Phoenix Business Journal Executive Profile: Justin Newman


This article originally appeared in The Phoenix Business Journal.

Justin Newman is a rarity, someone whose family has been in Arizona for six generations.

His ancestors moved to the White Mountains in northeastern Arizona. He grew up in Pinetop and played baseball and football at Blue Ridge High School. He started working in construction while still in school, which led him to major in construction management at Northern Arizona University.

Newman, president of Phoenix-based hardison/downey construction inc., a subsidiary of Kitchell Corp., grew up fascinated by the industry. When he learned he could major in construction management, he was sold.

He worked his way up with general contractors, spending 17 years at McCarthy before joining hardison/downey.

When he’s not working, he likes to spend time with his children, going to all their activities and incorporating faith into his life. He is a Mormon and his wife is Catholic, so they incorporate pieces of their faiths into their family life as much as they can.

How did you end up in Phoenix? I graduated from NAU with a degree in construction management, a minor in business administration, and took a crash course in parenting as I had two small children and one on the way when I graduated. I worked for a small general contractor headquartered in Sedona, but the constant travel took its toll on my young family and I took a position with McCarthy Building Cos. It was one of the best decisions I ever made, transitioning from what I would call the minor leagues of construction to the majors. At McCarthy, I was given many opportunities to grow and develop, and was involved in a wide range of projects, from luxury condos, to prisons to class A office to advanced water treatment and utility-scale solar.

I was working in McCarthy’s Renewable Energy group as operations director when I was approached by Kitchell CEO Jim Swanson with the opportunity to join hardison/downey construction and transition into the role of president, as co-founder Pat Downey looked toward retirement. Because of the friendships and respect that I have for McCarthy, it was the most difficult professional decision I have ever made, but it was also the best one I could have made. After a year-long transition, Pat handed over the reins and we are moving [the company] toward the future. Bob Hardison and Pat established a strong company with a distinctive personality and lasting legacy — further strengthened by being part of the Kitchell family of companies – and it is now my responsibility is growing the company from here.

What makes an effective business leader? Hiring and promoting employees who are more talented than you are and then empowering them to be entrepreneurial.

What motivates you? I am motivated by the fear of failure. I know that probably sounds cliché, but it is the truth. And it’s not only me, but that motivation extends to whom I have stewardship over. I love seeing my people succeed.

What was your first job? My first job was for Mrs. Hatch, and I could not have been much more than 10 years old. I would walk about a mile to her house and mow her lawn for $5. I think about these days, and what kids do now at 9 or 10 years old. I got the job myself and I knew how to start and run and do minor repairs to a gas mower. I am certainly grateful for the opportunity to grow up and learn the value of working hard and just trying. Show up and try.

What did you want to be when you grew up? I always wanted to be a professional athlete. I was very good at baseball and football, but decided to play football in college, because I fell in love with the physical nature of the sport. As an undersized linebacker, a couple years of running into 300 pounders took its toll and the professional aspirations were gone. Catch me on a Sunday afternoon, I have an Uncle Rico moment and still think I can play.

What is something people misunderstand about you? I think what is most often misunderstood or misinterpreted is my passion and intensity. When I am between the lines, I have a burning inside to succeed, to help my team succeed. For some, this can be construed as being mean or rude. I feel bad for that, I don’t want anyone to think I’m mean, but I will not lose my intense desire to succeed.

Building value in a world with COVID-19

With the global healthcare situation, we have entered a new reality and a completely different way of managing our business. It seems as if daily, if not hourly, we experience changes that require us to quickly adjust while ensuring the safety of our jobsites, our people and our communities.

Our safety practices were showcased recently during a high-profile tour for city and state officials, featuring two municipal projects including our Sacramento Community Center Theater jobsite (a major expansion and renovation). The site visit was in response to recent discussions between the offices of Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and California Governor Gavin Newsom regarding conditions at “essential” jobsites in the midst of the current coronavirus pandemic.

Our team, alongside contractors working on the Convention Center project, provided an overview of Kitchell’s safety protocols and practices. Each person on the tour was screened in advance of the visit and went through an orientation before entering the jobsite. The tour was attended by Mayor Steinberg, Council Member Steve Hansen (who represents the district where the projects are located), industry labor leader Robbie Hunter and others with the city and labor unions.

For more than an hour, participants were provided information about the strict practices Kitchell and the entire industry is following to ensure continuity of work while maintaining the safety of those on the jobsite. The project consists of about 130 on-site workers.

In a briefing the day after the tour, Gov. Newsom argued that California has very different conditions than in other states where construction is shut down, noting “We’ve been working very closely with the building construction trade” to ensure safety for the public.

“It was really an observation walk to demonstrate the preventative measures we’re taking, including PPE, social distance requirements, education, training and to share how the industry is approaching this so they can feel comfortable about how we’re managing the work while keeping people productive,” said Executive Director Matt Wade.

The project is just one illustration of how our work has rapidly evolved to adjust to our new world. Here are other measures we’ve taken:

  • Employees who are able to telework are established in their home offices
  • Health checks at the entrance of every jobsite for project personnel and trade partners
  • More frequent safety stand downs to encourage vigilance, in addition to enhanced cleaning processes at jobsites and constant personal hygiene reminders
  • Self-reporting, mandatory quarantines and jobsite re-entry protocols for those who are exposed to COVID-19
  • Ongoing support, increased communication and frequent collaboration activities at all levels of our company to ensure job teams and projects progress with few obstacles

In response to the federal government’s recommendation that the public wear some sort of protective face covering, we have ordered washable face masks for our employee-owners and their family members.

We remain vigilant, cautious, committed to our values and true to our purpose: Together, Building Value Every Day.