Jeswin Geevarughese on his traveling role, innovation, the team, and the culture at Mortenson
Bobbi Relopez and Justin Swierk from our talent team sat down with Jeswin Geevarughese to talk about his experience working at Mortenson. The conversation covers why he chose Mortenson (hint: it's because we're leading renewable energy work) and the innovation he's seen in the field. He talks about his traveling role, powering homes, and the Mortenson culture.
Listen to the conversation below, or scroll past it to read what Jeswin had to say.
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Jeswin Geevarughese ⟶
Electrical Manager, Solar
Bobbi Relopez ⟶
Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist
Justin Swierk ⟶
TL;DR: Jeswin joined Mortenson because we are the number one EPC in solar and renewable energy. He's seen the solar industry become safer through constant innovation and thrives on the opportunities his traveling role presents (he's lived in 9 houses in 5-years!) He touches on our culture, the diversity here, and his passion for his role. The conversation ends with Jeswin explaining why he loves his work saying"at the end of the day, I helped power 30,000 homes. That's a feeling that I mean, you can't take away."
Here's the transcript of our conversation
(Edited for clarity and brevity)
How did you end up at Mortenson? What's the story about what brought you here and finding out about us?
Geevarughese: If I'm if starting way back, I'm originally from India. I came to the States in 2013 for my graduate degree and I finished up my grad school here in Michigan. I focused on renewable power as my major. And then a minor in semiconductor processing.
Basically, all of the renewable aspect of the world which gave me a path to start looking into the solar world. And that's where I started researching a lot more on the solar industry. I was in my second year of grad school when I found out about Mortenson that they did at that time, and still is, 2015, I'm talking now.
Mortenson was the number one EPC in the solar business. And I was like, "You know what? I'm really interested in going and working for these guys because they are number one, and I don't go any lower than number one." I'd love to work for a company that is number one.
So they came to my college, Mortenson came to my college, which is Michigan Tech for recruiting. I interviewed with them, which is kind of a very funny story, as well. And eventually, I got the position with them as a field engineer.
Swierk: I want to hear that story!
Relopez: I do, too, because I have a story about Michigan Tech, too. I love that school. I think it's a great school.
Geevarughese: Yeah, I totally agree. The funny thing is that, you know, when I came to the States, I was 23 years old. I'd never seen snow in my life, and I came to Michigan Tech, then boom! 375 inches of snow the first year.
Relopez: Yeah, and cold!
Geevarughese: And cold. Yeah, for sure. The process that ended up happening was that I had three or four companies that I'd really wanted to interview with. And there was only a certain amount of time where you could be like, I think it was from noon to five. Or noon to six, that you could interview with. I exhausted my time standing in line to talk to other companies. And by the time I got to the booth of Mortenson, there was nobody there. So I tracked down, I tracked down the people that were on the recruitment crew that night. And I made every possible way to meet these people the next day.
And I did meet with Keith Kapala the following day. And basically, Keith was wrapping up in his interview, and I was like, you know, I just stepped in the door, and I said, "Hey, give me five minutes. That's all I need. I'm really passionate about solar." And I spoke with Keith it ended up being a very good conversation. And I think Keith recommended for me, for me to go to solar. However, he said, you know, "You were coming to work for me at some point."
Swierk: That's, that's awesome. That is really great.
Geevarughese: Basically, I was very adamant about getting into Mortenson. I was really adamant about that.
Relopez: I like that.
Swierk: And then you so then you start as a field engineer and then you did you just, have you worked your way out?
Geevarughese: That's correct. Yes, I did. I did start as a field engineer. And that was back in 2015 when I started off in Utah, and then I've moved up. Yes.
Relopez: So Jeswin, did you start in solar right away?
Geevarughese: I did. Yes. Yeah. Okay. Yep.
Swierk: And you've been in solar all the way through?
Geevarughese: Correct. Yes, I have been in solar since then.
Swierk: So, you've seen some major changes.
What are some of the biggest changes that you've seen in your team?
Geevarughese: At the beginning of my career with Mortenson, those projects in Utah, pretty big projects. I want to say that 2015, 2016, year for solar was EXTREMELY busy. And we built some really good projects in Utah over the years.
The way we have done things in the solar group has been drastically different. When I say that, I say it in a very good way. We have improved our processes, we have made sure that we could bring in LEAN innovation and, you know, cut down on time and costs.
Relopez: So tell us a little bit about that, about bringing in some of the equipment to help with that. Because I don't think a lot of people understand that and what you mean by that?
