Sheldon Lincoln on switching from industrial to solar, mentorship, what drives him, and building bonds in the field
Electrical superintendent Sheldon Lincoln from our solar team talks with Bobbi Relopez and Justin Swierk from our talent team about how he knew he made the right choice coming here. The conversation covers how Sheldon found out about Mortenson, his first impressions of us, and the mentorship he receives - and gives - working on the solar team. Sheldon comes from heavy industrial so he covers what it was like switching and the differences he experiences that make it easier for him to do his job well.
Listen to the conversation below, or scroll past it to read what Sheldon had to say.
Want to work on Sheldon's team? The solar team is hiring.
TL;DR: Sheldon's first project had him driving 8-hours with another superintendent which obviously ended up being a crash course in team-building. He comes from the heavy industrial side of construction, has an electrical engineering degree, and is passionate about passing along knowledge just like his mentors did for him as he came through the trades. The conversation wraps up with Sheldon talking about how his experience with Ann Ayres, Bobbi Relopez, and the rest of the solar team solidified his decision to join Mortenson.
Here are the highlights from our conversation
(Edited for brevity and clarity)
Hi, Sheldon! We heard you spent 8-hours in a truck on your first project. We need to ask you about that story. Is that why the project was so successful?
Sheldon Lincoln: Grazing Yak! That was a great project. It was me and the other superintendent at the time was Dave Tomlin. When we first got together, we didn't know each other from Adam and Eve, right? So, here I am, just coming on board, and this was my first project with Mortenson. Dave had been at Mortenson for a few years and he didn't know me.
And one of the things that really lined Dave and me up immediately was that we had to go down to Childress, Texas, for a project overview. It was a 4-hour drive each-way. We were stuck in the car with each other. In that situation, you have no choice but to like each other! We got to talking and sharing stories and it helped ease the vibe a bit. Things flowed from there. That was our crash course in team building.
You start with a base level of trust. But you really have to earn it. Learn it, too. Every superintendent wants to run the project their way. That's just the nature of the beast. But, when all of the superintendents get together and start talking. And understanding each other. Projects can go smoothly from there.
We built a level of respect for each other. And on the project, we communicated the whole time. Maybe things Dave wanted to do his way and there were things I wanted to be done my way. But at the end of the day, we compromised. We said, "This is what we can do to help this side out and this is what we can do to help your side out."
You came from heavy industrial before joining our solar team. What was changing industries like for you?
Sheldon Lincoln: It was different. Solar compared to heavy industrial is night and day. It's nowhere as complex as where I come from. The transition over was easy, but hard.
So, within the industrial side of it, you have most people that have been through an apprenticeship program. They are journeyman, you know? They're going through a program. They have the experience, in a sense, before they come to the job site. Of wiring up stuff, doing terminations, they know the cable sizes, and they understand the flow of it.
Versus solar, you have individuals who are willing to learn it. You got to teach them some of the basics from the electrical perspective so they can understand exactly why they're doing something as opposed to just doing it because I say do it. It's much more of a teaching process on the solar side.
And actually some of the teaching I'm doing, some of these people have never had anyone take time to sit down and show them the process of why they're completing a task. So I do. It feels like I'm giving back what was given to me from my superintendent's as I came up through the trades and going through the process. It's just passing along the knowledge to them. It's not supposed to stay with me, that's for them to have and it makes my job easier.
It was a change in the environment I came from versus where I'm at now. I've grown more here at dealing with individuals in the field. The caliber of work is different. So, I have to learn and mold myself to work with individuals here, and at the same time, I had mentors that were in the company already. It was a host of people. Even individuals who are not in the field helped me grow and get acclimated to the Mortenson way.
Sheldon Lincoln: People power. I used to fend for myself and hiring a bunch of folks that I didn't know anything about. But with Mortenson, we have what's called "travelers" who are team members who, if available, are sent to me to help me get out of a bind. Or help me get ahead of a certain area that I need help. That is a big differentiator for me because normally, you're out on an island by yourself.
You still have your challenges with every individual because there are so many personalities, it's a given. I don't care what business you're in. You have to learn the personalities of the individuals that come in and do the work. But once you everyone understands each other. You make a bond with the team in the field.
And when you have a strong support team behind you, meaning your general foremen, craft, and every other individual who makes up your team, it works out well. Everyone's willing to learn each site's individual layout and how it's being done. That's the type of culture across the company.
What's the most rewarding thing that keeps you engaged in your role as an electrical superintendent at Mortenson?
