Director of Construction
for an international real estate developer and investor

Helbling represented a prominent international real estate developer and investor of one of the largest developments in the nation to find their new Director of Construction. Our client was embarking on their first high-profile project in a market they’ve always desired to tap into - New York City (NYC). Therefore, they needed someone who had experience leading $1B+ projects from design to completion. This professional will become the face of their NYC portfolio and drive the growth of the organization in the region for decades to come. The selected candidate has more than 20 years of experience in the construction management industry, and most recently spent 9 years with another top-ranking commercial and residential real estate developer. Chosen for his unique attention to design detail and his ability to communicate effectively across organizations, the selected candidate is poised for a lengthy career with our client.

As our client landed their first large, high-profile development project in NYC, which was one of the organization’s target goals for growth, they recognized the need for a new role – Director of Construction. They needed someone to manage the construction manager – both for the project on the immediate horizon, and as a long-term Director for all future projects in the NYC region. They sought a Director who could step in and handle this initial project from pre-construction to closeout and turnover, essentially serving as the liaison between the construction management company and the developer. The success of the project is critical as it will impact the organization’s trajectory for decades to come. 

Candidates had to have large project experience – specifically at least $600M in scope and ideally $1B or more. Our client wanted someone at the peak of his or her career who had worked both on the construction management side, as well as the development and design side to provide an ‘aerial view’ of the project, and be the big-picture thinker they desired in the field. Ultimately, the ideal candidate needed extensive knowledge of land, design, and cost while also having a long career runway for succession planning and the ability to elevate the organization in a new region. The Director of Construction would be in charge of all constructability, including cost implications, design decisions, preconstruction, bidding processes, budget and schedule dynamics, and construction project closeout.

In terms of corporate culture fit, our client was seeking a professional with tenacity, a ‘hands-on’ technical mindset, and a proven track-record of project completions, as well as leadership qualities in the field to motivate and inspire the construction team. Acting as a liaison between the construction manager and the developer, the Director needed to guide, negotiate, correct, and push forward both sides on the project. He or she had to think quickly on their feet, be a strong communicator, be exceptionally organized, and have the ability to clearly articulate changes in vision and design. A solutions-based thinker, the preferred candidate would have the opportunity to write their own future if this monumental project was completed on time and under budget. 

Working closely with the Vice President of Development and Senior Vice President of Human Resources, we communicated at length to fully understand the vision and values of the organization, and the qualifications and background of an ideal candidate. Because this person would ultimately be the face of the newly developed region and move up in the organization in the very near future, we focused on learning about the chemistry of the executive leadership team; it was important to understand the very fabric this professional would be ingrained in. Along the way, our client underwent a transition period that changed the dynamics of their executive leadership team. The relationship we’d built through the months leading up to the transition allowed all of us to remain united and positive as we worked through the details for a second time.

Focusing largely on the Northeast region, we looked for candidates with experience working in NYC. Targeting current Vice Presidents of Construction, Senior Directors of Construction, and Executive Directors of Construction within real estate development firms, construction management firms, and select corporate owners based on their capital construction portfolio, we developed a strong field of key professionals experienced enough to take on a multi-billion-dollar project. In addition, we explored third-party program management firms looking for Regional Directors or Directors of Project Management who would have a large scope of responsibility that aligns with developing a new region. 

Emphasizing the opportunity to enter an untapped region with potential to grow it from the ground up, we were able to appeal to passive candidates entrenched in their current organizations. The individual will have the opportunity to make a name for himself or herself as the first Director of Construction for NYC in this prominent organization. The possibilities are endless for the right person to capitalize on this NYC project. Therefore, the best fit would be someone with strong communication, effective negotiation skills,  and the ability to adapt to the region and the players involved.

The candidate who was ultimately selected had also been the preferred candidate before the transition within our client's executive leadership team. As a strongly qualified candidate, he made it through two full rounds of consultative recruitment. Coming from a construction management background, with recent experience working for another prominent real estate developer, he had knowledge of our client, their ongoing projects, and the high-profile development underway in NYC. His skillset fits well with a transforming and evolving organization because he is the type of person who nurtures relationships, makes himself available, and puts in the time and effort to foster others’ goals and growth opportunities. Ultimately, those characteristics made him the frontrunner because his ability to communicate and be the face of the organization working with the local community was a sought-after attribute for the organization’s long-term success. 

Selected for his technical skills, hands-on design and cost/benefit analysis capabilities, as well as his history of large development projects ranging from $100M in the early part of his career to $1B in recent years, his experience was the perfect blend according to our client. After comparing nearly every top professional available in the marketplace, it came down to cultural fit. He gets along well with the new executive leadership team and has the requisite soft skills. Currently, he is involved in the pre-construction phase of the high-profile $2B project in NYC, and he’s been instrumental in looking at the design plans from a unique angle to make adjustments and corrections. Described as a ‘wizard’ with an eye for change, he is bringing the cost down with his perspective and experience-based solutions so that when construction is underway, our client will be under budget.

View PDF
What intrigued me most about this search was the enriching relationship created between us and the client. The process of executive search is extremely consultative, and nothing exemplifies comprehensive consultation quite like a redirect in executive leadership mid-search. Ultimately, the challenge of navigating large changes like this is invigorating for our team. I am proud that the selected candidate proved himself twice over because it strengthens our collective understanding that he is the right person for the position. We’re all excited to see his future success.
Matt Lesher, Senior Managing Consultant