Swinerton In the News
San Francisco: November 09, 2018
CEO of construction giant Swinerton guides company so it's ready for the next downturn
Swinerton CEO Jeff Hoopes always bounds fearlessly to the leading edge to see what’s possible, but he assesses those possibilities with his team in mind.
As head of one of the largest commercial building companies in the country, he’s led the charge in diversifying Swinerton’s portfolio from its roots in construction to other areas such as designing, building, managing and maintaining solar power plants. He sees it as one way to make sure he’s delivering solid returns for the 100-percent employee-owned company; by diversifying into energy, Hoopes hopes to lessen the effect of real estate cycles on Swinerton.
Hoopes feels more accountable to an employee-owned company than a publicly traded or venture capital-backed company, he said. Those companies are spending other people’s money to build their business.
“I have to make money for my employees every day,” he said. “I don’t have anyone else backing us, so there’s a lot of pressure to make sure we make money every day of the week.”
HQ: San Francisco
2017 revenue: $3.55 billion
What it does: Construction company
Recent business highlight: Swinerton rebranded itself this year to mark its 130 years in business and to bring all of the company’s branches, such as building, consulting and renewable energy, under one umbrella name.
Management style: Hoopes has been diversifying Swinerton’s portfolio to ensure stability for the company and its employees. “I don’t want to ride the real estate curve up and down,” he said. That was shaped by going through four recessions. It’s a painful process to lay people off in times like those, he said. Hoopes wants to diversify the business enough to not be so heavily affected by a downturn in any one sector.
Some 85 cents of every dollar at Swinerton stays with employees, he said. He knows the power of that wealth-building mechanism firsthand.
“I came here with nothing out of school, broke,” Hoopes said, “and I built my wealth.”
He joined Swinerton in 1984 with a fresh M.B.A. and a background in civil engineering and construction. It was the start of a more than 30-year career with the company, whose 2,000 employee owners elected him as CEO in 2013.
His eye toward the future has helped Swinerton evolve even in the construction business, where it can be hard to change. It can be challenging to get people to think creatively and look at new tech and new ways of doing business, he said.
His approach seems to be working. Swinerton’s renewable energy business looks set to have “stellar years” in 2019 and 2020, Hoopes said, which should offset any slowdown in commercial building.
Hoopes is on the boards of the Bay Area Council and Habitat for Humanity of Greater San Francisco. He’s also involved with fundraising for the Boy Scouts of America.
He’s also eyeing opportunities to change existing business elements such as the supply chain that Swinerton uses, by allowing it to go directly to factories for materials instead of buying goods through a broker, for example. That could create more efficiencies and cost savings for the company.
Hoopes said he sees his job as continually building Swinerton and giving it a great foundation to move forward on so it can continue to support its employees.
“People realize you put your employees and their families first,” he said. The company’s turnover is less than 8 percent, Hoopes said, and it is less than 4 percent among shareholders on an annual basis.
“I want to be the guy that helped them build their wealth and take care of their families,” Hoopes said. “That’s it. I don’t need anything beyond that.”
Hoopes walked into a Swinerton building off the street in 1984 after seeing one of their signs on a high-rise tower under construction. Three hours later, he walked out with a job. He’s been with the company ever since.
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