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Building trust, a daily job

Reflections from my experience

This is the fifth installment of a reflection exercise on essential elements of project management. This segment in particular deals with the elements necessary to create trust. The type of trust that is built over time, with other people, and that which at the same time is earned for oneself, the one that allows you to stay on the job path and marks to a large extent the course of life itself.

I think that the following short chronicle, written in parallel with this exercise, illustrates the concept and most likely, dear reader, reflects your own story:

If perhaps for a month…

The invitation came at the most opportune moment and from the least expected person.
The small engineering and construction company that we formed six years before had focused on works or projects that required sliding forms. That was our strength and our Achilles heel; because of the challenge that this type of construction implies, very few companies could face it with knowledge, experience and equipment (that was our advantage — few players in the market), but, the market was very limited (and that was the down side). As our financial condition was very weak, we were competing at a disadvantage; in such a way that, either they beheaded us due to the financial risk or they conditioned us to contract the works in consortium, a condition in which generally, due to the same financial weakness and due to the nature of our services, we had to assume the risk of labor in the specialized part of construction, one of the lowest cost components, but the most risky; a matter that, as in a vicious circle, limited us in the progress of the company’s qualification, which is measured by the volume of turnover and not by the complexity of the work.

One of these cases occurred in the construction of the second line of the Caracolito cement factory, near Ibagué. When the multinational Cemex acquired the national company Cementos Diamante, the national contractor that carried out the work was replaced by Mexican contractors trusted by the new owners.

With one of them, (Medrano y Asociados, them acting as contractors and we as their associates), we built several of the factory silos. Although the works were delivered to the satisfaction of the new owner; the winding up of the association (between Medrano y Asociados and us) was quite difficult and very tense.

So the call that I received a couple of years later from Gabriel Medrano was completely unexpected.

He requested that one of the two partners of our company travel to Utah, United States, to supervise some work in the construction of silos in a Holcim plant, for a period of three months. He had to meet that request, since Holcim was one of his main clients in Mexico. His company, for reasons of its ongoing contracts, did not have any person to whom it could delegate an order of such responsibility. He trusted us to successfully oversee the work on their behalf. The decision was not difficult for us, we were in a dry season, there was no work, the conditions were good, it would be a very timely income for the meager finances of our company and an interesting experience. The decision of who would attend the request was simple, I had a visa that would allow me to travel with the urgency that Gabriel required, his final question was, “Eduardo, do you speak English?”; my answer, “YES!”.

The matter promised to go better than expected, we received a second call from Gabriel who told us that the Director of that project in Utah, an Engineer called Tom Ireland, was very happy with Medrano’s appointees for the work in Utah. Tom had been the project manager for the conversion of the Holcim Cement Factory in Nobsa, where we had acted as subcontractors, doing a job with exceptional results in the construction of the preheater tower.

I arrived at the Devil’s Slide plant in Utah, one day of the last year of the 20th century. It was the early fall, early in the morning, Ramiro Velasco, the Holcim engineer in charge of the construction, was waiting for me with the references that Gabriel and Tom had given him; he was busy (as is usually the case in the early hours of the day in the middle of a project); so take advantage of the time, I took a tour of the project site.

Upon my return to his office, and when we were beginning our conversation about the work to be done and the responsibilities in my charge, a call came in from Tom, who, knowing that I was there, asked to put me on the phone, on the speaker, for an informal and friendly conversation, but there was a “critical” question, “Eduardo, How do you see things?” And my short answer, “Good, but they can be improved!”

When the call ended and we returned to our conversation about work, the tone, almost imperceptibly, was no longer the same, to my comment that my assignment would be for three months, a clarification was followed from the engineer Velasco, “The Director doesn’t have the latest information; your assignment is perhaps for a month”.

I took the news calmly, at that moment everything was profit, a trip, an experience and a financial relief, momentary, but relief, having the water around your neck, you only need a point of support, enough so that the water does not cover nose …

At the end of the first month, a question, Engineer (Velasco), when do I travel back home? And an answer, “Engineer, next month”.

And so from month to month, with an almost imperceptible change, the question was: “Ramiro, when do I travel back home?” And the answer, “Eduardo, next month”.

That assignment of “perhaps a month” lasted for thirteen months. And after a pause of almost a year, another call, this time from Ramiro himself: “come on, I’ll wait for you in Cuba”. A project that absorbed us for three and a half years. A year and a half later, another call: “we need you in Romania”. Another busy five years, and right after: “let’s go to Indonesia”. A double project for five and a half years more.

Ramiro, an engineer with a career at Holcim, received assignments of greater responsibility; For me, the intermittences between jobs for Holcim and jobs in other sectors gave me a permanent and very enriching field of learning and the opportunity to gradually assume roles of greater importance and responsibility.

The projects yielded formidable experiences, both from the perspective of technical challenges and from the difficulties associated with cultural differences.

Finishing the project in Indonesia, Ramiro was assigned to a project in Brazil, I was hired for a project in Cambodia; then Ramiro was transferred to a project in the United States. When I finished my project in Cambodia, and after a sabbatical break, I was hired for a project in Vietnam.

The pandemic surprised us, Ramiro in Guadalajara (Mexico), attending a project in El Salvador online, and me in Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam), writing these lines.

There would be many ways to fill pages with data and comments on the very diverse experiences of the projects that we shared with Ramiro throughout those fifteen years, but none will be more valuable than the metamorphosis of turning engineers into colleagues and over time colleagues into friends. And in a tribute to the friendship that we cultivated at that time and to the affection that he has for my children and that which I profess for his, resulted in his gesture of choosing me as the godfather of his youngest daughter.

Compadre, thank you for the trust and take good care of yourself.

This story is the result of hard teamwork, in fact, of many teams working with common goals harmonizing different interests, with mentors and leaders who led the way and provided decisive and timely support, in a continuous effort that allowed to overcome the small day-to-day difficulties, but also occasional overwhelming challenges.

In those endeavors, many people gave the best of each one of them, with many of them we built very strong working bonds; with the vast majority, feelings of sincere appreciation, respect, and mutual trust. With some of those people, we built lasting friendships that endure despite the geographical distance and the absence.

With the development of different projects, gradually, each day and with each experience, I also gained confidence in myself, which allows me today, despite, or thanks to the pandemic, walk a new path and endeavor in the realization of these reflections.



Project Manager starting a new journey, available to support projects on direct roles and consulting

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Eduardo Torres

Project Manager starting a new journey, available to support projects on direct roles and consulting