you have been through it. It’s not a criticism, and it’s more of an objective take on what the industry is somewhat plagued by owners, architects, and contractors each play a pivotal role, but they are experts in their unique environment. It takes all three to work well.It's very difficult to understand the broad picture unless you have been through it. Click To Tweet
I would say that the industry is probably plagued. The average project built in Silicon Valley, it’s usually large and complex. It may very well be the biggest project or task that somebody takes on the owner’s side. I’d say the biggest thing we see is owners struggling to understand what they want, trust the consultants, and take their advice because they are balancing a whole bunch of things in this super high-cost market in which we deliver projects.
How do you help your project managers take a broad perspective while maintaining the interests of your company?
We do a lot of training in this area, probably more than most. We do a lot of cross-sectional training in the organization where we try to get people to work in various groups that have aspects of the project and the process. We do a lot of focused training about understanding. At the end of the day, we are only successful if our clients and our architect partners are successful and the designers that we work with. Once you get to that mindset, it’s not a zero-sum game for Blach Construction. We see folks better understanding the bigger picture and what we are trying to do.
How did you go from Stanford to Blach? Was that the jump that you then made or how did that happen?
I left Stanford and I was part of a technology startup. I was 1 of 3 co-founders of a technology startup. This was right during the dot-com phase and worked with a couple of guys. When I went into the thing, I told my wife, “I’m going to do this for maybe 1 year or 14 months, and then if not I will go back to the real world.” We started this company, it was acquired about fourteen months after we started. It was focused on the supply chain and procurement within the supply chain for the construction industry and a large construction consortium came in and acquired it.
We all stayed on for a few months, and then I went home. There was a lot of travel and a lot of late nights. My kids were young. I went home and I didn’t do anything for three months. I’m trying to figure out what am I going to do next. After three months at the park, I was like, “It might be time to get my career going again here.” A friend of mine went to grad school at Stanford and worked in a housing group when I was there. He took a job at Blach Construction. He called me up and he said, “Do you want to have lunch and just catch up?” I said, “Yeah, what are you doing?”
I had worked with most large generals in the Western United States who were trying to do work at Stanford. I knew the landscape quite well. I had heard of Blach but hadn’t worked with him. I didn’t know much about him. He and I had lunch. He talked about the company. I was looking for something to do and he thought I could be helpful in strategically where was the company going, and how we got into some new markets.
This was in 2001. General contractors were trying to develop construction management expertise to complement their business. That was my initial focus. The company was in the education market, but we started focusing on delivery methods within that market. To simplify, it just blossomed for us over the next couple of years. Education went from being 20% of the company’s volume at that time to about 85% or 90% in about 5 years.
Let’s talk about that a little bit. What have you seen in your experience and time in the industry in terms of delivery methods and how construction services are purchased?
Every ten years there’s a new trend. Where it’s all landed after a couple of decades is more owners, you trying to utilize design-build is an approach where they are engaging the contractor to lead the process. In that environment, we can leverage our expertise. The expertise of our design partners, our subcontractors, and our supply chain, deliver better results in terms of cost, quality, speed, and control. There was a decade-long movement to bring contractors in early, but we were always brought in after the designer, and at some level, the project was already formulated. When we are in the design-build mode and we are brought in from the onset, it just gives us a ton of ability to leverage our expertise.
What we have been trying to do is an organization is moving more of the building process to a factory prefabrication environment. We are huge believers philosophically that our job sites are the assembly line. Our existing supply chain and our prefabrication efforts allow us to build traditional buildings, how we build them, but components are modularized in a way that we could do more of the work in a factory setting that’s highly efficient. Reduce the time, the speed, and improve the quality of what takes place on the job site. That’s where our focus has been over the last few years. You have seen phenomenal results in this area.
There are two trends. Firstly, the design-build trend and then the prefabrication trend come together. As you have gone through that process, what are some of the biggest challenges that you have come across that you have worked through and have had the biggest benefit to the company in terms of how you are delivering your projects?
Huge challenges every step of the way, because it’s all new. Everything from the technology tools that we select and then get into may not be the right tools for what we need. The equipment that we buy to operate our prefabrication shop and how it’s laid out change all of the time because we just can’t anticipate where things ultimately end up. A lot of challenges. At the end of the day, the San Francisco Bay area is the most expensive construction market to build in the country. San Jose in particular.
What drove us to start focusing on this was this bold idea of if we could solve the cost problem, because, at that time, we didn’t feel anybody had solved the cost problem. We could win in our space. The goal was to focus, not on management process improvements, but on worker productivity enhancements and improvements. Everything that we are doing in this entire area, the end goal is to make it more efficient for our workers.