Sheldon Lincoln: Dealing with the folks, talking to them. Some of the teaching you're doing, some individuals have never had someone sit down with them and explain to them the process of why they are doing something a certain way. It's just giving it to them, let me move to the knowledge with me. That's for them to have, it makes my job easier. It feels like I'm giving back what was given to me from my superintendents as I came up through the trades.
My last project, for example. I was mentoring general foreman's that were on their first-ever electrical project. And I'm teaching them the civil side of electrical. You know, the team that digs all of my trenches. I'm pointing them in the right direction. I love teaching things that I learned from my past industrial experience that ends up helping them succeed and become better.
Seeing those individuals do such a great job on their first project as a general foreman is the best. And knowing I was the electrical superintendent that helped set them up for success makes it that much better.
Whatever you're doing, it's working for your high-performing team. Who would you say you rely on the most in your role here?
Sheldon Lincoln: It would be the engineers, my general foreman, and the electrical manager. In my past life, I was an electrical engineer. They hold a whole lot of information inside their heads that can help me out. So, I know to talk to them.
Once I get the information, I analyze it and read through my drawings and all of the electrical notes. Then the general foreman sits down with me. And if that ball rolls pretty well up there, then we just push it downhill and it will keep growing. It's a snowball effect. The electrical manager helps me out a lot, too. They're making sure I stay on path with the commissioning side of things bringing it online. And they help me iron out things, too.
You have an electrical engineering degree from South Carolina State University. How important is it that the crews you work with understand the drawings they're working from?
Sheldon Lincoln: The electrical drawings are very important. That's how the project is built. It's a map for you, they're the blueprints. It's telling you what's got to be done, how it's done, and why it was engineered and designed that way.
And you just have to implement it. So I stress it to everyone a lot. We're asking them, "Please read the drawings, read your specs, it's put in that way for a reason."
If you have questions, ask them. We'll go answering them. But if you don't know how to read a drawing or how to implement it, ask questions. We are more than willing to break it down. And like I say, if the teams ask a million questions, we will nicely give them an answer a million times. It's to make sure that electrical is going in the right way.
It can be a challenge at times. But once a team member understands it, and you know that they understand it, and they do it. It makes my job easier. I give them what they need to know so they can roll on their task and understand w
Tell us about your Mortenson story. We know it starts with Ann Ayres reaching out to you about the Mortenson solar team. What was going through your head?
Sheldon Lincoln: When Ayres gave me a call and mentioned Mortenson to me, I had never heard of them. That was already one of those, not a flag, but I didn't know who was calling me. I ignored it the first time around, but Ayres didn't give up on me. She gave me a callback and started explaining Mortenson to me.
And then she sends me the video from David Mortenson himself. He's explaining the culture and how he envisions the people who work for him. And it grabbed my attention. I thought, "Okay, I can do a little bit of research into the company."
I did research like everybody else. I called up a few people that had been doing solar work, and they said: "Yeah, Mortenson is a good company to work for." At one point in time, Mortenson didn't do their own electrical terms. They used to sub it out. One of my buddies worked for the company that actually did the work for Mortenson. He said, "Yeah, they're a great company. The values are there."
So Ayres and I had another conversation then I talked with Bobbi Relopez and it went from there.
And your recruiting experience took a little longer, right? You were in the middle of a project when Ann and Bobbi reached out to you. How did that go?
Sheldon Lincoln: One of the things I do really appreciated about Mortenson is that during the whole interviewing experience I was telling Relopez, "I'm actually close to the end of a project right now. We were doing terminations, commissioning." And Ayres and Relopez agreed with me that I can't leave in the middle of this project because if I do, it wouldn't be right to my then employer. Once people start commissioning, you really want the ones that start it to finish it. Because they already know what's going on and especially if they started building the project.
Most people go "Ok, you can't come right now? Well, that's your opportunity. We need someone right now and have to keep moving through candidates." But Ayres, Relopez, and Mortenson were willing to wait for me and give me a shot. They said, "Okay, whenever you finish, let us know and we can proceed from there."
And that right there was an initial positive impression. I could see right then the culture Mortenson has is a little more flexible, they'll work with you.
Then when I went through the interview process, it was just as smooth as can be. There were no hiccups. Everything was taken care of from my traveling to my stay, to meeting with individuals, to my return. It was all flawless. I had a pretty good experience in the onboarding process.
Ayres and Relopez worked with me for about a month and a half until I was finished with that project. And then hey, you brought me on board. And that built it up more for me before I came. The values were there and everything that Ayres told me before I came, and Relopez before I came. It was all here when I got here.
It's been a positive force from the beginning of working here.