Geevarughese: Oh, yeah, for sure. So some of the processes in the solar industry are; basically, you have to put the cable in the ground. It's three to four feet in the ground for collection. And the process is that you open up a trench. And then you have to lay the cable in the trench. And then backfill the entire cable. So you don't see any of the cables. Everything is underground. So in the, when I started off, it was all hand pulling of these cables, one, one at a time. You're basically three feet in the trench pulling, you know, the workers are pulling the cable, laying it down, pushing. So there was a lot of human interaction and a lot of potential for safety incidents, right? And over the years we said, you know, "How can we take people out of the trenches and try and not have incidents?" And basically, we got we said, "Okay, the way to improve this is to bring in a mini-excavator and try to pull it from one end. Hook it to the attachment. Pull it from one end and minimize the people that are in the trenches. So things like that, we have developed over the years.
Relopez: I like that. What is one thing you're most excited about for your future? What does that look like? When you think about Mortenson, and solar, what do you see?
Geevarughese: The one thing I really love about working for Mortenson is that Mortenson is such a diverse company across the board, right? You're talking people, it's diverse. You're talking industries, it's diverse. You're talking, you know, cultures, it's diverse.
What I like about Mortenson in my future is that at some point I'll move to a commercial group. Currently, I am a traveler. I work for the solar group. I'm traveling.
I'm with the project for a certain duration and then we move to a different location.
At some point in my career, I would like to go back to a commercial group. Like for example, a Minneapolis, Portland, or Seattle group. Then I can move into a different aspect of construction that Mortenson offers. There are so many aspects of construction for me to explore and ask around about.
The traveling aspect obviously is a unique beast. How have you dealt with that, right? The expectations of picking up and moving based on the project. And on the flip side, how has that enabled a positive outcome in your life?
Geevarughese: That's a great question, Justin. I get that question from a lot of people. Basically, it comes down to this, I'm a traveler. I love traveling and that's why I took the job in the first place. And it is definitely challenging to move every six to eight months. It's not the easiest thing to do.
However, the thrill for you to know, or not know, where you're going to be in the next six months, or eight months, there is, I mean, I like that. I like that thrill. I like that aspect of that work. You know, over the years I've moved,
I'm currently in North Carolina. I have moved nine times in five years. I've had nine different homes in nine different states of the country. I've covered the west coast to the east coast. I've lived everywhere, in all time zones.
I speak with my American friends and they say, "You know what, we have not done that! And we've lived here more than you've been here!" Right? I brag about that quite a bit.
Swierk: So what aspects of your life then has it opened up for you?
Geevarughese: It has actually made me grow quite a bit. I understand the diversity that is across the country. How and when you need to be acting or reacting, depending on where you are at, the demographics. It has made me grow and understand the workforce and the work market. And it has given me the ability to give a better manager as I travel.
Swierk: That's pretty awesome.
Relopez: So, when you say a better manager, tell us about that, how has that helped you?
Geevarughese: So when I've moved from job site to job site, obviously I've worked under different managers. And I have picked up all the good parts from all the managers that I've worked under, right? And when you move around, you also work with your peers, which are your engineers that support you on your project.
And you can be that manager to push your engineers to be better. Maybe it's an uncomfortable spot, but you got to talk to your engineers and say, "You know what? It's going to be okay. It's going to be fine." Pushing them out of their comfort zone to be, you know, I mean, most of the travelers, they do work quite, quite long hours.
So, sometimes, you know, you see the engineers falling down on motivation to come on-site or to be on-site for so long, you know? That push is really important. And, you know, being a successful manager, I think that I do an okay job, at least I'm definitely learning for sure. That has definitely helped me in pushing my peers.
Swierk: So can you talk a little bit about the team that you work with on a daily basis? And so when you talk about engineers, and I might be asking a very naive question, right? But you obviously interact with, I don't want to say like a specific group of people on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. But, what does that team makeup look like? And in more, paint from a picture of somebody who's coming from the industrial side, or if they're coming from, I don't know, any other type of industry that they might not have been in solar. Sure. What is that team makeup look like in terms of who you rely most on?
Geevarughese: So, basically, if you look at a solar team, this is also depending on the size of the project. But, if you look at a team, there'll be a project manager. And then the entire project is divided into three sections. One is the civil group. The other one is the mechanical group. And the other one is the electrical group. I work with the electrical group of folks. So, the team has a project manager, then there's an electrical manager, basically my position. Then there's superintendents and electrical superintendents. And then there's a project engineer, and then field engineers and electrical engineers. So that's kind of the tiers that I basically interact with every day.
So, what does that day to day look like?
Geevarughese: My interaction is a lot with the entire team. I'm talking to the engineers making sure that the field, so basically the superintendent's, the assistant superintendents. They have the paperwork, they have the documentation for the crew members, the craft members that are working out in the field. They are up to speed.
>First off, they're not falling short of material. They have all the documentation that they need. And you have made the process as easy as possible for them to understand if there is any questions, we want to make sure that the engineers are going out talking to the foreman, the general foreman, the superintendent, so on so forth.
