KALAMAZOO — Julie Byrne was recently appointed as president of CSM Group Inc. after working at the construction management firm for 15 years.
During her time at the company, Byrne helped streamline the project start-up process by developing CSM’s pre-construction department. CSM Group is headquartered in Kalamazoo, and also has offices in Grand Rapids and Dickson, Tenn.
As one of the few women to serve in a top leadership role at a construction company, Byrne hopes to set an example for others while working to increase diversity in the industry. She also plans to grow CSM’s platform on a national scale.
Byrne recently spoke with MiBiz about her plans as she takes on the new leadership role.
What are you most excited about with this new leadership role at CSM?
There is a lot to unpack being a female leading a construction company. I’m excited about being a role model for women, not only in construction, but as a leader for women in top leadership positions of companies in general. There have been so many life changes recently — I have three young boys and am trying to raise a family with a demanding career. I want people to know it’s possible to do what you love. I want my teams to be empowered to do the same and it really starts with listening.
What are some of your goals for CSM under your leadership?
One of my goals is to strengthen the reputation of CSM on a national platform. Most people know us as a local organization, but we work nationally. We’ve got an amazing team that does incredible things every day and I don’t think we’re talking enough about them. The core of our business is our construction management arm, but we also have a technology company that creates custom software, and we provide life safety and emergency management consulting in the health care and education markets and use behavioral-based science to approach safety.
How do you hope to work more closely with communities that CSM Group serves?
Specifically with talent development. Because we’re on a national platform, we try to find talent that’s local to where we’re working instead of having all of our employees on a site from Kalamazoo or West Michigan.
How do you address the talent shortage as well as the lack of diversity in the construction industry?
We’ve had a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion since we were formed as an organization, and personally I think it starts with getting kids into the industry. We’ve done a lot with mentoring programs and have partnered with a consultant to bring those conversations front and center, so it’s a focus for every one of our team members as well.
Raising awareness among kids of the understanding of what a construction job means is really important. There is so much technology integrated into our business and I think when people consider construction as a career they don’t look at it through that lens.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected day-to-day operations for CSM Group on project sites?
Keeping everyone healthy and safe needs to be a priority, which includes maintaining social distancing. That can limit the number of workers and productivity on sites. I do see this lasting a while and we already faced a labor shortage in the industry before the pandemic. We need to find other ways to work with fewer resources, and I think it has a lot to do with leveraging technology.
How can CSM leverage technology to help combat this issue?
Things like building information management include a three-dimensional reality capture where you can fabricate piping systems and other infrastructure prior to coming on site — I see that more and more becoming the norm. There is also real-ware technology, where you can put on these glasses and walk throughout the job site. These things drive efficiency and limit the number of people on site, but you can put on a headset and take a virtual tour.
Did CSM Group shift its focus at all to certain projects or sectors of the market during the pandemic?
Fortunately for CSM, we’ve already had a strategic focus on the essential markets. Our primary markets are health care, food and beverage, and pharmaceuticals. Because we’ve had such a huge long-lasting impact in those areas, we haven’t had to do any major pivots like other organizations that had more of a commercial or retail focus.
We’ve certainly seen a lot more competition in those markets where we haven’t seen that in the past. I think people are recognizing those opportunities more.
As an organization we had a lot of backlog for projects that were already planned or in construction, so I feel that really helped us through the pandemic. The challenge the industry is facing as a whole is the hesitation on spending and the uncertainty of where the economy is going. A big piece is going to be client confidence in where the market is going and how quickly things rebound. The vaccine will play a huge role in that based on its effectiveness.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify a quote about CSM Group’s life safety and emergency management consulting in the health care and education markets.
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