Leadership

Meet the Finalists: Leaders from AECOM Hunt, CARCON Industries/STL Engineers, KAI Enterprises, and Schmidt & Stacy

Four construction and engineering execs share their thoughts on their industry, lessons learned, and what has them excited about the future.

On April 28, D CEO will reveal the winners of its ninth annual Commercial Real Estate Awards program. Leading up to the big event, we are featuring all 83 finalists (51 projects and deals and 32 professionals), one category at a time. Today, we’re sharing excerpts from interviews with the four Excellence in Construction & Engineering honorees.

Monte Thurmond

Executive Vice President and South Region Manager, AECOM Hunt

WHY CONSTRUCTION & ENGINEERING: “I fell in love with the diverse nature of the various groups and disciplines that must work together to deliver complex structures with intricate operating systems to serve our clients’ needs. It is akin to a sports team; people may play different positions, but all must function cohesively as one to be successful.”

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT IT: “I love the tangible nature of being a part of delivering finished assets you can see and live, work, and play in—from stadiums, airports, music venues, and hospitals to high-rise residential buildings, campus labs, and teaching facilities. The hard work of our team is on display in a way that touches every human sense.

LESSON LEARNED: “I’ve learned that none of us are as smart as all of us if we work together with a common purpose and toward a common goal.

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: “I’m most proud of being a part of talented teams of our people who achieved our financial and cultural goals for the year by working safely—both remotely and distanced together. We never gave up or faltered in our goals, despite the incredibly challenging environment.”

LOOKING AHEAD: “The future is bright for all of us here in North Texas. The capacity for astounding growth in our community is second to none—more than anywhere else in this country. I’m very excited about that indeed.”

Arcilia Acosta

President and CEO, CARCON Industries/STL Engineers

WHY CONSTRUCTION & ENGINEERING: “Eleven years after graduating from college and after working in corporate America in the banking industry, I made the decision that I wanted to start a construction company with many facets. I launched CARCON Industries in January 2000 as a holding company, with the vision to build several subsidiary businesses in this field. Three years later, I launched a sister company, Southwest Testing Laboratories (STL Engineers). Today, we have two additional companies—one that provides commercial construction, plus an oil and gas division that is based in Midland. I have always wanted to be in this field, and I genuinely enjoy what I do every single day. I made the decision to resurrect and rebrand my father’s company after his passing and bring it to Dallas.”

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT IT: “I enjoy that through our construction projects, we are making a significant impact in changing the lives of Texans and, in particular, across North Texas. CARCON Industries has been a part of every major DART line project since 2004 and recently served as construction manager for the renovations of terminals A and C at DFW International Airport. CARCON also built nine Park-N-Rides stations for Trinity Metro. Its 23-mile commuter rail line runs through six cities and connects riders from downtown Fort Worth to the North end of DFW Airport. Additionally, through a joint venture, we were the construction manager that built Phase I and Phase II of the First Modern Streetcar in the state of Texas, located in downtown Dallas connecting into Oak Cliff.

LESSON LEARNED: “As the owner and CEO, my most important role is to manage the financials and strategic growth of our companies. Always keep your eyes on the numbers as they will tell the story of performance and guide you on making swift pivots to make certain all of your projects are successful.”

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: “Considered essential businesses, we immediately took action to make certain all of our employees had the tools and equipment to work from home, and we met the Governor’s stay-at-home order without a hitch. We provided PPE equipment for our employees and instituted the CDC federal guidelines within the ranks of our companies. As part of the Governor’s Strike Force Team, I helped lead many efforts across the city to distribute PPE equipment to other small businesses and families. I’m also chair-elect of the Dallas Citizens Council, which continues ongoing efforts around COVID19.”

LOOKING AHEAD: “For me, the pandemic has represented a time of reflection, gratitude, and an opportunity to hit the reset button. It is important to be open to other opportunities that have come about as a result of the pandemic. Even throughout this challenging time, Texas and North Texas are poised to seize opportunities that continue to come to our region. Business owners should consider branching out into other areas that complement their current lines of business.”

Darren James

President, KAI Enterprises

WHY CONSTRUCTION & ENGINEERING: “My desire to become an architect was sparked by a seed planted by my dad when I was six years old. I was playing with a girder and panel building set—a construction toy. I was creating these wonderful office buildings, and I told him I wanted to do this when I grew up; he suggested that I become an architect. That conversation and many more construction-related creative toys and activities reinforced my desire to explore the profession. My passion grew as I became aware of the influence design and architecture played on the neighborhoods I lived in versus the ones I visited across the country. I wanted to design spaces that brought sensitivity and creativity that seemed to be absent in communities I grew up in. My dad worked for Sverdrup & Parcels, and my grandfather was an amazing historian who loved to travel with my grandmother. My mom, both grandmothers, and most of my aunts were educators, and my dad and grandfather were scout leaders; a combination of school-based learning and visits to museums sparked a curiosity and desire to learn from everyone and everything. These formative principles are as evident today as they were then and were instrumental in helping me challenge and ultimately decide that I made the right decision when I was a young child.”

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT IT: “I enjoy the first day the facility users open the building for public operations, seeing the smiles on their faces and genuine excitement for occupying a new space that will make their lives or jobs easier, because the space was designed for them. It’s even more heartwarming to walk into a new school and see the joy and pride on the faces of the students when they realize that this new educational environment is for them and they had a voice in helping the design team.”