When I sit down with the superintendent, I'm looking at the labor side. I'm looking at how many people will we need on this one task and is how long is that task projected for? So basically, I'm trying to manage the money, working with the superintendent side. And then when I'm working with the project manager directly, we are thinking about how we are going to be processing change orders or important information to the owner. So if there's an interaction with the owner, that only project managers give it to them. So, you know, we can take our information from our project team and send it up the chain to the owner.
As soon as you entered the job site, you're lost, right? So I think right off the bat, the first impression is the last impression as they say, right? So we make a very good first impression. And I like that. I love that. And I keep that. I make sure that that is still the case for every single customer because, I mean, the customer would want the same thing. So I put myself in the customer's shoe and say "Hey, okay, is this gonna work? No, I don't like that." Okay, I'm gonna put the exact same expectation to my team members.
So that's what keeps me here. We have excelled. I mean, Mortenson is not just number one for the name's sake of it, right? They've done so many things. And have been number one or in that first two or three spots for a very long time for a reason. And that, you know, that's just incredible. You know, not a lot of companies can do that, you know, years and years and years in succession.
Swierk: The money aspect, right? Managing the time and the hours How much of that is your part of your job?
Geevarughese: I'm gonna say it's 50/50. So basically, managing the time, trying to understand, like, for example. Today, we got rained out. There's nobody working today. So, if we did not work today, we have to catch up for the work that is not done today, of course, and then we also have to do the work that is scheduled for tomorrow. So, we have to come up with a game plan every week. So that we have, we take care of our craft folks, who are working for us, and being on schedule to meet all of the schedules that we promised to the owner.
Swierk: I'm just making a giant leap that you do understand other types of projects. What is so different about a Mortenson solar project, in your mind. Because you have to have some understanding of what other companies are doing from a solar project perspective.
What makes you say, "this is different" and what keeps you here? What is the difference here?
Geevarughese: I do have friends across the solar industry. And when I speak with them, you know, I find out from other companies that are doing things in a different way. There's, there's a lot of processes in the industry. The biggest thing is if you walk into a job site, you will know whether that company is performing at par or not.
For example, if you walk into a Mortenson job site, you'll see that the job site is labeled. Entrances, the exits. There's office staff or an office building that you can go in. Stop by and check-in. And go.
If you come into a different job site, for example, or a different company, which I did visit one time, and I was not impressed. There were no, signals, or there were no signs of where you need to be.
So as soon as you entered the job site, you're lost, right? So I think right off the bat, the first impression is the last impression as they say, right? So we make a very good first impression.
And I like that. I love that. And I keep that. I make sure that that is still the case for every single customer because, I mean, the customer would want the same thing.
So I put myself in the customer's shoe and say "Hey, okay, is this gonna work? No, I don't like that." Okay, I'm gonna put the exact same expectation to my team members.
That's what keeps me here.
We have excelled. Mortenson is not just number one for the name's sake of it, right? They've done so many things. And have been number one or in that first two or three spots for a very long time for a reason. And that, you know, that's just incredible.
Not a lot of companies can do that, not that many years in succession.
Relopez: We always talk about, you know, we hear it all the time, our values, our culture.
What would you tell someone who is looking at Mortenson when we talk about culture? What does culture mean to you?
Geevarughese: Well, first off, Mortenson has a super, super heavy emphasis on safety. That's culture number one. As soon as anybody steps on-site, we are talking about safety. We are preaching about safety. And we are acting about safety, as well. So it's not just a talk thing. It's, you know, it's, it's giving that information, educating folks and then moving forward as safely as possible. So I think the safety culture is a big aspect of Mortenson.
And actually, it has affected my own personal life. I think twice now. I think twice, maybe four times before I do anything. I'm thinking about safety, first. I've incorporated that into my personal life.
I think the second thing I would say is diversity. We are not shy to hire anybody.
No matter the race, the gender, the cost, the creed. Whatever the case is, right? We actually have brought in people from different backgrounds. And I have understood that the more diverse our team is, the better performing that team is.
You bring in people from different areas and you start working with them and you capitalize on their strengths and, then obviously work on the weaknesses, as well. So I think the journey to culture is to bring people up. Well, first off, recruit good people. And then whoever we have, we work with each other to bring them up in their growth with the company - personal and career-wise.
Can you think of a time where Mortenson has challenged you? Where you've had walk the talk and stop work?
Geevarughese: One incident, I can think of, from maybe a couple of years ago. When we were starting the project and we didn't have all of the right drawings at the time, but we were under the fire of meeting the schedules.
We had to start a project. It was rainy. It was muggy. Folks were not getting started on time. And in a haphazard manner, the crew decided to work on this preliminary drawing.
