TRANSCRIPT: Building hyperscale data centers and what it means for career growth - with Joe Proulx

Full transcript

Justin Swierk  00:04

Hey, this is Meet Mortenson. Conversations with team members building their careers with us. We're talking to the people who are innovating our industry, who are improving to the built world. And that's from the field to the office. These conversations are geared towards giving you an inside look into how the people Mortenson approach a problem, how they think about the type of work that they do the nitty-gritty of their roles. We're talking about what motivates them and how we accomplish things. We want to give you as much detail into our culture and what it's like to work here as we possibly can. It's also fun to showcase all these incredible people that we have working here at Mortenson. So let's get into it. Enjoy the conversation.


Justin Swierk  00:50

Alright! I'm Justin Swierk. Today we've got Joe Proulx and Bill Peterman. And I'll let them introduce themselves. 


Bill Peterman  00:57

This is Bill Peterman, Executive Recruiter for Mortenson.  


Joe Proulx  01:00

This is Joe Proulx, Director of Operations for our data center group. 


Bill Peterman  01:05

Joe, why don't you tell us a little bit about the data center group. 


Joe Proulx  01:09

Pretty exciting time for Mortenson and the data center group. The group formed here in 2020. We currently have over 75 salaried team members that are working multiple jobs and campuses. Right now, we've got several hyperscale customers that we are working with, and for, building some mega projects within the data center market. One of those hyper scale customers currently is Facebook. And we're currently in two locations with them working closely on building 70 megawatt data centers for their capacity and needs. There's a lot of opportunity on the MEP front, a lot of leadership roles. And obviously, on these large mega scale projects, we need the best talent to help deliver an exceptional experience for our customers. 


Bill Peterman  02:02

Will we pursue other types of data centers versus the hyperscale data centers like colos or...? 


Joe Proulx  02:11

I would say right now, our business strategy focuses around our hyperscale customers just based on the demand and the focus to make sure that we're delivering an exceptional experience for them delivering top talent in teams that can help execute these types of jobs. That's not to say that in the future, colos aren't something that we would pursue or look at. But right now, our focus tends to be on a couple major customers that help both the company build our data center group, but also make sure that we're focusing the right time, attention and resources to deliver the results that we need and the experience that we want for our customers. 


Bill Peterman  02:51

Are there certain regions or territories that we're going to be pursuing data centers east, midwest, west? 


Joe Proulx  02:59

I would say right now, our data center locations revolve around the Midwest and southwest regions primarily with two hyperscale customers. And that's not to say in the future that that couldn't expand and grow. But the current pipeline that we do have for the next handful of years revolves around the Midwest and southwest regions for us and for our group. 


Bill Peterman  03:24

Are any of our other industry-focused groups helping out on the project sites like power and civil? 


Joe Proulx  03:31

So, I would say one thing that has been a really good thing for Mortenson, as well, is that our customers that are building these data centers have needs beyond just the general contractor delivering the vertical build. We also have the ability to cross collaborate with our our internal groups, whether it's power or civil to help support whether it's the substation build that we have on the campus, whether it's doing the civil work on the project site, all opportunities that help not only for the company, but also allow us to cross collaborate multiple different groups within Mortenson itself.  


Bill Peterman  04:12

And Joe, when looking at an org chart, it really wouldn't be much different than an org chart for a typical commercial build out. You'll still have your project managers, your building, project managers, superintendents, project engineers, but we'll have a heavy focus on MEP and commissioning.  


Joe Proulx  04:35

Yeah, and these mega projects we have several component teams. So, there's a there's a safety team, a quality team, a project controls team dealing with cost and schedule. That's not to say that that is their sole responsibility. They're more of a support mechanism. But, yeah, we we have a breakdown of a civil, structure, architectural team that focuses on those scopes of work. And you know, those teams consist of multiple project managers and engineers. The bulk of the work in the team revolves around the mechanical, electrical plumbing scopes of work. And that's because a bulk of the work that we have within these builds revolves around those scopes. 


Joe Proulx  05:15

I mean, the data centers that we're currently building at a hyperscale, you know, range from 500,000 to a million gross square feet. So, they're very large, complex buildings. And to consider that 60% of the work that's going into the build is revolving around the MEP systems indicates the size of the team, the effort and focus that revolves around those scopes specifically. Which is exciting for team members that want interface and exposure to large electrical systems, large mechanical systems. Systems that cross collaborate, and interface with each other, and systems that ultimately are, are complex in nature that have a technical piece to it that you might not get in a typical commercial build. 


Justin Swierk  06:03

What are the parts of the data center work that is that is different? 


Joe Proulx  06:07

I would say that that a data center build is different than a lot of your typical projects being that it's very heavy mechanical, electrical, plumbing focused, very tactical in nature. Our customers are very well versed in their builds and their expectations. There is a lot of scrutiny and heightened focus revolving around the quality process and delivering non-deficient work for the customer within these mission critical facilities. Obviously, they need to operate and stay consistent within their operations. I would say that a data center holistically is a mega-job. There is a large team that's involved with it. So, there's a lot of opportunity regarding cross collaboration within team members. There's a strong focus on communication and engagement both internally, but also externally with the customer base. These builds are very collaborative builds with the customer being right on site with us and having subject matter experts that helps support both the build as well as the effort for the team. 


