Michael Hess discusses culture and the importance of putting employees first

In a recent interview with Alex Orfinger of the Washington Business Journal, Michael Hess, Executive Vice President of HESS Construction, discussed the firm’s leadership transition, culture and values, and goals for 2022.

Over the past several years, HESS has gradually transitioned leadership from Andrew Hess to Mike Hess. For over 43 years, HESS was led by Andrew Hess, Mike’s father and the founder of HESS Construction.  Mike began interning at the family firm while still in high school and joined the company after graduating college. He worked his way up, managing projects and forging relationships with clients and HESS employees.

 “In the past years the leadership has shifted from my father, Andy, to myself. I grew up, working at HESS during all breaks throughout high school and college. So, it was an organic transition, that really maintains the family ownership and the family values.”

To summarize and reflect on the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mike praised his associates for how they “rolled with the punches” in both their personal and professional lives during this time.

 “It’s no surprise that 2021 was a tough year, not only on the business front, but on the personal front as well. I think our associates did a fantastic job managing the wrenches that were thrown into their personal lives on top of any wrenches thrown on their professional lives. I have two young kids myself; I understand that the hardships that came with the past year. And ultimately, if I had to pick one thing to be most proud of it would be the way that the HESS associates really rolled with the punches.”

A family-centric culture has defined HESS’ corporate culture since the beginning. HESS places a lot of importance on employee retention and has impressive tenures to show for it.  The firm’s average tenure for project managers is 17 years, and 18 years for superintendents. Mike made a point in his recent year-end reviews to speak candidly with associates inquiring about what has inspired them to stay with HESS and what sets HESS apart.

“In asking those individuals: what is it that really drives HESS home to you guys? The underlying tone is really culture. We’re a family-owned firm. I think the family values really resonate throughout the company in more ways than one and I think it speaks volumes that right now in our industry, we are all competing for a small talent pool. And to have the tenure-ship that HESS has, speaks volumes of the culture. I think it sets us apart from the competition.”

Job security is not always guaranteed for construction workers. They work on projects that span several years and unless their firm has lined up work back-to-back, employees can often feel apprehension about what the future holds after their project ends. As part of the culture discussed above and the importance of employee retention, HESS offers its employees job security.

“In 43 years of business, we’ve never laid anybody off for lack of work. I think the associates out in the field really appreciate that and it puts their minds at ease.”

Looking forward to 2022, Mike plans to continue his transition into leadership, dive into the mixed-use market, and strengthen subcontractor relationships.

“We’ve built over 450 educational facilities in this area in the past 43 years. We just broke ground on a mixed-use retail building in Bethesda, Maryland. It’s very exciting.”

Mike ends the interview recognizing that subcontractors are the “lifeblood” in the construction industry and how he plans to make them a top priority in 2022.

“One of the most important focuses for 2022 is really strengthening subcontractor relationships. In our industry, subcontractors are a lifeblood. We’re successful when they’re successful. And unfortunately, during COVID, we really weren’t able to reach out as much, hold these in-person meetings. So now that we’re slowly, hopefully, coming out of the COVID cloud, it gives us the opportunity to have more in-person meetings, whether it be subcontractor appreciation events, post-project feedback:  what did we do wrong, what could we work on, what did we do right? So, in 2022 a huge focus of ours is strengthening our subcontractor relationships.”

Full video interview: https://www.bizjournals.com/washington/news/2022/01/21/executive-insights-mike-hess-executive-vice.html