And during the time of installation, we went out to do a quality check and found out that the dimensions that we built this particular jig, was not right. So, I had to basically, you know, speak to the foreman, the general foreman, and the superintendent and had a quality stand down.
This is not related to safety, but a quality stand down and say, "Hey, you know what? I don't think this is right." And if there is one person who thinks that is not right, then the entire team comes back and stops. You know, you go back to the drawing board, you say, "Okay, is this right or not?" So that we can reconfirm.
And basically, that's what ended up happening. The entire team came together, put their minds together, and we were off by, you know, a couple inches makes a lot of difference in the construction industry.
And, you know, we corrected it and we move forward. That was like a team effort that we need to do to start this job strong and keep it going strong.
If you were sitting across from yourself, what would you tell yourself? What would you want someone to know about coming to Mortenson?
Geevarughese: Oh, that's a scary thing. Quite honestly, I would definitely want people to know that it is fun. It's a construction site.
So I'm gonna be honest with the person that is going to be in that position. I'm going to say, "Hey, look. There's going to be bad days, right? Not all days are good. It's a construction site. There's going to be bad days. There's going to be some kind of going back, and trying to fix this, or trying to do that. It just happens on all job sites.
But, attitude matters.
If you know what your end goal is, and you're going to go for that end goal, you will survive. You will do good. And you will not just do good, you will excel in your position. So, you know, you can say, "Oh, I don't like my job." But if you come up, you wake up with a good attitude and say, "You know what? Today's a new day. Yesterday? Yeah, we did not succeed. We did not do what we needed to."
But if you come in today with a good attitude and say, "You know what? We're going to fix this. We're going to come back and do this right." I think that would be my message. Know that there are challenges, especially when you're traveling. There's a lot of talking with the owners, the engineers, and the team itself.
But the thought of you, at the end of this the six month period that you have powered 30 thousand homes. That's a feeling that I mean, you can't take away from anybody.
Is powering up all those homes what wakes you up every day to go to Mortenson?
Geevarughese: That's part of it. My passion. The bigger passion would be me working with the folks that are on-site.
Every day I get up and I know that I'm far away from my family. So this is literally my family here at Mortenson that I work with. I basically work, you know, whatever the case is 12, 13, 14-hours a day, five days a week. Six days a week.
So, when I wake up I'm not dreading saying, "Oh, man, I have to go to work." I'm saying, "You know what? I am going to work to see my family." So if I have that thought, I know that my day is going to go good.
Swierk: The people you work with are your family.
Geevarughese: And you know, the other part is also, Justin, is when I have the time, and I take a site-wide drive. I go and speak to the crew members, the actual team members who are actually in the trenches working, you know?
I feel proud of these people, and I love to interact with them. Sometimes, you know, I take time, and I just go out and have lunch with them. You know, that gives me some kind of joy.
First, I try to mingle with the folks that are actually working in the field, making our project successful. We definitely are dependent on these people.
And then the other thing is these people recognize you, not as a project manager, but as a human being. That you're coming there and talking to them. And having lunch with them. Laughing with them, you know, and then doing the work.
What does the support that you feel from your supervisors look like?
Geevarughese: There's no hand-holding on a day to day basis. I report to my project manager, right? And it's important that I stay in touch with them every single day because every day is a new day. There's something that always happens.
And my project manager, you know, he steps in and he says, "Hey, what needs help? What help do you want for me?" And I basically, I'm an honest guy, I'll tell him, "Hey, look, this is what's going to happen. We're going to lose money on this one, but we're going to try and improvise on this end and try and save over here." And he says, "Okay, no problem. I trust your judgment."
And that's what I need, right? I need that kind of support from my project manager, which I do get, right?
I'm talking not just my project manager. I'm talking to the senior leadership. And these folks, you know, when they come to the site, they're recognizing your work. They're coming in and they understand, you know, that the conditions, the tough projects that you're in. So there are challenges, but the support that we get from the management is incredible.
Relopez: It is! And it's important that they know what the challenges are on the projects. Because it's hard. There are great challenges and there is a passion for what you do, but they need to also hear the challenges that you're running into because maybe they can help solve some of those challenges. Or again, getting the equipment and more of the robotics and things like that with the innovation. And with all the LEAN work that we've been doing. So, throughout the years, what would you say, even, that you're most proud of over the last five years.
Geevarughese : I think to put it in one aspect, Bobbi, at least. I'm really proud of commissioning a solar plant in California that I worked on. That was the biggest plant that I have ever worked on, which was 328 megawatts. So that's, I mean, I'm really proud of that. That's a lot, that's a lot of power, actually. That is possibly like 75,000 homes that we powered up.
Relopez: Thank you!
Swierk: Well, thank you both. This was a blast. I really appreciate it.
Geevarughese: You, too. Thank you. Bye.
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