The Bay Area is by and large a union construction market. It’s a very expensive market. We have super talented skilled people that we pay a lot of money to work with. They are ready to go. We as an industry need to provide an environment that allows them to leverage their strengths and do their craft in a way that they are proud to do what they do, but also to bring great ideas and to get more efficient in it each day. By moving more of the work to a factory environment, we can accomplish that.
It’s super compelling. We have developed a product called Folia for the education market, which is a traditional two-story classroom building. They are about 13,000 square feet. We have taken that entire building to about 30% of it is built in our prefabrication facility in San Jose, or amongst our subcontractor’s prefab shops that are part of our supply chain. We have just finished our 26th and 27th of those buildings, and we are highly efficient with them.
It’s one of these true lenses where the client gets. The nice thing about this product is a client can go walk through it, feel it, see it, touch it, and ask questions. Our ability to predict the cost and the timing is dramatically improved over anything else that we are building. At the end of the day, they get a phenomenal quality building for a super competitive price. That model of Folia, we are trying to implement across all of the work that we do.
Let’s explore this a little bit more. When it comes to this idea of prefabrication, how much work do you guys self-perform proportionately?
As a company, we self-perform concrete wood framing and metal stud framing, and then we prefab a variety of things. We prefab some of the formwork for the concrete work that we self-perform. Our goal is to try to move as much of the work that we take place, as much as the labor that would take place on-site over time, to a factory environment. With Folia right now, it’s probably 30% to 40% of the labor hours that would take place on-site now take place in the factory environment.
Other projects maybe 10%, depending on how far we have been able to push the prefab effort as it relates to design. Over time we see that growing. For every hour over the long haul, we can move to a factory shop environment where it’s optimized and it’s efficient our projects, clients, and workers will benefit. It’s a true win across the entire spectrum.
Your MEP stuff that’s done by your subs?
How are you incorporating the MEP aspects into the prefabrication? How are you working with the subs in terms of how that’s all coordinated together?
Most of this is probably in the design-build arena. They are brought in very early to design the system and they are doing the same thing. The subcontractor base is way ahead of where generals have been in this space. They have been doing it for years. They just needed more people to allow them to do this versus a design dictated to them trying to meet a performance spec. It’s been a process. Things take time to change. I would say the most sophisticated work going on in this space is at the sub-level. They are pushing this as hard as anybody. It’s giving us the ability to buy or procure their services for a lower cost which allows us to be more competitive and for us both to win because we are doing the work more efficiently.
What do you think the limitations of prefabrication are in terms of the scope of work that’s performed? It can go this far, but no more.
It probably depends on the particular project. With our Folia building, over time, 50% or 60% of the labor hours could move to the shop as we continue to refine that. That’s a repetitive project that we built, we hope to build another 25 or 26 of them. With each one, we get more refined. On traditional projects, we will see 10% to 20% of labor hours move to a factory and over time, hopefully, more.
How do your labor partners and unions respond to this initiative or push in terms of the relationship between you and your workers and all that stuff?
They are super supportive. It’s an environment that for the average tradesperson is highly conducive to. It’s safe, clean, and organized. It allows them to leverage their strengths and their growth mindset. What our industry is plagued by is the average designer in the region is phenomenal. They have great people throughout the entire scene.
Builders are very qualified. We have experienced people. If you look at the average project built in California, the problem is it changes 8 or 10 times through the course of it. There’s no efficiency. People talk about schedules and we put together these schedules, and then they never are realized in that fashion.
If you are a tradesperson, you are coming out and you have done a full day’s work and you count out the next day and you are directed to change course, there’s an emotional loss. These folks are wired to be productive. Whereas once you move it to the factory environment, it’s a different level of efficiency and pride in team sport. To the analogy we used. If you saw our wood frame or our metal stud frame folks in our shop, they are a true team and it’s a well-oiled machine. From that, everybody, again, has benefited.
Pivoting back then, as you got into Blach Construction, describe your journey from coming into the company to your role now of being president.
It’s fairly organic. Mike Blach who’s our chairman, his dad started the company in 1970. Tragically passed away young at 50. Mike was thrust into the leadership role to keep the company going. It was fairly small at that time but had a phenomenal group of employees whose loyalty was a dramatic understatement. They were beyond loyal to the company. Out of this tragedy, came this very galvanizing moment where they rallied around Mike, and so let’s keep this thing going. Everybody started working.
When I came on board, I don’t know where the company was in volume, it was probably in the $40 million type range and we maybe had 50 employees or so. It was pretty flat. It was interesting because although I had managed a lot of GCs, I hadn’t come up through the traditional GC ranks. It was a learning curve for me to get to know the organization.
