Steve McGough, President and CFO of HCSS was recently re-elected American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) chairman. His expertise has helped lead both organizations to a record-breaking year of growth. We thought an interview with Mr. McGough would be a great opportunity to learn more about ARTBA, HCSS, and gain insight into the future of the construction industry.
What is ARTBA?
The American Road and Transportation Builders Association, founded in 1902, is an association that has a singular mission to advance investments and policies that will support the nation’s need for safe and efficient travel. ARTBA is unique, however, in that it brings together every aspect of the transportation design and construction industry to find common ground. Combining the perspectives and skill-sets of contractors, engineers, equipment manufacturers, suppliers, P-3 practitioners, and public officials enables the association to develop real solutions to the challenges facing our community. The positions reached are strengthened by the diversity of thought they reflect and are ready-made for the policy arena because of the consensus they represent. The association also delivers results. ARTBA has been the industry leader in the passage of every major federal surface transportation investment act since 1916.
How did you become ARTBA Chairman?
I served in a number of leadership roles over the last 15 years that led to being selected by the nominating committee and ultimately voted in by the membership.
What are your plans as ARTBA Chairman in 2021?
First and foremost, advocate for a long-term, robust federal highway infrastructure bill. Part of that needs to be a fix for the Federal Highway Trust Fund, as it’s fundamentally unable to keep up with the dollars needed to fund the program. Then, continued implementation of ARTBA’s three-year strategic plan.
What led you to a career in heavy construction?
When I was in high school, I lost my dad as he passed away when he was 42. I was a sophomore in high school and I had to go to work. We went to a Catholic school and in order to pay the tuition for both myself, my brother, and my sister, we took part-time jobs. Mine happened to be working for a foundation contractor and I ended up working for him most of the way through high school. Looking at the industry and the kind of pride that you get when you build something and see what was accomplished is really what led me into construction.
What do you love most about supporting the construction industry?
What I’ve found in construction is it has some of the smartest, brightest and best problem solvers that I’ve ever seen. You just won’t find contractors or engineers saying that it can’t be done. It just almost never comes out of their mouths. They have a unique look on things because a lot of times they have some very extreme liquidated damages if they can’t get the road or the bridge opened back up on time. So, they come up with unique solutions unlike anybody, at least industry-wise, that I’ve ever been around.
How long have you been with HCSS and what roles have led you to your current position as President and CFO?
I’ve been with the organization 16 years and for the most part of that, I was the Chief Operating Officer. Then, I ultimately became the President and Chief Operating Officer and then moved into the President and CFO role in 2017.
What is your overall philosophy for leading an organization as it relates to HCSS and ARTBA?
For HCSS for sure, culture trumps everything. There’s no question about it that it’s key to our success. For me, on a leadership standpoint, I don’t look to motivate people; I look to inspire. Usually, things work out as they should, provided that we do what we should. So from an overall philosophy, I believe that you can never stop learning. Meaning, the trophies on your shelf won’t win tomorrow’s game. You have to keep learning, you got to keep moving forward, you have to lean into life, and I think that’s in your personal life or business. I believe it’s the only way that you keep the edge, to keep growing.
What customer questions do you receive most frequently?
It’s usually around culture. I like to ask our customers questions around what they believe is core to their business. You can only have one thing that’s core to your business. For HCSS, that’s our support department. We answer the phone in 3 rings or less. It’s the reason that when people leave their current organization and go somewhere else, they try to bring HCSS along with them. You have to know what’s core to your business.
I get questions around the culture, but it always leads to what’s driving the business. Nobody ever calls us up and says, “We think you’re a great company because you have such a great accounting group. Our invoices come out perfect,” or, “Your marketing is just outstanding.” People call us back because of our support department. Hands down, we have the best in the industry and we’re known for that.
What are the heavy construction-related topics that inspire long discussions among you and your immediate colleagues as we move into 2021?
Well, there are really three things. One, I mentioned a little bit earlier. What do we do for a highway trust fund fix? The trust is funded through the federal motor fuels tax revenue, and it isn’t indexed to inflation and cars are getting better fuel economy. With no indexing and better fuel economy in our vehicles, you have fewer and fewer dollars going in while your construction costs continue to go up. So we have a shortfall in the program. That’s a big issue.
The next is a long-term infrastructure bill. We just had the expiration of our federal highway bill on September 30th. We did get a one-year extension, so that was good. However, if you looked in years past, we had 14 short-term extensions averaging three and a half months. When you have that, it’s very hard for the states and contractors to plan. So long-term reauthorization is definitely one topic. The last is construction risk. Who is the best suited to take on the risk, and how do we make contracts reflect this? Those are probably the biggest three.
What will the recent outcome of the 2020 presidential election mean for the infrastructure industry?
The recent outcome provides an opportunity to help all Americans. The President-elect knows the power of surface transportation bills to bring together overwhelming, bipartisan majorities on Capitol Hill when they are crafted to benefit all parties.
The President-elect has an ambitious agenda and I’m glad that infrastructure is part of that vision. The incoming administration has a rare opportunity for a substantial early achievement that not only benefits the country, but shows the Democrats and Republicans can work together to produce a meaningful outcome.
Do you have any advice for the next generation of construction professionals?
I would encourage people to be involved, whether that’s in your local associations and organizations, and then ultimately your national association. Showing up is half the battle. It’s always easy to leave the volunteer work to someone else. I would encourage people to be active and be involved; that’s the way you get real change.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your 25-year-old self?
There’s a couple of things. First and foremost is to have more patience. Most people tend to get more patience as they get older, but 25 years ago, I would say have more patience. The other one is to remember that persistence almost always wins in the long run. If you believe in something so strongly that you put all of your energy, passion, and persistence behind it, you’ll usually have a favorable outcome. I think those are probably two of the biggest things I would tell myself.
What career lessons do you wish to pass on to newbies in your field and why?
Never stop learning. I went back to school as an adult and got my MBA. Keep reading. Keep looking for that one thing. You can usually find one tidbit of information in almost everything that can impact your business or personal life. Lean into life and be grateful for where you are now.