Ten years ago, the top grossing movies were The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Hunger Games. Since then, there have been three different actors playing Batman, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe has moved into a new phase, closing the chapter on the original Avengers. How much has happened in your life and career in the last 10 years?
Tommy Shara, Vice President of Operations for Ross Group’s Engineering and Industrial teams, recently celebrating his tenth anniversary with Ross Group. So, we sat down with Tommy to talk about the last decade and how his career has evolved since joining the Ross Group team.
What is your background? How did you get where you are today?
In fifth grade we did one of those studies that shows what careers would be good for you. Construction was at the top of the list for me, so from an early age I knew I would work in construction somehow. I spent two years in a junior college and completed my degree in construction management at Pittsburgh State University. I did some internships building bridges, and my first “real” job was at a small mechanical firm. When they had to close their doors, I called a buddy of mine who was at Ross Group at the time. He encouraged me to apply for an open Project Engineer position, which I did, and the rest is history.
How did that evolve into the industrial construction group that we have today?
I started on the federal construction side of the company and gained experience with that group. After a few years, Ross Group Industrial (Industrial) needed a project manager to go on-site for a project in North Dakota. Since I had recently become a project manager, I went up there for a year to work on a job in Watford City. Originally, I was there to manage the foundation package. Then that evolved into the pipe package, then the electrical package. At the end of the day, I kind of fell in love with the industrial side’s line of work and with all the craft people.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
It’s always been about the people. People in the industrial industry want to go after a job and get it knocked out. They’re very good at what they do and real down to earth folks, my kind of people. The jobs are cool too. I mean, they look good, and everything is big. Bolts are the size of baseball bats; crane blocks make you look small standing next to them; everyone on site is working in a unique sequence to achieve a lot of work in a short amount of time. Everything about the projects is neat, but really, it’s the people that you meet along the way and how you use each other’s strengths. Everybody is in it, pulling the same direction. It's all about the people you work with because you’re nothing without your people and your culture. And as anyone in the industry knows, this is a totally unique culture, partly because of the remoteness of the project sites. A culture of true craft people and nomads, burning up the lost highways of America trying to make a living.
Can you explain what Formula Energy Services is?
Formula is Industrial’s mechanical and structural labor company. They are our craft labor and it’s a fun group of people. They perform pipe valve fitting work, equipment installs, structural steel fabrication and installation, and almost anything else that comes up. They’re a great addition to Industrial as a whole. Formula has operators, welders, helpers, labor hands, riggers, and all sorts of interesting folks. It scales up and down all the time depending on need.
How do you feel about your last ten years at Ross Group? What do you want to see in the next ten?
In the last ten years, I’ve seen this company evolve from a small federal contracting company to a large multi-facet construction company. If you look at Ross Group as a whole, you have an engineering team that can perform in the oil and gas, aerospace, and federal markets and an industrial construction team that can build in those three. Then, you have the construction team that focuses on federal and commercial construction. Finally, you have the development team that specializes in historical renovations, hotels, apartments, and mixed-use developments.
For Industrial, we’re still learning and evolving. In the next ten years I want to see us focus on who we are going to be. We’re growing but we need to determine how big we want to be. What is the perfect size that maintains a strong backlog, maximizes the bottom line, and preserves the culture? What is our critical mass where we optimally perform and execute orders? I don’t think we’ve reached it yet. We are growing rapidly. I’m excited to see what happens in the next ten years. Every day is a new day.
What’s something about you that would surprise most people to learn about?
I worked at a golf course during college. I’d go to work at 6:30 in the morning to mow greens and fairways. Then, I’d get out of there and go to class and come back when I could. I made $7.25 an hour and my paychecks were like $250 every two weeks. But every little bit counts.