I was drawn to the company because the company wasn’t the biggest at the time. They weren’t a brand that was familiar with, but I was drawn to the strength of the people and this feeling of allegiance that existed in the organization. They had some of the best field people at that time that I had met. It is just a great culture.
Let me just plug in and try to learn as much as I can every day. I tried to solve problems. I’d see the areas where we needed to grow and I would carve out the time and put energy into it. It’s funny because I look back at my twenty years, Mike and I have worked closely together and I look back and although for a good number of my years, I have reported to him, I’m not sure in those twenty years he’s ever asked me to do anything to be honest. I don’t think he’s ever asked me to, “Let’s go start a regional focus here.” It’s been the other way, which is he’s given me the support and bandwidth to make change and drive progress. I have done the best I could in that area.
It’s interesting. These days, I have always tried to figure out, is it me? Is it the era that I was born and raised in, or how I’m wired? I see so many of our folks now want and need a roadmap for their career, and they want this defined career path. I look back at it because I never had an ounce of a career path or a roadmap put out. I just put my head down, worked hard, and made great real relationships. I played a lot of sports growing up, and have always been this team mindset person.
I want our team and my team to be successful, and each day try to do my part to do that. We have an organization of folks that have that mindset, but we have also seen with this generation that they are more talented and resourceful. They are super loyal and dedicated, but they want and need more of a roadmap to figure out how to progress in the organization. Instead of resisting that, we have been trying to create more of that for them. Trying to adjust to the people that we have and their needs. We are excited about the future.
Our company from years of hiring great talent. If you look at the average tenure of our leadership team, the average person’s been there probably close to 15 to 20 years, which is a unique element of our company. I pretty much grew up in the company even though I started there many years ago. I grew up and developed my career with all of these folks. They have been my source and inspiration like without their support, I wouldn’t be in the role that I’m in now.
What you are getting here is interesting because you are touching on some concerns that people have about generational differences. In this interview, we have teased out some things that are very important for building a career. I just want to summarize those. You were mentioned as you came into the industry, you had a degree, but you had no skills and no friends. You had no network and you had no real technical skills. Your first job is to build your skills and your network of contacts. You articulated it well, the way that you do that is by seeing problems and then taking the initiative to do something about solving those problems.
Our business is fraught with challenges. Every business is, but they were challenged with something. Whether it’s a subcontractor issue, supply chain issue, cost issue, or health issue, you name it. Every day there are hundreds of issues throughout the company. The thing I learned early in my career was when challenges are presented, it’s easy to identify the challenge and then bellyache and complain about it. At the end of the day, that does nothing to solve the issue at all.
It’s a huge bandwidth drain and if you look at it cumulatively can be an emotional drain across a huge group of people. Don’t get me wrong, we are all people and we are not perfect. I probably find myself in that place sometimes, but the majority of the time what I have tried to do is channel my energy to a place of, “How can this be solved?” Whether I can solve it or I can bring people in to help solve it because if we don’t solve it, I’m just going to be talking about it a few months from now.
We just had a big executive training with this lighthouse group and it was all about this issue of one confrontation, but solving problems. We think we have an organization of problem solvers and people where there’s a high level of trust. Every time there’s an issue, rather than identifying the issue, the easy thing to do is try to channel your energy in a way that like, “How can I contribute to a solution here or bring people together to solve this issue if I’m not able to on my own?” That’s all of a sudden becomes a pretty powerful outcome versus the alternative.
Do you have a particular framework that you use when you have identified an issue to go through this problem-solving process? Is it just something you do based on your intuition, or how do you go about that?
I’m pretty reliant on my instinct. Probably use less analytics at times and more gut feel. The reason I do that is if I was the President of Blach and I had been there for years, I wouldn’t be able to do that. I have been there for many years. I have worked with the vast majority of our employees for a very long time, and know most of them at a very deep level. It’s a unique aspect of if I need to get the pulse for an issue in the company, I generally know who to go to get it. It’s not always right, but it’s about 90% right. From that, I can make a lot of decisions quickly versus having to spend hours trying to figure out, what’s going on here.
Where we have had the biggest challenges as an organization is we have had very steady and consistent growth, and every time we grow, new opportunities are created, but it creates these gaps. We haven’t moved organizationally people into the right roles yet because we are just starting to do a new aspect of our business we have never done before.
