DNA of a Chief Estimator

Interview with Derek Noppe

Derek Noppe | Hays DNA of a Chief EstimatorDerek Noppe was appointed to Chief Estimator for Modern Niagara in Ottawa in 2012. He started his estimating career with Gorlan Mechanical in 2005, and transitioned to the Modern Niagara estimating team when Gorlan was integrated into the company.  In his current role he manages a team of nine estimators and ensures seamless communication between mechanical, electrical, and architectural estimating teams for all projects. Prior to moving into the estimator function Derek was a Senior Project Superintendent for a major restoration project.

Chief Estimator at Modern Niagara Group

Have you always aspired to becoming a senior leader in Construction?
I aspired to be a leader in whatever field I went into. I didn’t start my career in construction, I initially studied business administration and finance with the goal of working in the stock market. Then I started working construction in the field and I found a passion for it. I went back to school for project management and started my career in this sector.

Have you ever second guessed your career path?
When I was younger I did feel a lack of opportunity for growth and that my voice wasn’t being heard. I spent some time in a role that didn’t play to my strengths and I struggled with whether I should change career paths or stick with it. Once I made it to Chief I haven’t looked back because I’m in a role that’s a good fit for my skills and personality.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
I like the job closings and negotiating. It’s the thrill of the hunt. There’s definitely huge stress associated with it, but also a lot of adrenaline. It’s like jumping out of a plane – packing the chute is no fun but the jump is amazing. There are a lot of angles that go into successful negotiation. You get to work your relationships, your market knowledge, your team’s skill sets. Not everyone is good at it but it can be fun.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path?
Getting past the last hurdle to become a Chief Estimator, actually getting to this level was very difficult. I got here through persistence and by stepping up when required. If you’re struggling to get to the next level in your career then I recommend taking on extra responsibility, proving yourself capable and building trust with the senior leaders. Every time I took on an extra task or project and was successful I was able to advance forward.

What technical skills are integral to the role?
You need computer skills and the ability to use software, specifically for take offs. Mechanical and Electrical technical knowledge is also very important. You don’t need to be an expert but you need to know enough to be able to guide teams. The ability to prioritize effectively and motivating all team members.

What soft skills/characteristics are integral to the role?
This job is a lot of deadlines so you need good stress management methods. A lot of that is making sure you have a good team in place, delegating to them and then trusting them to do their jobs. It’s a combination of good people management skills and good time management skills. If you’re trying to carry that all by yourself, you will struggle.  Relationship management, with General Contractors, Sub-Contractors and Suppliers is an often-overlooked skill that plays a very important role.

Written and verbal communication is very important. This connects into almost every part of the job because you need to be able to talk to clients and senior leaders, to your team and to other trades. Being able to make presentations and lead negotiations all require different types of communication skills. The ability to quickly assess risk while the “clock is ticking”.  Constructive debating and being able to handle constructive criticism is another soft skill that is greatly required.

What is your advice to someone moving up the ranks in the function and wants to pursue an executive career?
Be open to suggestions and different ideas. Don’t be afraid of debate or discussion – those conversations with your peers will lead to new ideas and better processes. If you’re uncomfortable being challenged or changing your mind, then you will not be able to keep up with changes in the industry. And once you get into executive positions, it’s not about technical skills as much about being able to align and get on the same page, even if you initially disagree with someone else’s opinion. You must be comfortable with critics. You need to have an open mind to others opinions and ideas as this will aid in your self-development.

How important is it to be exposed to all areas of the business?
Understanding the business is absolutely critical. You need to know what everyone else is dealing with to help avoid potential pitfalls and make sure your activity is supporting and aligning with the business this also helps to gain a better understanding of the entire business.

What is the one thing you have to have to be a chief estimator in your opinion?
You need to be a team player and a team leader. There are a lot of skills and personality traits that go into this, but at core you need to be able to rally a team when going gets tough and share success with the team. I’m a big believer in reward and recognition, especially when it’s unexpected. Pay attention to when someone goes above and beyond and reward them publicly for that.  The power of that gesture, of acknowledging that individual or team’s good work, will pay off in loyalty and effort in the future.

Compared to 5 or 10 years ago, how would you say your role has evolved?
I’m now part of the executive team, which I wasn’t before. In the past, estimating was somewhat separate from the corporate decision makers. Now estimating has a seat at the table and are involved when large decisions are being made. I can express an opinion and know that my opinions and ideas are listened to and considered. I get to help drive proactive business decisions, not just react to them.