Ben Wilson, one of the youngest vice presidents at Suffolk Construction, attributes his ascent to his desire to constantly learn and to identify the value that each person brings to a project.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in building construction management from the University of Florida and is LEED accredited, OSHA-certified and a Florida-certified building contractor. Wilson joined Suffolk in 2015 as a project manager and was named vice president of operations for the Gulf Coast in 2018.
Wilson, 33, sees Suffolk’s “build smart” tagline as a personal mantra to use tools, technology and even his instincts to make the construction process more efficient. Suffolk’s Smart Labs are outfitted with a data wall showing performance indicators, a “huddle wall” used for lean planning, integration of 3-D, 4-D and 5-D models, virtual reality and video feeds of job sites.
He oversees more than $200 million of projects from Naples to Tampa.
In what ways do you see technology shaping and changing Suffolk?
It has definitely made us smarter about what we do and the decisions we make, and more efficient in the pace at which we make them. Having the ability to demonstrate [a challenge] virtually is incredibly valuable.
Do you feel like you’ve had any difficulty being taken seriously because of your age?
When I was working through high school and college in this business, I found that the tenured and most professional construction individuals really want to see people follow in their footsteps, absorb their knowledge they’ve spent a lifetime achieving and use it effectively. So, in my career, some of my biggest supporters have been people that were the most experienced and, frankly, older than me. I think in most cases it takes a couple of different interactions before they start to build up a level of trust, and once they have that level of trust, then what you’re able to accomplish for them is expanded greatly.
How has your age been an advantage in understanding and utilizing new forms of technology in the industry?
I think it goes without saying the younger generations are kind of born with a smartphone in their hand, which isn’t necessarily the case for me at 33 years old. I was of a generation that adopted them in our youth, but compared to some of the people that are more experienced than I am, I believe a few of those technology platforms came more naturally at an earlier point in my construction career. I would be the first to tell you that having this technology brought to someone who is very experienced means that they’re working through a re education with how you use that technology and what that benefit can possibly be because most of those professionals have seen projects constructed in a manner just fine without it.
What advice would you give a 20- or 30-something to be successful in the industry?
Reach out, ask for [opportunities] and demonstrate your proficiency in taking on challenges that aren’t necessarily written under your title. Your ability to involve yourself in higher-level tasks while making sure you’re listening first and speaking second is paramount to accelerating the career path.