The biggest thing I have been focusing on, aside from strategy on going over the next decades is internally who on the bus needs to be in what seat as we continue to evolve these new opportunities come up. We have done a lot of internal movement that will continue to go on in the future. We can do that because we know our people well. We know their skillsets, and there’s a high level of trust. You can move people into positions and they will take on that challenge and drive it to a successful place.
How do you keep your edge personally in terms of having an innovative mindset?
Two things. It’s been extraordinarily energizing to see the progress we have made in some of these areas. The results aside for our company. We have had tremendous growth over the last couple of years. I would say that the number one element that’s committed to that has been our focus on innovation and bringing new solutions to clients that nobody else is bringing. From that, it gives me a ton of energy. There was a time in my career when I said, “The glory years of the GC world in Silicon Valley were probably 1970 as the valley was building out into ‘85.”
My son just graduated from Cal Poly’s Construction Management program, I talked to him a lot about this stuff, and I’m going, “The industry is going to change in such positive ways throughout your career that there’s just going to be phenomenal opportunities for somebody like of your age.” That’s what has me most excited.
As we get into our 50s, it’s easy to get set in our ways. It’s important for us to be able to keep our minds open to a variety of different inputs so that we can stay on the edge of healthy innovation.
The thing I have seen is whether it’s in our organization or just in our industry, the velocity of change in Silicon Valley is so dramatic that it’s easy to become obsolete in about three years if you are not grown. Sometimes I wish it was a little easier, but it probably wouldn’t be as exciting either. I look at our organization and somebody takes a leave of three months. There is so much happening in that period, them coming back it’s like there’s a lot to get up to speed on. I have seen people over time a 3 or 4-year period where if you are not highly engaged in evolving in your role it’s easy to get out of touch.
I’m involved with a lot of aspects of our company, and it’s interesting because there have been times where I get done with the year and I’m like, “Can I do more next year? Do I have another gear?” It’s been interesting. I took over in 2017, and each year I have felt that I have found a whole new gear. For me, it’s been easy because we have so much talent in the company that they are the ones that are driving all of this positive change and I’m just a part of it, and it energizes me every day when I go in.
In your role, you have a great deal of responsibility. How do you manage your time and your energy on a day-to-day basis so that you stay at a level of performance that’s acceptable to you?
I have been learning and evolving. I have been a couple of years into this new role and I started reading a few things. I was working hard. You go in the morning maybe you have HR issues at 7:00 you are dealing with, and you have a client dinner at 7:00 that night, and you are home at 10:00. That’s Tuesday and you have another one of those on Thursday. By Friday comes around, you have been on the treadmill all week. Back then, my calendar was stacked from Monday to Friday. My assistant Megan couldn’t find an hour in there. Like literally running from a meeting.
What I realized is I was watching a couple of these podcasts and doing some reading. I took the advice of some folks that out of this research, which was I need to create more time to think and focus on decisions and not just be on the treadmill. If you look at my calendar now, I probably have one of the most open calendars in the company. It’s super intentional.
I’m involved with a lot of aspects, I usually come in each week and my set schedule usually morphs by about 50% from what’s set that week to where I ultimately apply my time. I try to create more time for thinking about where the company is going, our people, and how could we organize them to achieve our goals. That’s been extraordinarily helpful for me, and it’s given me through the process, a better balance and I’m more effective.
How did you go through the process of retraining yourself and others in terms of how your calendar was structured and managed?
I’m not sure I would have been there fully if it wasn’t for COVID. At pre-COVID started this thinking, trying to move in that direction, and then COVID hit and it all stopped. Post-COVID, I get invited to a work event or dinner five nights a week. If you put that on to an 8 or 9-hour day, then every day is 12, 13, or 14 hours. Don’t get me wrong, some of these things are fun, enjoyable, and entertaining, that type of thing. Post-COVID, it made me look at it and although the things I was doing were probably good, I don’t think they were that super valuable. Many of them.
I’m still there now. I would say I do 25% of the night events that I did this previous process or pre-COVID and it allows me to figure out which things I go to are important that I need to be, and those primarily revolve around our people and our clients. I’m very connected to a large percentage of our clients. I still am committed to those folks and our people as we grow. They know that at the highest level, we are committed to them as people. At the end of the day, they are the source of the company’s strength trying to build trust with those folks. It’s hard to do if you are not connecting with them regularly.
How did that change in your perspective in terms of the evening events impact your performance during the day?
I’m not sure. It probably just allowed my mind to slow down a little bit. I should probably only be making 1 or 2 decisions a day that are very important. We have such talented folks in the company that the majority of the decisions should be made by others. Previously, I would be involved with all kinds of decisions, and my team would tell you that I don’t want to be involved with 90% of the decisions that are made in the company. I want to try to stay focused on the things that could change the direction or course of the organization over time.
