Co-founder and COO of Building Construction Group with AIA architect, William Hefner, Scott has not only redefined what a home should be, but his vision has reached millions, stretching what is thought was the norm for simple construction. Scott is deemed one the foremost building (general) contractors and the industry’s noted “triple threat” (design, architecture and building/construction) “go-to” experts for residential and commercial properties specializing in environmental, new technology, renovation, deconstruction, reconstruction, restoration and building as an art form. Some of his clients include Paul Allen (Microsoft co-founder), John Paul Dejoria (Paul Mitchell co-founder), Kevin Costner, Kevin James, the Sultan of Brunei, actor-environmentalist Ed Begley Jr., building his LEED Platinum certified home and commercial projects such as Savoy Hotel-London, LA’s AOC restaurant, San Francisco’s Saint Francis Hotel, restaurants for Gordon Ramsay and Michel Mina. His work has been published multiple times in periodicals such as: Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, House Beautiful, Interior Design, LUXE Magazine, Metropolitan Home and Traditional Home.
How did you get into the industry?
When I was young, I grew up in a financially impoverished family. I recall church members delivering meals to our door, so my sisters and I could stay fed. I realized then that success was my only option, and the alternative was failure. My 'happy place' was playing with my only Lego set, and I recall, as a child, noticing how adults were generally unhappy with their jobs. At the time, I thought “What if I can stay a kid and become the top Lego builder in the world?’ Will that become my success story and get me out of here? Doing something I love? I made a promise that day, too never give up on my dream. My dream expanded into becoming an architect, a builder, a designer and a business owner building life-size Lego sets.
At age 15, I was selected for a special, experimental program, which allowed me to practice my craft daily. By age 18, I was hooked. Following my promise, I opened my own practice, designing at night and building by day. At that time, being a “builder” was NOT a cool thing among my piers and family. They often looked down on what I chose as my profession.
They said, “Scott, you should be a doctor...a lawyer...a teacher.” I had to tune out the outside voices directing me away from my childhood promise and stay the course.
30 years later, I realized that, I DID become the doctor, diagnosing what makes people sick in their homes. I DID become the lawyer, as I help clients and attorneys better understand the health and safety laws, as they relate to their homes. I DID become the teacher, speaking to millions through television, radio and various media forms, teaching a nation how to build a better, healthier home
Through great adversity, came a great dream and a solemn promise I never broke and today, I’m now the Chief of Operations of a company I co-founded, Building Construction Group, which has become one of the most respected home building companies in Los Angeles and eventually, hopefully our industry.
Any emerging industry trends?
One of the biggest emerging trends is referred to as the “Green” movement. There have been some great, recent advancements as far as understanding the value in collecting the natural energy that falls on your plot of land, such as the wind, rain and the energy from the sun. We’ve also made some large steps toward understanding the importance of weeding out unhealthy building materials. Some local municipalities are finally taking measures to protect us from things that they used to direct us to install, such as lead and asbestos. We are also finally understanding that mold in high quantities in a home can be lethal.
When our firm, Building Construction Group, was selected by Ed Begley Jr. and Rachelle Carson-Begley to build the “greenest," most self-sufficient and healthiest home ever created, with the caveat of it being beautiful, we jumped at the challenge!
We had an opportunity to rethink and reimagine what the home of the future would be today. We had a fighting chance to lead by example and reshape building techniques to better our earth and our health. We found we could use standard materials in innovative applications that ultimately led to us being awarded with with the prestigious, and highly coveted 'LEED Platinum’ status from the United States Green Building Council for our efforts in creating this unique home and becoming a pioneer of new trends. Our journey was chronicled on a show called "On Begley Street,’' if you would like to learn more.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
One of the notable industry challenges I see in the field of construction, it is still frowned upon from an educational standpoint, if you choose to become a hands-on-builder as a career path. Some consider it not as erudite. Building has yet to become an accepted professional field that one can receive advanced degrees in. It’s thought of instead, as an early employment opportunity to fund your education to achieve a status level for other professions.
Some colleges teach "construction management” courses, which are the equivalent of a learning how to administratively run a doctor’s office, while not being taught the art of being the practitioner.
Currently, the normal way to learn the art of building is through trial and error, or learning in the field from others. Based on survival the lessons that are passed down are focused on profitability and speed, which neither benefits the end user.