Justin Swierk  07:10

Those growth opportunities, what do those look like and what are those in your mind that that it presents to people? 


Joe Proulx  07:22

I would say on these on these large mega scale projects, the staff and size of the team ranges from 40 to 60 people per build. Ranging from multiple different disciplines. And that allows a lot of opportunity both on a single job, but as we continue to grow and advance on a campus on multiple builds there is a need to fulfill additional positions and roles as the campus progresses. Which provides opportunities for team members that are currently on a campus to get to that next level. Whether it's an engineer to an APM, an APM, to a project manager, or into a leadership role. And typically what we're looking for are high performing team members that are doing a good job on our projects. And typically we're looking for those team members to stretch and advance into those positions, which allows for growth and advancement. But ,with multiple builds on a campus and the longevity of a campus and the multiple opportunities and growth on the org chart that could advance as the projects and campus progresses, I think provides an opportunity for team members to grow and advance in their roles. And I would also say it also allows for some cross collaboration. So if you're doing a specific scope on a specific team, that's not to say that you can't do a different scope and a different team as you progress through the campus. 


Joe Proulx  08:46

And in reality with such big teams that we do have, the leadership of the group and of the campus are typically looking to put people that are high performing in those stretch roles and give them the opportunity to fulfill the org chart as the campus grows. And I think that's been a focus to promote within to have our team members grow in advance and stretch them into roles as as they continue to do a good job.  


Joe Proulx  09:14

I think for me within the data center group, right now, the amount of opportunity that there is both on a project level, a campus level, a program level. And when I say program, we have a program team for our hyperscale customers that help support multiple builds in campuses. Or from a group level, there's just a ton of opportunity as the group is still in its infancy and forming and storming. 


Joe Proulx  09:43

Once we continue to build these projects on these campuses, the amount of open positions that we need to fulfill is very strategic on who we put in those roles. And a lot of times the first consideration for team members to get into those roles, is how do we grow in advance the team members we have on our current jobs and campuses and afford them those opportunities if they continue to do a good job. 


Joe Proulx  10:10

And I think we've seen a lot of our team members out here in Utah, specifically, where our data center group, more or less started, have a lot of opportunities to grow in advance from certain roles or component teams. And I think that a lot of times people can say it, but until they see it. They may not believe it. And I think there's a testament to a lot of team members out here that have ridden the data center wave, have taken the opportunity, and have seen growth and advancement, and has been a really good experience for them.  


Bill Peterman  10:44

What are we doing out there that's innovative or that may be different?


Joe Proulx  10:48

 There's definitely growth and advancement opportunities. There's stability. Once again, while we're a traveling group, there is still that ability to have stability on getting on a site and being here for a while. So for instance, in Utah, specifically, you know, there is a long range vision of having more than a couple builds out here, which lends itself to having five 810 years worth of work. So for team members that want to have stability, this group and market provides that to them. 


Joe Proulx  11:19

You know, I think one of you know, me coming to the data center group, the unique thing about not being in trailers and being in an office building together an office building that has a workout room and a basketball court in the back, a game room, let's shuffleboard and ping pong. You know, while those things are great amenities, and available to our team members, it just shows the dedication and importance of that supervisory experience for our team members. And being that our team members are the most important thing we've got to deliver these projects it's a nice compliment for both a value for Mortenson, but also our customers. 


Joe Proulx  11:54

I mean, I think that's unique in itself. I think the growth and advancement opportunities are unique. I think the customers that we're working with, like Facebook is obviously public knowledge for us, Bill. So, you know, working with a Facebook as a hyperscale customer and client that has only increasing demands as a positive for stability of a group, but also growth and advancement opportunities knowing that the likelihood of Facebook's business slowing down is very unlikely. And their capacities are only growing. 


Joe Proulx  12:28

I would say that if there's any wave that you want to ride, this would be the wave to ride. The data center needs and demand and capacity is only going to increase as the market of technology and innovation continues to grow. And this is definitely a wave worth riding if you're willing to be part of large mega teams and large mega jobs, have a willingness to learn, grow and advance, and have the ability to engage in MEP systems. A customer that's very collaborative. And a large team that ends up becoming more or less a family on the sites, which is super important for just the overall experience. 


Bill Peterman  13:11

Joe, thanks for your time today. I certainly enjoyed listening to your story and learning more about the data center group.  


Justin Swierk  13:17

Yeah, this is great. This will be super helpful.  


Joe Proulx  13:20

I appreciate you both. A lot of good questions. Really exciting time for the data center group and looking forward to future discussions.


Justin Swierk  13:34

That's it. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. Please reach out to us if you have any questions, but we really hope you enjoyed this episode of Meet Mortenson. Have a great day.