That’s the role I’m in. It’s interesting because the analogy you use when I grew up, I played football and I was a safety, and as a safety, you get to see the game from an interesting perspective. The analogy I have used is because I know the people, our clients, and our business partners. I see the business from a pretty unique perspective.
My big goal has been trying to stay as plugged in as I can and continue to grow and evolve. Most people in my role, you get there and you are like, “I have to this point,” but I feel like I have to grow each year as much as anybody in the company. Conceptually, that might sound like I was going, “Is that too much?” It’s been super energizing for me. My big takeaway has been, “Let’s get off the treadmill. Let’s get more time to focus on the important things.”Let's get off the treadmill. Let's get more time to focus on the things that are really important. Click To Tweet
It’s important what you are talking about here, and every person, particularly someone in your position who’s reading this discussion, you need to reflect on. Are you spending time on things that are important and things that like you said so well, those 1 or 2 decisions that only you should be making or only you can make based on your experience and the position in your organization? Allowing others or empowering others to make the decisions that they should be making.
For sure. I will be honest with you, a lot of people struggle to make decisions and over time have to get more experience to get more comfortable. I would say 95% of the time, the person, even if they are reluctant, they are in the best position to make the respective decision. They just might need some coaching or facilitation on how to get there. The more decisions they make, the more comfortable they get. The thing I’m most excited about is our leadership team, we are on the young side, but it’s a super energized group that’s smart. The long tenure amongst them and the high level of trust the future of Blach Construction is bright.
As we are wrapping up here, you have been very generous with your time. We talked about the marrying of design-build with prefabrication. What do you think is the next technology or innovation that’s coming into the construction industry that’s going to have a significant impact in the next, let’s say, 5 to 10 years?
It’s primarily in this area. There’s a long way to go in terms of moving the construction process to more of a manufacturing environment. In all reality, there have been billions of dollars funneled into large ventures that have tried to create this concept. Like Katerra and there’s a whole host of others. If you look at the UK in terms of modularized design, volumetric, and modular-type construction, they have been ahead of the United States quite a bit, but if you look at the big three in the UK, they have all failed. They are all not in business any longer.
I applaud the effort, but the fundamental philosophical difference we see is we don’t think you can build traditional buildings in a shop with big components and ship them. We think that’s not super-efficient. It sounds great, but I don’t think unless you can get enough repetitive volume in place, it’s ever going to be a profitable venture.
You have to learn the hard way, make mistakes, and spend a lot of money to get there. From that, there’s been a lot of good, and what’s come out of this is people realize, you can build components and take the existing supply chain to the next level. As builders become more of the lead in the design and construction process, we will be able to guide more work with our existing supply chain to that place and optimize the work that our tradespeople do.
I like that because what we are talking about here is not being overwhelmed by the hype and then understanding the limitations based on the realities of construction to prefabrication, and then embracing those limitations, but doing your best within what you are doing offsite to maximize that and optimize that. I appreciate your time as we are wrapping up here, and you have mentioned that you are down there in San Jose, so if I’m down in San Jose, what’s the one restaurant I should hit?
There’s a restaurant called Original Joe’s in downtown San Jose. That’s a staple landmark that’s not super fancy, but good Italian and Greek food that you’d probably love.
You have been very generous with your time. I appreciate you joining us on the show.
Thanks for having me. Have a great weekend.
Thanks for tuning in. That was a killer conversation and feel free to share it with other people who you think would benefit from it. Do me a quick favor. Go out to wherever you get your shows and give us a rating and a review. It’s important because through that process the show gets seen throughout the interwebs and more people can benefit from killer interviews like the one that you just read. I appreciate it. Thanks again for reading and I will catch you on the next episode.
- Blach Construction
- Original Joe’s
About Dan Rogers
Since assuming the role of president of San Jose-based Blach Construction in 2017, Dan Rogers has been a driving force behind the firm’s growth and development. Under his leadership, Blach has expanded its operations and service offerings to Southern California, while continuing to grow its long-standing presence in the Bay Area and Central Coast. Dan’s guidance has been instrumental in diversifying the firm’s portfolio across five core markets, including a wide range of education, housing, institutional, mixed-use and workplace projects.
Always thinking “outside-of-the-box,” Dan believes innovative building solutions should be evaluated and employed on every project and empowers his teams accordingly. As a result, Blach continues to earn recognition throughout the construction industry for its advanced approach to design and construction and continually delivering quality projects that exceed expectations.
Dan joined Blach in 2001 as a project manager and quickly ascended into a senior management role. He has a B.S.in Construction Management from California State