Rob Morrison: Project manager, New Empire Design/Build Contractors.

New Empire Design is a small general.


New Empire Design is a small general contracting company, so I bounce between a few different roles. At different times I’m doing estimating and customer service and dealing one-on-one with purchasers, budgeting and cost control.

We do everything: industrial, commercial and residential. Primarily I’m focused on two residential projects: one in Kingston and one in Brantford. Both are about 130 to 140 townhouse units and about 28 blocks.

I went to a private high school – Crestwood Preparatory College. Public schools have shop class and more hands-on classes. We had none of that. The school pushed science, math, business, and I was always a hands-on, outdoor person. After high school I went to the University of Western Ontario and did a degree in finance and administration that leaned heavily toward accounting. That’s why I enrolled in a business program. I also knew business would be a good background to have. 

After that I went to George Brown College and did two certificates: construction project management and construction estimating. I had to figure out where I wanted to begin my career, and I thought construction would be a good route, considering my hands-on nature. I didn’t want to be behind a desk. I learn best by doing. 

For estimating, I’m still using the templates I used in school. The way we learned to do cost control is how I do it here. We’re a small company, so we don’t have to invest in big, expensive software for project management, budgeting, cost control and scheduling. A lot of the skills I learned carried over. 

What the courses teach – quantity surveying, cost control – are the fundamentals, and the way they incorporate that into the class environment is through group work. That’s where you develop communication skills. 

I had one teacher who put us in groups. We did not have the ability to pick our own group. If I could have, I would’ve put together a super-group of people I knew to ace this project, but you don’t get to pick who you work with in the real world. He put us in groups and said, “What are everybody’s strengths and weaknesses? Put those up front and figure out a way to improve on everybody’s weaknesses.” At the end of the day, those were some of the most relevant experiences that helped me with what I do today. 

The way I operate is different from how others do. My bosses like to do things verbally – they’re a bit more pen-and-paper and more old-school. Some days at the office I’ll say to my boss, “It would be better to use a computer for this,” but then there are days when my computer crashes and that gets thrown back at me. So the strongest skills you have are your communication skills, being able to delegate and make sure things can get done without using your computer.

Construction is all about communicating, and the more efficiently you can communicate a message, the less you have to backtrack or redo.

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