Frank Lloyd Wright, a pioneer in many ways, opened up a school called Taliesin. He said “You have to learn from doing” and he made his students “evolve through experience.” Each architectural student was required to build their own structure on the school property that become their dorm! He had the right idea in 1931 for architects, but it’s not until construction is no longer considered a blue color profession and it becomes an educational status, does the level of home construction elevate to its rightful level.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
My business partner, William Hefner and I developed a concept for this company, Building Construction Group to create a one-stop shop, where clients could come to have their dream homes imagined, designed and constructed at a reasonable price, incorporating the highest levels of technology, while making the experience enjoyable for the client. William Hefner, an awe-inspiring architect who helped drive the vision, oversees and drives our sister companies. Our collective companies handle architecture, construction, interior design and landscaping, so if you’re busy like most of our clients are, it is a great and efficient way for them to come to one company that handles all of their needs and most importantly, has the tools and the knowledge to create some of the most respected structures in our city.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
While our company has become one of the most respected custom homebuilders in Los Angeles, we are considering branching out into other cities to help expand, and become a national leader in the marketplace, enabling a larger group of people to have a trusted, go-to place to have their homes created.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
One of the more successful approaches we’ve taken is, being honest with ourselves. If we fail our company goals on any level, we take time to examine what happened, and look for ways to improve. One aspect that we improved on, was understanding the value of great team management on our projects. In our early years, a single site supervisor ran as many as 4-8 projects at a time for us. We now have learned the value in better staffing our projects with as many as 2-3 team members per project, with varied experience who we make responsible for taking ownership of their assigned projects. Each one of the team members has their own task and responsibility that overlaps the other member, which creates a system of more improved checks and balances. When you consider that each one of these homes is essentially a prototype, in which bugs are not acceptable, it takes a well-run team to create a beautifully managed product. While we feel we have made great strides, we prides ourselves in finding new, innovative techniques to better our products and our approach almost daily and a key to success is being open to change.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? And what did you learn?
That difficult moment happened 20 years ago. While actively building and designing, thinking one can do it all, it took a serious injury to ignite an epiphany. After a serious fall while framing a project and losing most of the use of my right arm for nearly two years, it forced me to rethink my entire approach. I could no longer draw, or click on a mouse. I could no longer load my tools in the truck and for that matter, physically pick them up to build.
I eventually became left-handed and read a lot, studying ancient design and ratios during that time. But, with this permanent injury, I felt I had a duty to not give up on the promise I made to myself as a child, to stay the path on my dream.
I reminded myself, regardless of my state of mind, success was my only option, or I would fail.
I realized that I may not be able to physically draw or build for some time, but my future success was hidden in my daily routine. I read a book at that time that said, "When you’re at the top of your game, the time has come to step up to the next rung, and train others.” I realized through my injury that life had a tough-love approach to remind me of that.
When you consider if one person stays at the top of their game, and doesn’t move forward, you actually become stagnate and you’re not really running a business, it’s more of a hobby. It’s not until that one person takes a step-up to that next rung and trains 10 others below them to do their task, and that process repeats itself exponentially, do you finally become a business leader and trend-setter in your industry.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
The ideal customer/client experience is, when you can look back at the process and you realize it was “easy.” Easy, doesn’t mean we are not all dedicated and working diligently, it means that it was “easy” on our client’s psyche, it was "easy" on our client’s lives and financially “easy.”
Also, equal to “easy” is rightfully “trust” between both parties makes for the ideal experience for both client and the professional.
Projects in which the client simply said, “Mr. Harris, I have nothing but the utmost trust in you, and I know you won’t let me down." Those can be the most powerful, motivating words that create an ideal experience for all involved.
How do you motivate others?
My favorite line, which you may see in print on our projects, is: “Good is the Enemy of Great.”
We as a society often say...”Hey Robert that looks good!” But when most people hear that, they don’t stop to better themselves, or their product to find out how to make it GREAT. I teach my team that perfection is a myth, but the journey toward it is real, and you will find that the journey becomes infectious to others watching.
Another team motivator is, showing them that it’s not beneath you to do something that you perceive to be “below your pay grade.” As a leader, we are here not to force others to follow, but we are here because others have allowed us to lead them. And, if that position is handled well, many will ask you to lead them and only then, do you become a great leader. If you have to motivate your team through words and without actions, you’re not going to achieve your goals. Motive through example!
Career advice to those in your industry?
If you’re considering becoming a builder, you have to completely immerse yourself on every level. When you’re sitting in a restaurant, take note of how the light fixtures are hung and question if it could have been done better? When you’re on a construction project, take note of how the teams are organizing the projects, and do you respect it, or can it be improved upon? When you’re in a home, take note of not just what you see, but how do the people engage in the house, what kind of odors do you sense that may be related to poor construction technics, and what does the temperature feel like as you walk from room to room? While most of what you do in the industry will be guided by those around you, a level of sensitivity to your work is what makes the difference between “good” and “great.”
Consider a concerto pianist competing against a brilliant computer playing the identical notes. The concerto pianist will win hands down, because of their “sensitivity” to their craft.
Immerse your self into your craft, remove “good” from your professional vocabulary and become sensitive to a level beyond your competitor and the rest becomes easy. And, if you’re ready to begin your career and take the journey, please contact us directly and we can help guide you!