Catching up with one of Heavy’s ‘generals’
In just three short years at Heavy Industries, Ian McNaughtan has seen it all. As Project Manager for some of our company’s largest and most complicated installations, he has been involved in everything from memorable skyscrapers in his adopted hometown to timeless art on the shores of East Chicago.
We recently sat down with Ian to discuss what makes a good project manager, as well as his background in film and on the pitch makes him better at his job.
Q: Let’s start with a bit about your background. What did you do before joining Heavy Industries?
Ian: “I actually started as a business analyst in the UK for 20th Century Fox. It sounds like a completely different path than what I’m doing today, but there were a lot of similarities. That role was project management-based, too. I’ve actually taken a lot of what I learned there with me through to today. In 2012, I moved to Calgary where I have a lot of family. I started project managing for a building envelope subcontractor before joining Heavy in 2017.
Q: What is it about project management that keeps your interest?
Ian: “I’ve always been interested in building things and seeing how things come together – especially the bigger projects. That has, in turn, led to me handling some of the more complicated jobs that have come through the doors. And those typically have involved a lot of large teams with people from a number of different backgrounds.”
Q: Is that team environment one you feel you thrive in?
Ian: “Absolutely. I’ve always had a strong sports background – I’ve played soccer since I was a kid – so the idea of running a team and pushing teammates is an area I’ve felt I’ve always enjoyed. Construction is a natural fit because it’s very team-based. There’s no way you can build anything here by yourself. You need a team of different skills and talents. And I feel I’m good at tapping into that.”
Q: Let me guess your position in soccer: Centre midfield? Sweeper?
Ian: “Centre midfield, actually! I see a lot of similarities between my job and playing sports. I’ve been playing alongside a lot of different types of players, and it’s about getting the best out of everyone to reach a common goal.”
Q: Taking this from the pitch to placemaking … what does a project manager do at Heavy?
Ian: “A project manager takes a vision and manages everything from the schedule and budget to manpower and materials through to completion. To be good at this job, you really have to be good at recognizing people’s strengths and taping into that expertise when you need it. You also have to be willing to lead from the front. I’m very much a ‘trenches’ type of guy – speaking to the people actually building the project, visiting with installers on-site, working with architects and artists and having a good feel with what’s actually going on.”
Q: By ‘figuring things out,’ does that mean having to handle the bad with the good?
Ian: “Nothing ever goes perfect. It’s about remaining calm under pressure and making informed decisions. And that’s very important because we are typically the faces of the company. We are the one who the clients will deal with. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that there’s always a solution. There’s always something that can be done. It’s about taking the time to make the right choices.”
Q: Does that mean that, as a project manager, you have to be a bit of everything to everyone?
Ian: “Exactly. I say to a lot of people that to be a project manager at Heavy, you have to be able to switch hats – whether that’s when collaborating with clients, directing traffic on-site, organizing deliveries … You really need to be adaptable.”
Q: What does your ‘customer hat’ look like?
Ian: “It’s very much focused on schedule and budget, as well as quality of the final project. I spend a lot of time developing trust with our customers – keeping an open dialogue. Once we have a rapport, it makes such a difference. We can handle the good news, the bad news and everything in-between. We can have those conversations.”
Q: Has that rapport ever led to repeat business?
Ian: “Definitely. We had a few projects with the City of East Chicago. The first one went very well, and the customer trusted us enough to bring a few more projects that we’re still working on today.”
Q: Are there any projects over the past three years that stand out for you?
Ian: “The Telus Sky project where Heavy is involved in the spiral staircase and massive atrium green wall. I’ve been working on that pretty much since I first joined Heavy. It’s memorable because of its scale, scope, details … just everything. The client even told me once that there was no one else who would have been willing to take on something this complicated. The final image of it will be pretty spectacular when finished.”