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Young Construction Exec Breaks into the Big Leagues

Matthew Haas describes his role as project executive of the $400-million Washington Nationals Stadium project as his “big break” in the construction industry. At the age of 31, Haas is one of the youngest project executives at Clark Construction Group LLC in Bethesda, Md., to manage the fast-track project scheduled for opening day in April 2008. Though he considers his prominent position an accomplishment, Haas admits approval takes additional time to earn compared to his veteran counterparts. “Respect doesn’t come with the title,” he says. “It comes with being able to prove that you can lead and make difficult decisions quickly, and get the support of folks that work with you.” Over the past decade, Haas has worked on major projects in the Washington, D.C., vicinity including the secret service and Chevy Chase bank headquarters. Having grown up in the D.C. suburbs, he takes pride in the projects he has helped build in his hometown. “One of the things I like best is driving around the city, and pointing out the projects that Clark or I personally built,” he says.

Matt set his goals at an early age.

Haas was introduced to the industry through his father, Richard Haas, who was president of public affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors until his retirement in 2001. He would accompany his father to national conventions and trade shows where he would interact with contractors and owners of construction-related firms as early as nine years old. Richard recalls his son attending trade shows where construction equipment would be moved about for show and skilled craftsman would vie for national awards. “These were exciting days of competition where the best carpenters, plumbers and brick layers were brought together for head-to-head competition,” he reminisces. “(Matthew) didn’t come up to me and say I want to build construction, but I was pleasantly surprised when he started heading in that direction.” In high school, Haas says he was always interested in the sciences, but a drafting class peeked his curiosity in architecture. While attending Virginia Polytechnic & State University, an impulse decision launched him into a building construction major. He found the field of study both challenging because of the problem solving aspect, and rewarding because of the tangible end product. “I knew I wanted to be either an engineer or an architect,” he says. “And a builder was a nice mix between the two.”

During his college career, Haas registered with the national ABC chapter where he took advantage of internships via the 12,000 firms affiliated with the association. He started his first internship following his freshman year. While his friends were spending their summers working at the beach or in restaurants, Haas was waking up at 6 a.m. to pour concrete and tear down scaffolding on a construction site for Miller & Long Concrete Construction in Bethesda. His first day on the job was less-than glamorous. “I showed up at the superintendent’s trailer ready to learn how to build, and he literally told me to pick up trash around the site,” he recalls. “About two hours later I finished the task and said to my boss, “What do you have for me to do next?”

Despite the dirty work, Haas spent two summers on the concrete crew, an experience he describes as invaluable because of interpersonal skills he learned with different levels of authority from laborers to executives. “In construction management, you have to be able to wear many different hats,” he says. Prior to graduating with a B.S. in Building Construction, Haas interned at Clark where he experienced the project management aspect of construction. “I had a project manager who really turned into a mentor and helped kick off my career,” he says.

Clark Construction
Matt Hass jumped at the chance to work on a the Washington Nationals new park in his hometown.

After graduation in December 1997, Haas jump-started his career with Clark as project engineer for the $70-million Secret Service headquarters and $110-million Chevy Chase Bank headquarters. From 2001 to 2003, he advanced to project manager for two office buildings in Virginia and Maryland, the $8-million Gateway International II and $30-million Heritage Center Building IV. Haas was also project manager with Clark Strategic Operations Group, where he worked on classified design-build projects for the federal government. Prior to his current endeavor, Haas had the opportunity in 2004 to join forces with the executive vice president of operations. As senior project manager, he worked on a “variety of special projects and key performance indicators for projects across the country.”

Asked on a whim to work on the colossal project in May 2006, Haas immediately accepted the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in his hometown. “I was thrilled that the company thought highly of me,” he says, “But it was certainly a daunting task to build a project of this magnitude in less than 24 months.” Clark is the leading partner in a joint venture with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Hunt Construction Group and Smoot Construction, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. The 350-person crew, likely to reach as many as 600 individuals at the peak of construction, is currently in the midst of erecting structural steel and pouring concrete for the 41,000-seat stadium. Haas spends much of his time at the drafting table, attending meetings with owners and subcontractors to ensure plans meet intended goals, and keeping project milestones on schedule. In addition to keeping the project on track, Haas manages his 20 member staff in a style that is diligent yet caring by promoting career development and personal goals. “As I progressed in my career, I learned it’s more about managing people and getting into the nitty-gritty details,” he says. “I always remind myself that my main goal is building.”

The design-build project is challenging because the construction and design process are concurrent. Although the structure and foundation has been designed, the interior fit-out is still on the drafting table. In a typical project, Haas says, the entire concept is completed and then contractor bids begins. Thus, the contractor knows exactly what he or she is building from the beginning. “Here, you know what you’re building in phases,” Haas says, “Which cuts time out of the overall project.”’

Washington Nationals

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Hass is time management and keeping the project within the budget and time parameters. Planning ahead is difficult because everything has to be set in place prior to one schedule milestone whether it is moving materials on site or awarding contracts. A cushion of time must also be factored in for weather and other glitches to keep the project running smoothly. “We can’t miss a beat here,” he says. “Every piece of material must arrive on site in time to put it in place. That’s basically the crux of project management.”

Haas intends to give his father a tour of the construction site, a rewarding aspect because of the commonality between them. Both can discuss the project’s elaborate details in ways other project executives might not be able to share with family. “For me, it’s great because we can talk about it and that makes it fun,” Richard says. “I can ask him about the project and understand it.” Richard says he is thrilled his son has the chance to be involved with a highly visible project the entire city is excited about. Haas also takes pride in showing his wife and two-year-old daughter. While Haas drives around the city, his daughter will see construction cranes, eliciting an automatic response: “Daddy’s work.”

Although it is hard to imagine a more exciting project than the Washington Nationals Stadium, Haas says he continually strives for new challenges in his career. In the long-term, he hopes to one day own a division within Clark. For now, however, Haas is living in the moment and living his dream. “It gives me a sense of pride to know that I am part of something that other people can enjoy for generations,” he says. “I’ll always be able to visit this stadium with family and friends and say ‘I helped build that.’”


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