International Adventures in Construction: #meetrhumbix interview with Guy Skillett

Posted by Steve Chiou, Director of Product on 5/5/16 10:05 AM
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Our #meetrhumbix series continues with Guy Skillett, Director of Construction. Guy is our resident globetrotter and was one of our first full time employees. Read more about his experience building airports, refineries, and motorways below.

How did you end up choosing construction as your career path?
I joined Bechtel straight out of university because they had a very attractive graduate program that provided rotational experience in a lot of different functional units of the business, but in some ways I think construction chose me.

I have a memory from when I was about 10-years old and living in Hong Kong. My father was a pilot for Cathay Pacific and at the time Bechtel was managing the construction of the new airport at Chek Lap Kok. He was very interested in the construction operations which were huge, and we would go together to a place where we could watch the airport and the associated bridges and rail lines coming out of the ground and the ocean. It was, and remains, an amazing example of engineering and project delivery, and certainly piqued my interest in the science of construction management.

Some years later, and upon joining Bechtel, my first position was in Qatar building the new international airport just outside of Doha. In many ways it was a very similar project to the one I’d observed as a child — a greenfield site, much of which was built on reclaimed land, and featuring an amazingly beautiful terminal building.

What were some of the other projects you worked on with Bechtel?
After Qatar, I went to Albania to work on the construction of a 60 kilometer motorway between Albania and Kosovo. Then I went to Canada to work on an aluminum smelter project and to Guinea to build an alumina refinery and bauxite mine. My final assignment was a vast copper concentrator project in the the Atacama Desert of northern Chile which is where I met Zach, Rhumbix CEO and co-founder.

Working with Bechtel was a phenomenal experience. I got to work with crazy-smart people building really interesting things in the strangest of places doing everything from environmental management of dredging operations to project controls on capital installations for the largest mining companies. The breadth of exposure was probably unmatchable in any other organisation.

What was the most memorable project you ever worked on?
Albania was, for me, the most impactful project. We were constructing the first significant motorway in the country in a stunning, remote and mountainous valley, the inhabitants of which had probably never seen equipment like we were using. We literally moved mountains and the pace at which the work progressed was unlike anything I have ever seen.

Moreover, Albania was very much a developing country. It was coming out of a period of political upheaval — our construction camp was a few minutes drive from the most reviled prison for political prisoners during the communist period — and the road linked Albania to Kosovo which has a high percentage of ethnic Albanians. There was a strong sense that this project was far more than just a road — it was something that linked countries, communities and families previously separated by the mountains that we were rapidly excavating. The infrastructure that I helped build connected these two countries that were physically separated, and yet were inseparable because of their dynamic history and culture. The significance of the project was highly rewarding. Albania was a young, developing and exciting country and I got to be part of that.

What the biggest takeaway from your years of experience?
I have two big takeaways. First, construction is really about people. When you look at a job site you see equipment and materials and the structures being built, but really it’s about the individuals and the relationships and interactions that exist between them. Without them, the equipment remains idle, the materials stay where they are and nothing gets done. The extent to which you can tie people, processes and project objectives together goes a long way to creating the precedent conditions that lead to successful projects.

Second, well-built construction is often taken for granted. Construction firms and their workers build the built environment within which everything else in society operates, and yet we don’t really recognize or appreciate the significance until something goes wrong. Anyone who has visited a developing country has a greater respect for the role of well-built buildings, roads and other major infrastructure because it simply doesn’t exist in much of the developing world.

I’m grateful to have had the experience of working in unorthodox locations with constrained resources and in challenging conditions because it’s given me a greater sense of appreciation for what goes into making projects, and hopefully Rhumbix, successful.

Want to work with a Guy like Guy? Rhumbix is hiring. Check out a listing open positions here.

Topics: #meetrhumbix, Construction Management