This article originally appeared on Construction Superintendent.
Culture of family, cool jobs keep him coming back for more
By Chris Maday Schmidt
Henry Hinojosa, superintendent at Hoar Construction for the past 18 years, began his career with the company as a carpenter’s helper and worked his way through the ranks to his current position. Employed in Hoar’s Florida division, based in Orlando, Henry has led projects across entertainment, hospitality, mixed use, office and industrial market sectors. Join Construction Superintendent as Hinojosa shares how relationship building, problem solving and staying humble are the keys to success in this industry.
(Q) Share a little about what drew you to a career in the industry.
I really credit my wife Casey with my career in construction. When we were first together, we ran into an uncle of hers who was working for Hoar, and she asked him if he had a job for me. I didn’t really know anything about the construction industry other than my experience building bridges as a laborer, but the company attracted me like a magnet. I was surrounded by really great people. My first project was in Lake Sumpter Landings (The Villages) as a carpenter’s helper. I knew I wanted to work my way up in the company, and Tim Ham, the project superintendent that hired me, helped me find the opportunities to grow. He’s one of my best friends now, like family. From the beginning, the fact that Hoar Construction is a family oriented company meant it was a really good fit for me, especially with my young relationship with my wife. She works for the company too, and we always work as a team now.
(Q) With 18 years under your hardhat with Hoar Construction, your experience includes a variety of project types—including educational, medical, aviation and theme park, to name a few. Which project stands out as the most memorable? Why?
I’ve had the good fortune to work on some pretty memorable projects, but if I had to choose, I would say working on Celebration Pointe stands out the most. It was a massive project with all different types of buildings on the 100-acre site – a hotel, a movie theater, offices, retail, parking garage – you name it and this mixed-use center had it. We even built a bridge over the Interstate. We had to shut down I-75, which is a major interstate in Florida, to make it happen. The coordination was intense and at night, but with pre-planning, our teams were able to make it a smooth operation with little to no disruption to travelers.
(Q) For the Gulf Quest Museum of the Gulf of Mexico, located in Mobile, Alabama, you were involved with constructing a concrete-and-glass structure resembling a ship floating down river. Talk about the process and any challenges you encountered. How were they mitigated?
That was a really cool job, and I’ve been blessed to be on multiple cool jobs. Aside from the ship-like shape with a concrete structure and glass all the way around, at all levels, our biggest challenge was sharing our main entrance and exit with Carnival Cruise Line. When they docked three times a week, we had to coordinate with the cruise line general manager to make sure there were no disruptions to our delivery or movement schedules. Our coordination and transparency really won her over, and we tended to everything they needed. The second challenge was that the project was on the Mobile River, only separated from the water by a dock. We had to learn how to prepare for high water and make sure our materials were safe and dry.
(Q) One of your projects included hurricane renovations. What did that entail?
This was on Sanibel Island and Marco Island, and we had to gut and renovate five Hilton Grand Vacation resorts. We lived on Sanibel Island for a little over a year, in rooms on the resort that weren’t damaged. After the first hurricane and the renovations on Sanibel Island, there was another hurricane on Marco Island. The client liked how well we worked on the first job so much that they hired us again.
(Q) What would you say has been the most difficult project you’ve worked on during your tenure? What were some of the lessons learned?
There was so much coordination on the museum in Mobile, that it was probably the most difficult for me. We had to work with the City of Mobile, the mayor, field representatives from the city, local contractors, Carnival, dock masters and the railway in addition to keeping our clients happy. The railway was right next to the project and crossed the only entrance. Every day a crane would come through because of the shipyard, and we had to coordinate around that, including our tower crane movements. Working with multiple personalities is always a challenge, but even though we had the additional challenges of building right next to the river, right next to a docking cruise ship, we were able to make it work and finish the project to everyone’s satisfaction.
(Q) How is Hoar handling COVID-19 on jobsites?
