Eastman Insights: Robert Hancock
Our July 2021 Staff Spotlight highlights the extraordinary work of Eastman Cooke’s longtime Senior Project Manager, Robert Hancock. Since joining our firm, Robert has become a major asset to our exceptional ECA team. He brings more than three decades of construction management experience and continues to be a key player in many of our exciting projects.
As a project manager, what are some of the most important elements of bringing a construction project to life?
Good planning out of the gate. When contractors know there is a definitive plan in place and a schedule that the Superintendent is pressing at every turn, the contractors know they must be accountable. No one wants to be the person who’s causing the logjam. Getting the contractors and project managers involved early and frequently throughout the project is essential; weekly subcontractor meetings help keep them actively involved in the project. Potential delays can be discussed early on and averted with clear communication.
How do you help to ensure that a project continues to run smoothly?
Discussing the schedule regularly with the Superintendent and understanding what materials and manpower will be needed 2-4-6-8 weeks in the future, then making sure the submittals and shop drawings are in place and ready to go. Providing fast, easy access to the paperwork will enable the Superintendent to maneuver through the day-to-day obstacles on a project to keep it running smoothly. Communication is also very important since construction projects are often moving targets with challenges popping up every day. Daily communication with your Superintendent to discuss any curveballs helps to keep everyone on the same page and focused on the path ahead.
Problem-solving is one of the most important functions of a good project manager. You often need to think outside the box. I frequently tell my team, “it’s not ‘it can’t be done,’ it’s ‘how can it be done.’”
One of the major factors that have contributed to Eastman Cooke’s success is the firm’s Work Smart System. Can you give an example of how this innovative system has fueled successful outcomes for your clients?
The Work Smart System is a valuable tool for project managers. For example, the exit strategy meeting is essential to getting a project wrapped up comprehensively. During this meeting, we discuss upcoming inspections and amendments, and we typically find something that wasn’t filed in the Building Department. This could potentially hold up a sign-off because filings can take many weeks to get approved by the Building Department. Addressing items two or three months before your completion date helps save the owner time and money at the end of the project.
What Eastman Cooke projects are you most proud of and why?
I have a few, but I would have to say Audi of Queens was a really great job. The construction was comprised of a large 66,000 square foot building with high-end finishes, open staircases, balconies, showrooms, 15-foot-high structural glass walls at the exterior, along with a custom metal facade around the building. Everything in the project, from floor tiles to reveal moldings, to accent walls to exterior glass, had to line up in very specific ways to capture the essence of the design that Audi was trying to achieve. Through clear communication (as I mentioned above), everyone involved was able to stay on point and fully understand how the project had to come together. Every piece that was supposed to line up did, and the workmanship was flawless. I’m proud to say that the punch list on a job this size was less than one page. Audi executives told us that it was one of the best projects they have seen in their tenure.
In addition to being a highly skilled project manager, you’ve also worked as a field superintendent and you’re a former business owner. What were some of your major takeaways from these roles and how have they helped to shape your current position?
I’ve been on job sites since I was 12 years old working for my father’s construction company. My father felt it was important to walk a mile in everyone’s shoes to fully understand what it takes to bring a project out of the ground to completion. Experience working as a superintendent gave me the strength and knowledge to know what it takes to run a project on a day-to-day basis, and what can and should be expected from your men and your subcontractors. Learning how to maneuver a project from the ground up takes careful planning and forethought, but most importantly it takes experience. Experience is everything, and you can’t get it without putting in the time. I am very comfortable on job sites because of my past experience as a superintendent. My superintendents know that they can “talk shop” with me and get sound advice and opinions on how to help move a project forward.
From the field, I moved into Building Department expediting, to estimating, to project management, to office manager, to owner. This was a road not rushed but developed over 10 years, giving me a solid foundation and critical experience in all aspects of construction.
Being a business owner for over 12 years really gives you a deep understanding of the financial side of the business. Understanding the billing process, general conditions, insurance, and contracts are all vital parts of a successful business. Being able to take the lead on these items is something I think has been very helpful to Eastman Cooke. Also, understanding how to develop a solid scope of work for your subcontractors, helping them fully understand the scope of work, negotiating the best price possible, and negotiating their contract for that work is something that is developed over many years of experience. Knowing what the work entails and what it takes to produce that work from my prior experience, enables me to ensure we are getting the right numbers from our contractors.
With nearly three decades of construction experience, what significant changes have you seen in the industry, and how has technology helped to enhance workflow and productivity?
I can’t believe I’m over 30 years in this business. Being able to access emails, plans, and specifications from your phone and tablet has really enhanced productivity in this industry. When I started, we had a landline phone brought to the site. Years later, we considered it groundbreaking to use a fax machine to transmit documents and plans from the office to the job site. At Eastman Cooke, I was one of the first staff to use Procore, and it has become an invaluable tool. Every document or plan needed to build your project is available at your fingertips.
For someone starting out in construction, what are the most important traits to have in order to thrive?
You must have passion for what you are doing and a strong work ethic. If you have passion, the work ethic will develop on its own.
You can learn something from everyone – from the laborer to the owner. Ask questions, and keep your eyes and ears open.
Expand beyond your comfort zone: talk to the estimators about how they figured the job; ask superintendents what their challenges were that day and how they handled them; talk to accounting to learn what “billings in excess” means and how it affects the finances on the job; ask the owner how this bid evolved into a project.
Any career, including construction, is a journey that will lead to success if you put in the time and effort to push yourself to the next level. It does not come easy, which is why there is great personal satisfaction in getting there.
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