DNA of a Chief Estimator

Interview with Hugo Ouimet

Hugo Ouimet | Hays DNA of a Chief EstimatorHugo Ouimet is the Chief Estimator for Sprint Mechanical, a local Mechanical Engineering and Construction company. He features 25+ years of total mechanical construction experience starting his early days work for the family mechanical business, developing and refining skills over the years to his current role. He is proficient in numerous estimating & construction software, demonstrating expert skill in  QuickPen, Accubid 8.0, Timberline, Timberscan, Cognos, Winprice and all MS platforms. Hugo is knowledgeable and ambitious, having worked his way up through the industry from a low level while constantly increasing his education levels and certifications. He possesses a comprehensive understanding of mechanical construction from his time spent in various roles, including project management and estimating. In his career he has managed projects from $200K – $23M as a project manager as well as bid wins $150K – $23M in estimating. Hugo Ouimet has been enjoying medieval martial arts for over 27 year as well as long trips on his motorcycle.

Chief Estimator at Sprint Mechanical

Have you ever second guessed your career path?
Yes I have, often. I think it is healthy to do so. It’s a gut check. The world of estimating is a tough path of repetition, consistency and learning. It is usually a thankless job with minimal rewards but with the right people and company support you are the heart of the business.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
Working with my team on projects together and seeing how other people view and come at their take off from different angles. You learn something every time. I like working together as a team and when our strategy works and we land the project it is a great feeling.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path? How did you overcome this?
There is not a lot of education out there in our industry on how to become an estimator. How to tackle takeoffs, complete tender forms, how to negotiate with sub trades and suppliers. It is very limited on all the steps of estimating.

I overcame it by working with a lot of different estimators at a few different companies. I have been fortunate enough to work under some of this industry’s key chief estimators and great people. They have always made themselves available to my questions and explained why we, as estimators, do what we do.

What technical skills are integral to the role?
Knowing your trade is very important. If you are a piping company or sheet metal shop, it is very important to know how your guys in the field work and install your product. You need to understand how systems are put together and how other trades do their work too. For example, knowing how a general contractor puts up structural steel allows you to figure out what openings you have in the structure to place your equipment. This helps with the crane lift costs and assembly of equipment costs.

What soft skills/characteristics are integral to the role?
You need to be able to talk to people. This is a skill, I’m afraid, that is slowly disappearing in today’s world. You need to be able to call your subs, suppliers, and general contractors and talk to them about scopes of work and walk each of them through the project. By speaking/communicating with people they get to know you as a person and that builds trust, and in this industry trust is everything. 

What is your advice to someone moving up the ranks in the function and wants to pursue an executive career?
Learn all about the construction industry. Learn the PM’s job, learn how accounting tracks costs, learn how the fabrication shop does their work. Learn how your foreman thinks about installing his work. I believe that a good estimating manager is a jack of all trades and understand all aspects of the trade.

How important is it to be exposed to all areas of the business?
It is important because if you understand how the rest of your company works, how your suppliers and subcontractors approach projects, you will know what costs you are to carry and what costs you do not need to carry. It helps you come up with an overall strategy to closing your project and trying to give you an edge of your competition.

What is the one thing you have to have to be a chief estimator in your opinion?
You need to be organized, willing to speak with people, and always willing to learn. These three skills, to me are the foundation every estimator needs to have. With a good grasp of these skills you will be successful in your career. Learning all the technical trade information will come from the other people you work with, but if you are not organized things will fall through the cracks and you will miss costs. If you are not willing to speak with people about what they have on their bill of material, or walk subs through their scope of work, you will be missing costs. If you are not willing to learn then the people you work with won’t waste their time on you, you will never understand the finer details of closing jobs and will not keep up with trends in the industry.

In your opinion, how important is networking?
Networking is the back bone of the industry nowadays. A good networking system will help you close the deal and will keep you in the loop of what projects are coming out and so you don’t miss opportunities. I have worked with a lot of people and, I believe, I have a good level of trust and respect from them which has helped me over the years.

In your opinion, how important is social media for networking/helping one achieve their career goals?
I believe it helps to a degree of getting your name out there but that usually is only your name. You need to meet with people so they get to know you beyond your name, so they recognize you as a trustworthy individual.

Compared to 5 or 10 years ago, how would you say your role has evolved?
I have gone from being part of a team to leading a team. I also now have more of a strategic role in the business. Being responsible for the consistency of workflow and dependability of the company is a good feeling.

What advice would you give to the next generation of professionals aspiring to become a chief estimator?
There is a lot of responsibility involved and you will find out that you will be estimating less and spending more time reviewing other people’s work. That’s where your jack-of-all-trades knowledge of the industry comes in and you can help guide other estimators. So learn everything you can. Talk to all estimators in all trades (sheet metal, electrical, controls, insulation) and learn how they do their job. Meet with suppliers and find out how they look at projects and what equipment they supply. This will help you be a leader that your team is looking for. ¬