Behind the Build: Interview with Doug Moore, President, McKinstry

Interview with Doug Moore, President, McKinstry

In today’s fast-paced job market, an average person stays with one employer for only 4.6 years, according to an Economic News Release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Doug Moore remains an extreme outlier to this statistical average. As the President of Seattle-based specialty contractor, McKinstry, he has been with the company nearly tenfold the average – 42 years to be exact. Nevertheless, his desire to continually learn, as well as teach others, has helped McKinstry earn its rank as an ENR Top 600 Specialty Contractor. 

As someone who has specialized in learning all about technology and how he can bring it into the design-build process, he has many insights to offer. Today, he serves as President at McKinstry, and we recently had the opportunity to speak to him about his journey through construction and technology. Below, you’ll find his thoughts on technology, the direction the industry is headed in, and more.

Why did you decide to get into the construction industry?

It was an accident! Originally, I was from a family of teachers, so I always thought I would be a teacher. When I was in junior high, I thought, “Well, I’ll be a shop teacher so I can learn woodworking.” I headed off to university thinking instead that I would get into engineering. It was there that I became interested in mechanical engineering.

I grew up in an agricultural community where there were not a lot of internships. However, I was able to get a three-week position at a mechanical contractor’s office as a rookie estimator. From there, I was able to stay on for the summer, and ended up forming a relationship with the owner, who later introduced me to the owners of McKinstry. McKinstry gave me an internship in my junior year and that’s how I ended up accidentally working in Mechanical Contracting while in school for the next two years.

After college, I got a lot of job offers because of this work and my experience in contracting. But I stayed on at McKinstry, and I never left.

Let’s talk about your 42 years at McKinstry. How did you rise through the ranks?

I started as part of the engineering group, but after three months, McKinstry received their biggest contract to date, which was the Olympic Hotel in Seattle. They asked me to go onsite for three months to do engineering coordination. I ended up staying on this project for two years and becoming the project coordinator—sort of a rookie project manager.

From there, I transitioned to the office and worked on “quick turn” projects, or what we now call “special projects.” These projects were a maximum of 100 days or $100,000, and I became a project manager and design engineer for those jobs for the next couple of years. I then transitioned to selling quick turn projects for another year.

After this point, I went back to the engineering group. As I was keeping up with design management I started moving upstream to further integrate engineering with sales and the preconstruction work on projects. Later, I started moving downstream to influence the manufacturing drawings and fabrication, and then got the opportunity to be involved with McKinstry’s full delivery. In the late 90’s we had been discussing adding an energy services offering and after a couple of years preparation I had the opportunity to get this team lauched. So after 20 years, I found myself involved with our entire operation and ultimately, I became President.

How does McKinstry think about diversifying into new markets?

McKinstry was co-founded in 1960 by George Allen, who was a mechanical engineer. At that time, no engineer worked for a contractor—they went to companies like Boeing or consulting engineers.

From day one, McKinstry was destined to be different.

“Taking responsibility” for a larger role in delivering projects is what really helped us diversify into new offerings. McKinstry started in 1960 with plumbing and piping, and then added sheet metal in the late 60’s and service in the mid-70s. I was on our first fire protection project in 1980, and shortly after we added temperature controls, and then we were the first in our region to add commissioning. And then ultimately in the late 90s and early 2000s, we became a data center operator, facility manager, energy services company and added electrical. We’ve started a couple of innovation centers, which are incubators for startups, one of which is in Seattle and the other in Spokane. This has been a journey of taking on more responsibility and a broader span of control by adding lines of business and integrating the office and field delivery under one roof.

How does McKinstry successfully create a culture of learning and development?

People who are attracted to McKinstry are those who have innate curiosity about working differently and working smarter. We want to hear people’s ideas, and our staff ultimately get to be team leaders because they’re curious and willing to take the risk to try new ideas. We only locate geographically where we see a need and only when we find great people. It takes a trifecta of expertise, a market need, and then certainly the right people. Otherwise there's no point.

Tell us about the strategic partnerships you've formed recently with technology startups.

I’ve always liked to study the potential efficiency gains across the complete design/build/operate delivery. McKinstry is one of the best places to study this because we have so many different lines of business, trades and such awesome and knowledgeable staff. I got the “tech bug” a few years ago as I started to research how we will likely perform design/build/operate work in the future.

Every aspect of our future involves tech.

Companies in the built environment never used to talk much about tech, until a decade ago, when little by little, I started to see more tech at industry conferences. So I started looking at how technology could accelerate our ability to change our processes. 

This is how I also started meeting startups. We started working with a few of these tech startups and formed a few strategic partnerships.

Would you mind sharing with us how you are actively giving back to the industry and community?

One area I’ve gravitated toward are university advisory boards, because of my interest in engineering, business or innovation and entrepreneurship. I like participating with universities because I learn so much hearing about issues from an academic perspective. Another area I enjoy is working with entrepreneurs. I’m an advisor for half a dozen startups in the Puget Sound region. 

Often people just need encouragement. They’re trying something new and hard, especially in this COVID environment. Mostly, I enjoy spending time with people that are solving hard problems and trying to invent the future.

Can you walk me through McKinstry’s digital journey with Autodesk tools?

Autodesk is a great partner because your view of the future of work matches up well with our company’s vision for the future. We are similar in that regard and we like aligning with technology partners for the long game. 

Equally important is watching where our technology partners are going with their products. We learn a lot by staying close to Autodesk and where your products and solutions are heading in the future. For instance, a building model is becoming the centerpiece of a building’s journey through design, manufacturing, construction and operation. The model is digitally connected to the entire supply chain needed to deliver and operate the building. With cloud-enabled and secure model and project data, digital twins are rapidly become a reality which is the gateway to enormous efficiency gains across the supply chain. We really like that Autodesk has prioritized data, the cloud, and a model-centric view of design, construction and building operation. 

Do you have any advice for the next generation of men and women thinking about joining the industry?

If you put ten resumes on my desk, whatever the major, I used to say that the first one I would interview is the candidate that had an entrepreneurship minor. That’s because every business needs people who have the entrepreneurship and innovation initiative to improve the way they work. They're not actually hiring the next generation for the way they work now. They're hiring young people to help them continually reinvent the business. 

In the last few years I’ve added a second differentiating skill. Everyone needs to learn to code! All businesses are starting the process to “codify” their workflow. The design engineers, project managers, installation technicians, etc. that know how to code will be highly sought after and always have a job.

Alyssa Jaber

As Manager of Customer Marketing at Autodesk, Alyssa Jaber has been partnering with Autodesk customers in the construction space for 5+ years to build their brands and powerfully tell their stories. Alyssa is a human-first leader who supports a team of talented individuals who always put the customer experience first.