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May 23, 2012

Construction Q&A: Dan Esparza


Company: Sealaska Constructors

Title: General manager

Dan Esparza joined Sealaska Constructors when it was founded in 2009.

The company is owned by Sealaska Corp. of Juneau, Alaska, and specializes in federal design-build and heavy civil construction work. In a short time it has completed a variety of military and disaster-response projects, in addition to other work.

AGC recognized Sealaska for its safety performance, naming it the top general contractor in the “under-150,000 hours” group.

Esparza said safety culture “has to come from the top, flow through middle management” and be accepted, taught and enforced everywhere.

“When that is clicking at all levels by all people — and becomes an attitude throughout the organization — then you have built culture,” he said.

Sealaska Corp. is an Alaskan native corporation owned by more than 23,000 tribal member shareholders. Other business lines include manufacturing, timber products, information technology and security services.

Esparza said that adding Sealaska Constructors to the parent company’s roster makes him “extremely proud of our people.”

How did you get into construction?

It’s all I know. Since my father was an architect/contractor, I grew up in the industry. I graduated from the University of California and jumped straight into the fire of running a construction company.

What do you like about it?

It would be the people, the pace and fact that at the end of the day you build a tangible product.

If you could start over would you do anything differently?

No. I love what I do. Oftentimes I speak with young students about career path and development. Whether you choose construction or any career, it’s critical that you love what you do.

Tell us about a great work experience you’ve had.

The best moments and experiences are when site and management teams are working in complete sync and unison.

What aggravates you?

Reminding myself that building a business is a process of continual improvement and staying on your goals. I am a high-energy person and want things done immediately.

What keeps you busiest right now?

Keeping focused on the strategic objectives of the organization and the execution of our vision and goals, along with business development, is all-consuming. But that’s my job!

How’s the bidding environment these days?

Competitive. It is a hard market out there. As the economy and the commercial construction market have declined over the recent years we have seen a significant increase in competition in the federal sector, pushing prices even lower.

Is funding still there?

It has been a very volatile market with federal spending and available construction dollars. Projects have either been pulled from the acquisition-planning process or been reallocated to alternative program years. (But) the forecast is not all bad news.

If you could rule the industry for a day, what would you change?

A true concept of partnering and less ego. More often than not, the conflicts we face are completely avoidable if we were more adept at tending to the relationship.

It’s 9 p.m. on a Saturday. What are you up to?

Depending on the season, I would be recuperating from a high school sporting event for one of my three children. Next, I would be monitoring movie night, as our house seems to be the focal point for the neighborhood teens. Wouldn’t have it any other way!

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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