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Where are the Next Pete Hopps?

Where is the next generation of Pete Hopps coming from? Before I explain that question — starting with answering “Who is Pete Hopp?,” I need to set the stage.

In late 2010 I suggested that we needed an industry forum to address issues such as labor, the project award environment, inclusion, and the political environment. Any even more pressing issue for me is: Where are we going to get the Pete Hopps of tomorrow?

I met Pete around the time that I wrote the call for an industry forum. As many readers know, for the past couple of years I have been spending the majority of my days at Helmkamp Construction, actively working in business development/marketing in the industry that I’ve covered for the past 35 years. Pete Hopp has been a very positive part of those days.

Undoubtedly, Pete's most interesting millwright project was moving a gorilla at the St. Louis Zoo. Every day during the project following the move Pete would check in on the gorilla.

Undoubtedly, Pete’s most interesting millwright project was moving a gorilla at the St. Louis Zoo. Every day during the project following the move Pete would check in on the gorilla.

Peter Hopp was born in Germany. As a young man he served in the German merchant marine. When I was traveling to the Amazon last year, he reminisced about going to Brazil and the Amazon in those days. In 1959 he completed the German ironworker apprentice program. He graduated from high school and trade school in 1960. He earned his Carpenters union card in 1971. Pete has been a dedicated, loyal employee at Helmkamp Construction for the past 27 years. He is retiring as a project manager.

Over the years Pete has worked on power plants, automotive factories, steel mills, barge terminals and many other complex jobs, large and small. He is possessed of quiet good humor, intense focus, enthusiasm, and kindness. And Pete has tremendous energy: On a walkthrough, I watched him bound up five flights of stairs ahead of a group of younger people in an industrial plant and climb all over the place. He is known and respected for his ability to assess any situation and figure out the best way to do the job.

The bottom line is that Pete Hopp knows how to build stuff. On June 29 Pete is hanging it up for good. I am hoping that in all our focus on BIM, and contract language, and price, and inclusion and safety – all good things – we don’t lose our ability to value and nurture a new generation of people who really know how to build stuff. In all of the focus on designing and managing, let’s not forget that our main business is building.

In the 1980s I had occasion to work with some of the original crew at Alberici – men I had grown up around like John Berra, Ed Calcaterra, and of course Gabe. I had occasion to sit in the legendary/infamous Saturday morning project meetings around a table that held 20 or more people, where the way projects were being built were dissected in no-holds-barred detail. I learned more in those meetings than in an entire semester of college lectures.

I have met, and worked with, young project managers who are excited about learning about the best way to build things. They’ve had the theory in the classroom. Now they want to learn about what counts where the rubber meets the road. I’ve met superintendents who are my age and carrying around a lifetime of experience about constructability between their ears. I want to see that knowledge passed down the line.

We need to place as much respect and value on the brain trust and values of the people who get the work done as we do on the “big picture” issues and bottom-line number crunching. It’s a cliché that people are our industry’s most valuable asset, but it’s a TRUE cliché. Somehow that passing down of knowledge of how to build stuff needs not to get lost in the fray that is our industry today.

I’m going to miss you Pete. Don’t be a stranger.