Women in Construction Week 2019: Veronika Bendl on Los Angeles Trends, Adaptive Re-use Shaping Cities, and How to Adjust to Ever-Changing Work

What’s your day-to-day like at Swinerton?

In my role as Business Development Manager, I oversee marketing for our Orange County & Los Angeles group in addition to business development for the special projects market. That includes a lot of different things, including interiors, tenant improvements, entertainment clients, corporate accounts, and seismic retrofits.

They’re all unique markets, so the common factor is that they require specialty teams with specific skillsets, which is really what makes my job unique.

Technically, I’m in a sales role, but I act more as a conduit between our clients, our project teams, and our partners. I have to connect leads, contacts, architects, design teams, structural engineers, and our internal teams not just in Southern California but nationally as well, since we have so many national corporate partners. That’s been the busiest part of the job lately, with clients continuously moving and expanding, Swinerton is carrying our leads globally more than ever.

How did you get your start in the construction industry?

My career experience is kind of a hybrid of marketing experience and of construction experience.

I started working in Los Angeles for a few different media companies, Universal Music, NBC Universal, and Fox for a while, but the entertainment business hit some hard times in the early 2000s and I was left looking for a new job. I had a friend who worked in construction, so I worked my way into a marketing coordinator role, then eventually I was able to get into the field and become a project engineer. I really enjoyed the day-to-day side of construction because it was always different, and it was an exciting challenge to me.

Eventually, I worked with someone who was a superintendent at Swinerton, and the Los Angeles office was looking for someone to be a hybrid marketing and field coordinator. When I joined the company, my first title was global accounts coordinator, and there were only two of us in the marketing department. I honestly did a little bit of everything. From proposals to estimating and bidding, a little bit of sales, and I had the niche for going out in the field because of my time as a project engineer. Since then, my work has continued to evolve and grow, and now there are eight of us here in the OCLA Marketing team, and I’ve been here for eight years and I’m still loving it.

What trends are you noticing in the LA market?

The continuing rise of co-working spaces is the biggest trend, with a lot of companies emerging in that space right now.

It’s really exciting to watch because it allows companies that are growing quickly to be completely global prior to their expansion into one specific headquarters. You can build and establish yourself much more quickly and then can really be detailed when it comes time to pick a right headquarters or a location.

That allows them to move and be agile, find where they can get the best square footage for their buck, and help to guide their growth.

For example, we just won a project a few days ago for a Chinese internet technology company that has chosen to build their first US headquarters in Culver City. They’ve had their eye on where to build for a few years, and with all the buzz in the area thanks to Culver Studios, they settled on that location.

What’s exciting right now in the LA market?

There’s a lot of exciting work. Everyone seems to agree that in the big picture, the level of work in LA will be consistent or even grow in by five percent or more over the next few years.

I think that adaptive reuse is really spectacular right now because there are classic buildings from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s that are getting the right attention and respect and being transformed into functioning and inspiring creative spaces. I really like seeing downtown LA getting the respect for its historic component, which adds so much to the visual story of the city.

There’s a big push as well into hospitality in LA with the city preparing for the Olympics and World Cup, which has helped be a huge driver for renovation for places that have been neglected over the last two decades.

The Orange County market is a little different, where the big trends are building sports and entertainment facilities, but there’s also a huge industrial wave, including big box and warehouse repurposing projects for the cannabis industry.

There’s just so much happening in LA, and the trends are completely interconnected no matter what industry you’re in. So bearing anything crazy happening, there’s a lot to be optimistic about.

What are the most exciting projects that the Special Projects team is working on?

One of my favorite projects that we’re currently working on is at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where we’re upgrading the Pavilion for Japanese Art. It’s a truly unique space, and it’s home to many unique and delicate works of art. It’s a complex and interesting project.

We have also been doing a lot of interesting work with Westfield, not only in retail spaces but in adaptive reuse of former retail spaces. They have a lot of really interesting and creative projects, like a renovation of an entire mall in Valencia to be office and co-working space.

There’s also a cool medical office project that we’re working on for UCLA, where they’re pushing their medical facilities into expand into new or current shopping malls, which I think is great. UCLA is really forward-thinking in that aspect, and it will make life easier for so many people if they can see a doctor and run some errands in the same trip.

Our work in aviation has been really great lately as well. We just won a gold award for best hospitality project of the year for our work at the new United Polaris Lounge at LAX. That was a great high-end project that really let us showcase what makes our Swinerton teams in OCLA special – it covered everything from our aviation teams that have worked on dozens of projects at LAX to our self-perform teams that installed the high-end finishes.

Our course, our work in hospitality and retail is still busy, but what I love is that we’re busy in so many exciting markets right now.

How do you and the special projects team approach your work on a daily basis?

I’d say the breakdown of work for our special projects team is about 35 percent for our corporate MSA clients, around 40 percent on adaptive reuse and seismic retrofitting jobs, and the rest on other tenant improvement projects.

Almost every project that we work on is very quick, so we have to approach our work by continuously looking for new opportunities. That pace keeps us a little nervous, which is a positive because everybody is responsible for looking for what’s around the next curve.

I get nervous at least once every few months when I start thinking about how quickly things change. (Laughs) It’s a temporary madness. So far, we have been very fortunate that when a temporary slowdown has happened, our team has been able to re-orient and find what’s next for us, so we’ve always been able to stay on the go.

I believe that you can’t get too comfortable working in these markets. I’ve seen a lot of companies get into hardships because of the wrong attitude, where all it took was a few people getting cocky at the wrong time. It’s better to be a little paranoid—with a purpose.

What do you like about working at Swinerton?

In a nutshell, I like that my role is ever-changing, and that we have the free reign of pursuing different projects. We don’t limit ourselves. We’re not afraid to work on different projects, and I’ve seen firsthand a continuous growth and expansion of our portfolio.

Our team’s culture is that we have definitely identified our differentiators. They’re not just words, because we’ve established the teams to support that too—we can walk the talk. Over the years, Swinerton has placed teams and team leaders on the right places with the right projects, and when you combine that with the connectivity being a nationwide builder, our cohesion of leads has really helped identify the connectivity between different offices, leading to more successful projects.

Also, I really like the team I work with. When I started there were ten of us in OCLA Special Projects, but now there are more than 75 people here. We’ve grown so much that we’re justifiably our own division, but it’s a lively, fun, and engaged group of people to work with every day.

I love the culture. It’s an open-minded, employee-driven culture, and I firmly believe that I’ve been continuously provided opportunities which I wouldn’t have been provided with other establishments.

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