LESSON LEARNED: “The biggest lesson I’ve is that everyone’s voice matters. You cannot discount someone’s input because their background or experience is different than yours. Their unique perspective and life experience can and often do offer significant insights that make a project truly successful in serving the needs of the client, as well as the clients’ patrons. As a professional, we must collect this information and incorporate the data points to inform the solution including everyone in the stakeholder’s circle because their data may be that important kernel that elevates the project to a true asset and transformative edifice.”

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: “Truthfully, 2020 was an exceptional year for us; we consolidated two North Texas offices into one in Las Colinas, we substantially exceeded our sales goals in a very difficult year, and we continued to retain and hire high-quality talent.  However, I think I am most proud of the resilience my team showed in a year that had so many once-in-a-lifetime events that cascaded and built upon themselves, sequentially and seemingly nonstop. The KAI team was able to execute, pivot, and execute again when each of these events impeded normal daily activities. The ability of everyone to respond professionally through societal and personal hardships is truly amazing and reflective of our company’s core values.”

LOOKING AHEAD: “As KAI begins our 41st year of business, we are stronger, more geographically diverse, and progressively more robust talent-wise than ever. This, plus our enterprise-wide principles, has KAI poised to leverage opportunities to strengthen our team and add expertise for our clients and the communities we serve. The convergence of our planning, preparation, and performance continuously builds upon itself, so we will have an even larger influence on positive community change. Looking ahead, 2021 appears to offer KAI a true foundational platform to grow our program and construction management business unit, which is very exciting.”

David Schmidt

President, Schmidt & Stacy Consulting Engineers

WHY CONSTRUCTION & ENGINEERING: “Growing up in Houston, I always thought I would end up in the oil and gas industry. But several forces ultimately led me to life as a consulting engineer. First, when I worked for a large oil and gas general contractor offshore, I greatly enjoyed digging into the blueprints. At that time, my job was to implement the pipeline engineering designs that we bid and, upon award, ultimately installed in the Gulf of Mexico. I quickly realized I wanted to be the one originating the design. I wanted the opportunity to start projects from scratch. Second, in 1983, my brother-in-law told me about an MEP consulting project involving a new office in downtown Dallas—Thanksgiving Tower. Having so many friends in the real estate business (that I knew from both SMU and the DFW area), I headed back to Dallas—at a time when many opportunities were on the horizon. Third, one of my first projects as an MEP consulting engineer was The Crescent (a Rosewood project that helped pioneer Uptown). I am extremely proud of that project, and it was the first time I really saw all of my team’s work come to fruition. Once I experienced the taste of seeing a project like that take shape, I was hooked, and the next one could not come soon enough.”

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT IT: “What I love is my team (including our clients and colleagues), the challenge of immersing myself in the ultimate purpose of each project, and the technology tools we are provided to make projects come to life. We are closing in on our 30th anniversary at Schmidt & Stacy. I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished over the last three decades, and I often reflect on all of the projects that have come together and the people who have made them happen. This industry requires constant collaboration, not only within our family at Schmidt & Stacy, but collaboration among an even bigger team as we work with architects, contractors, owners, developers, and more. Not only do we work to master the technical side of this industry, but I also have the privilege of learning about new developments, historic preservations, and commercial interiors. To succeed in this industry, it is my view that you have to immerse yourself in the ultimate purpose of a building and envision the way in which people will interact and operate in that space. It is remarkable to think about the technology we have available to us in 2021 compared to when I first started this company in 1991. My new engineer graduates, as well as seasoned industry professionals, are now able to equally apply their technical wisdom and create a Building Information Modeling project that comes to life in 3D. Finally, one of the most rewarding parts of my job is driving around Dallas and seeing the buildings our teams helped create. There is nothing like hearing from friends and family in the area about their experiences at certain restaurants, hotels, medical office buildings, and commercial or industrial structures and knowing that we were helped make that experience possible.”

LESSON LEARNED: “Business, like life, is cyclical in nature. You will always have lows. For me, some of the most challenging times occurred in 2008 and 2009. But I learned to understand that these challenges are inevitable, and the way to navigate them is to simply take one day at a time without obsessing too much about the future. Navigating these challenges with precision and focus allows you to take particular note of your high points in business and to enjoy those successes to the fullest. One thing I’ve learned is that when you are indeed experiencing those high points, pay it forward. Because you never know who will be able to help you in turn during some of the more challenging times.”

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: “ Last year, our team was fortunate to have many successful projects across the country in a variety of different formats: commercial office buildings, hotels, restaurants, etc. Although we are all extremely proud of those projects, I am most proud of the way in which our firm responded to the COVID-19 crisis. Not only were we able to remain strong financially, but my staff pivoted, adapted, and stayed connected with one another despite transitioning to remote operations. I am immensely proud of our team‘s commitment to collaboration, both internally and externally. The optimism, endurance, and energy displayed by my team motivated me throughout the year and allowed us to be particularly present for our clients—who were also navigating uncharted territory.”

LOOKING AHEAD: “Some may say that at my age, I am at the sunset of my career, but I disagree. I continue to wake up each morning with the same excitement and grit I experienced when we started this company in 1991. Although I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished over the years, I know I can continue to make a difference for my firm, my clients, and the community in which we live. The DFW area is exploding in a very good way. I want to be part of this growth and innovation. I want to mentor and coach. The engineering opportunities for Dallas, and for all of Texas, are part of a calling for me that I hope to experience and tackle for years to come.”

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