Messer COO: “Be really good at your job”
Steve Bestard, the new COO of Cincinnati-based contractor Messer Construction, has a wealth of experience to draw on.
After graduating from Purdue University in 1991, Bestard began working at Messer’s Cincinnati headquarters, before moving to the Indianapolis office in 2006. Now a 30-year veteran of the company, he was recently promoted to COO after decades of work. in the Midwest. He replaces Mark Luegering, who served as COO from 2018 to 2022.
As COO, Bestard will oversee the company’s 10 regional offices in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina from the Cincinnati headquarters.
Bestard talks here about his early days at Messer, the projects he is proud of and the challenges he overcame.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: What does the construction market look like in the Midwest these days?
STEVE BEARD: The construction market in the tri-state area, when you think of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and all of our regional offices, we have 10 regional offices in the Midwest and Southeast, and the markets are still quite strong right now.
It will always be a little difficult to understand where the economy is going and to make sure that we are paying very close attention to what could happen in the event of a recession or a slowdown, but currently things are still solid. We’re battling the same challenges that the market gives us, which are always supply chain issues and labor shortages and that sort of thing, but we’re handling it pretty well right now.
How was the process to become COO at Messer?
We do a very good job of succession planning. And we have a very deep bench of leaders, I think some of the best in the industry. So it makes getting into the role a lot easier.
I’ve been with Messer for 30 years, my whole career. I am deeply rooted in the culture and committed to realizing the vision, mission and values. We are an employee-owned company, so you are very close to what is happening in the organization throughout your career. You have access to a lot more information than you would with maybe a sole proprietor, and so I think that prepared me well, and I’m looking forward to it.
What are the biggest hurdles you and Messer had to overcome in the tri-state area?
If you talk about what’s happening in the industry right now, the challenges that 2008-2009 brought, where it’s a big downturn, and where we are today, where the supply chain and the Labor shortages continue to persist. Low unemployment is a great thing for our communities.
But I really think the industry has changed with a lot of innovation in the way we work. We work in a safer way, with better quality, with better cost control. We always see ourselves as a leading company and at the forefront of innovation, whether in technology or in the way of carrying out projects.
And I see that more and more contracting authorities are looking for innovation in their projects, particularly around delivery methods.
Due to today’s market challenges like rapid inflation, supply chain issues and a very tight labor market, owners are looking for contractors to provide innovative ways to achieve more reliable results. This obviously includes cost and time, but also safety and quality.
Owners bring in contractors earlier in the process to allow us to be creative about securing long-term items with more direct purchases, monitor day-to-day cost escalation for more accurate budgets and to secure the appropriate workforce for the project. All of these things also help the contractor to better control the safety and quality of a project.
Market conditions are also pushing contractors to explore the use of higher levels of technology like AI to help predict better outcomes in safety, quality, and schedules. I believe that difficult circumstances push us to improve in what we do.
What buildings are you most proud of?
Our market segments include higher education, healthcare, science and technology, industry, federal government and the military. One of the ones I’m most proud of is a recent project we did for Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. These are the kinds of projects our people really enjoy working on because they know how much it will help communities.
There are several other projects, but I think it’s those projects that connect you to the community and [let you feel] that you are helping people that I and other members of our organization really appreciate.
What do you tell young people in your company to pursue a career in the industry?
I would tell them that our industry is hard work. There are some of the best people they can mentor in our industry, and they should stick with those who can help them. And always look for growth opportunities. I’ve been here at Messer for 30 years, and I get asked this question all the time: “Why have you been here for 30 years?
I’ve been here 30 years because we’ve had great, consistent leadership that has always provided growth opportunities for everyone in the company. I was someone who was ready to take advantage of these growth opportunities. That’s what I would tell somebody, and I would tell them to be really good at their job, and then people will recognize that and they’ll keep growing in the organization.