In addition to our already rigorous safety protocols, we’ve recognized that we have to stay diligent with the COVID-19 safety protocols, and we’re reiterating to everyone that comes onto our project every day what they’re required to do. We’re implementing and enforcing temperature checks at the gate, mask wearing, social distancing and we’ve provided additional hand-sanitizing stations throughout the jobsite. Keeping everyone safe is just about doing our jobs as we walk the jobsite, making sure that even through the heat and humidity in Central Florida everyone is on board with mask wearing and adhering to wearing them. We have extra signage, in English and Spanish, reminding everyone of the protocols, and we’re sending anyone home that is sick or seems sick. Luckily, a lot of work is outdoors on this offsite student housing renovation project I’m currently on, but we’ve also made a rule that you can’t come into our meeting spaces inside without sanitizing and a temperature recheck. If a trade partner or team member has to come in to drop off paperwork, we have a specific file for it that is then quarantined for a week or so, just so no one else handles it. We’ve also included reminders about the COIVD-19 protocols into our regular safety meetings and have communication plans in place for any trade partners that test positive for the virus or have been medically directed to self-quarantine. It’s tough, and we have to constantly be on our toes, but it’s important.
(Q) Aside from safety protocols, how are you seeing the industry changing since the pandemic?
Just recently we’ve seen an escalation on lumber prices. But so far there are no real changes in manpower. Our trade partners are actively engaged in work, looking for more work and are really motivated to move on to the next job or the next task. Everyone wants to stay busy.
(Q) In your opinion, what skillset(s) should the “superintendent of tomorrow” possess?
A superintendent needs to be practical and be able to read people. We deal with so many people every day, and it’s easy to forget that everyone has their own lives and problems, but if someone shows up frustrated or angry, you have to be able to see through the tone to what the actual issue is that you need to address. Superintendents need to be able to control their demeanor, know how to be a problem solver, how to diffuse tense situations and how to be a good leader. Being a good leader doesn’t mean having a chip on your shoulder or thinking your way is the only way. You have to be helpful and listen to your team and be supportive so everyone can be successful. Every person you work with isn’t going to like you, so you have to be diligent about doing your best and understanding different personalities, not taking it personally. You have to be compassionate toward others and treat one another professionally.
(Q) Of the biggest advancements in the construction industry since you began your career, which one has made your job easier? How?
You have to adapt and evolve with the changes. Once we started using iPads for everything from construction management software to Building Information Management software to planning to punch lists, that was a game changer. The construction management software we use improves week-to-week and day-to-day. These tools have helped alleviate and streamline processes exponentially. Since we can better handle things in the field in real time with these tools, our jobs and projects really benefit.
(Q) What is one of your biggest accomplishments as a superintendent? Why?
The first building I ever worked on at Lake Sumpter Landings is my biggest accomplishment because it has led to every other success in my career. I was given an opportunity to work as an assistant, and that really created my drive to become a builder. Along the way, my accomplishments have grown, but it’s really the buildings we build and the relationships we create with the clients and owners that are important.
(Q) Do you have a general strategy for involving the project team on scheduling?
We have regularly set scheduling meetings. And after these trade partner meetings, if we realize anyone is lagging or could potentially face a slowdown, we all sit down together to understand the issues, refocus on the goals and get everyone back on track. If you don’t involve everybody, you can’t be successful. Scheduling is a team effort. You have to involve your team, encourage them to speak up and give ideas, and you have to listen. From time-to-time, we make changes because of those suggestions. My teammates’ feedback is very important to me and helps me come up with ways to be better. Collaboration is key.
(Q) Where can you be found when you’re off the clock?
My happy time is with my wife and my kids, doing whatever they want to do. We do everything together. Casey and I even work together. One thing we always look forward to is our yearly tradition of tailgating for the University of Georgia/University of Florida game. We spend the whole week in our camper, celebrating and cheering on the Georgia Bulldogs. Unfortunately, this year might look a little different, but we’re very excited to be welcoming a new baby girl later this year. My family is everything.