Leadership Q&A: Kris Beason, Head of PNW Construction

Head of Construction, Pacific Northwest

Kris Beason

Tell us what inspired you to work in construction?

Construction careers have been handed down from one relative to another for generations in my family.  I was fortunate to follow my mother and my aunt into the industry – one was a project manager and the other a pipefitter.  At the time, I never realized their career choices were so unique for their gender.

I followed their lead early and started as an intern, eventually working my way through various departments by taking initiative and asking colleagues to teach me the ins-and-outs of their roles. Sometimes I even ended up voluntarily taking on half their workload – all while doing my current position, of course.   

In construction, no two days are alike; you get to work with all kinds of people, owners, architects, engineers and craftsmen.  I am always learning something new through each unique project, and this is something I appreciate most about my career.

What is the future of construction as you envision it? What stands in the way of this vision?

The current building industry is facing a drastic shortage of labor. By 2022 we’ll need an additional 1.4 million workers to keep up with the current demand for construction services.  With more than 47 million women in the US workforce, only 2% work in the construction industry.  If we inspired just 1% more of these women to join the industry, we could add five million people.  The future of our industry rides on our ability to bring people into the trades, and we are competing for talent. We need to look outside the traditional places to fill this gap and must support organizations undertaking outreach to do so.

Additionally, our industry struggles with lack of innovation. I was a speaker at a CREW Portland Forecast Breakfast in 2011 where I spoke to the need to implement prefabrication and modernization into our industry.  A decade later, I don’t think that we have made many significant changes.  With the average age of the craftsman in the industry being in the mid 50’s and not many new people joining the industry, we must find a more efficient way to build. 

You believe in inclusive leadership and that building diversity and inclusion in the workforce. Can you share more about your approach to leadership and how diversity can positively impact our industry?

Beyond being simply the right thing to do, there’s a strong business case for cultivating diversity.  Studies widely show that diverse teams are better teams.  They outperform homogeneous teams, both financially and in their ability to develop and implement innovative solutions. 

Bringing together different perspectives and skill sets is only part of the solution.  When you join a conversation or a meeting, think about those sitting around the table.  Is there a visible or perhaps non-physical difference that could make your team members feel excluded?

“Studies widely show that diverse teams are better teams.”

As a woman leader in construction, I want to inspire women to join me in the career that I love.  When I began, I was one of only a few women I knew in the industry.  I think it speaks volumes that now, while still less prevalent than men, women hold a significantly larger portion of the jobs in commercial construction and real estate.  I believe this is a result of younger generations seeing more and more examples of women who forged their way into the industry and were successful.  Seeing is believing.

My challenge to each person is this: be a champion for inclusiveness.  Make it your mission to learn about each of the people on your team, at the table, or on your project.  Be known as the “includer” and accept that title proudly.  Diversity and inclusion may be a corporate responsibility, but every one of us has the power to make everyone in the room feel welcome and included.  Diversity drives powerful results worth striving for together.

You are known for your skill in building and developing highly successful teams, often from the ground up. What is the secret to success in attracting and developing talent?  What do you look for in your teams?

“Are you willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, even if it’s not on your job description?”

Attitude, ability to work for the betterment of the overall team, and willingness to learn or try new things are critical in our industry.  One of my favorite interview questions is, “Do you do windows?”  The intention of the question is to ask “Are you willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, even if it’s not on your job description?”  Each project doesn’t always fit the description, just like each person doesn’t always fit into the same box for a designated position. As leaders, we must adapt and understand that helping our team members further their careers is vital, even if it means this growth takes them to another organization.  One of the most rewarding things in my career is watching several prior direct reports start and run their own businesses successfully. 

Are there any construction projects or milestones that stick out in your mind as pivotal moments in your career? If so, what project(s) and why?

 I have been fortunate in my career to be part of some of the most iconic and innovative projects in the Pacific Northwest like the Bertschi school built in 2011, which was one of the first fully certified Living Building in the world.  My most memorable projects were also the most challenging. From building a ski lodge at the top of Crystal Mountain (7,000’), to completing 400,000sf of demo and heavy build out for Safeco/Liberty Mutual in just twelve weeks, the projects that taught me the most were the ones that required me to stretch the normal bounds of construction in some manner.

What led to your decision to join Katerra?

Katerra’s vision and innovative ideas resonate with my personal passion of providing the best value, most efficient and safest way to build, while exceeding customer expectations. I am proud to be on the team and am looking forward to the things we can accomplish together.

What is one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?

I was a varsity cheerleading coach at Seattle Prep High School for 2 years.   With 18 teenaged-girls, it was definitely more challenging than working with professionals on a jobsite!

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