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May 20, 2011

Construction Q&A: Jerry Bush


Company: University Mechanical Contractors

Title: President and CEO

Safety is an “elusive monster,” according to Jerry Bush, president and CEO of University Mechanical Contractors, but that doesn’t mean the monster got the best of him. The company won AGC’s award for most improved safety performance, recording an EMR of 0.5787, which places it in the top 1 percent of construction companies in the state.

University Mechanical was founded in 1920 and specializes in commercial and industrial construction, including mechanical design-build work. Bush joined the Mukilteo-based company 22 years ago.

University Mechanical has tried different things over the years to bolster job-site safety, Bush said, but he said the recent improvements are the result of company’s decision to take a more personal approach: Broad programs and incentives are out, and coaching and feedback are in.

The changes brought a shift in the safety culture. Workers used to get nervous when the “safety guy” showed up on site, Bush said. Now, they call him for advice when he’s not around.

“We improved dramatically,” Bush concluded.

Did you get resistance when you tried to improve safety?

Oh, yeah. These guys are very proud of the work they do. When we first started approaching them suggesting different ways to do things, or even suggesting that we talk about how they’re doing things, it was perceived as, “Hey, you’re trying to tell me how to do my job,” which of course was not the case.

How did you end up in construction?

I grew up in it. My dad had a little plumbing and heating shop in Colorado, and I’ve been around it all my life. I got a degree in construction management from Colorado State, and ended up out here.

How well do owners and designers understand mechanical systems?

Well, it obviously depends on the owner and the designer. Some are very attuned to it, others aren’t. There’s two things that it really comes down to in a building. One, having enough space for our stuff, and two, is the coordination of space with us and all the other trades.

Has building-information modeling been a help?

Certainly. Particularly on the jobs that we design because obviously now we can fly through a 3-D model of the building and more readily detect conflicts in the building and fix them on paper before we get out there.

Has green building affected your work?

It’s caused us to think outside the box, become more creative, find different ways to cool buildings. So how do you do that? One, is constantly staying in tune with new products on the market, and two, is utilizing the products that have always been there in a more energy-efficient way.

How did the recession affect you?

A lot of ways. It’s not just that it’s more competitive. I think our world has changed. Doing business and the way we do business has changed. Some of those changes I think we’re not even aware of yet.

What have you done to respond?

Become lighter on our feet, try to be as lean as possible.

Do you have a killer HVAC system at home?

No, not at all. We have operable windows.

But you’d like one, right?

Oh, yeah, particularly on the controls side. It’s more from a toys standpoint than from any usefulness we’d get out of it.

Your website says you’re a triathlete. How do you get time to train?

I make the time. It’s funny, by signing up for events and races, it motivates me to actually make the time and get out there and do that. Otherwise I know I’m going to die on race day.

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