DNA VP Construction_Martin Ferron

DNA of a VP of Construction
Interview with Martin Ferron

Martin Ferron is the President and CEO of the North American Construction Group, where he focuses on restructuring and repositioning the company to improve growth in the Canadian Oil Sands and Infrastructure Development markets. He has held successful executive roles in multiple regions worldwide. We spoke to Martin to hear about his impressive career journey, his advice to the next generation and the similarities he sees between business and sport.

President and CEO North American Construction Group

How did you enter the construction industry?

Although I had no civil engineers in my family I decided that was the path I wanted to take. At the time, there was an over-supply of engineers, so I did my undergrad in general construction in London, UK and subsequently completed my Master’s degree in Glasgow. I took an offshore job in Aberdeen out of school and worked in the offshore construction business for many years. In 2012, I left to work in oil sands, which brought me to Canada. Ever since I began my career in the construction industry, it was my goal to become the leader of an organization.

Construction wasn’t my first choice. I am originally from Wales and wanted to play professional soccer. I loved working as part of a team. I was the team captain and always enjoyed motivating the team towards success. When I was 16, I was injured and that prevented me from playing any further. There are many similarities between playing team sports and working in a construction team. In both cases, each team member has a “position” in which they play best to help win the game. As the CEO, it is my role to find where and how each person plays best and motivating everyone to achieve our common goal.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path

I’ve worked in many different countries over my career and I’ve found my biggest obstacle to be overcoming cultural differences. Many of the companies I’ve worked for were owned by multinationals. Before coming to Canada, my first executive position was in Texas, I worked in Scotland, Norway, and Nigeria for five year periods in each country. Before coming to Canada, my first executive position was in Texas. I was also a CEO elsewhere in the US. I’ve learned it’s virtually impossible to get to the top of the corporate ladder if you don’t understand cultural differences.

I learned to embrace the differences in order to fit in wherever I went. By understanding what makes the culture different from my own, and participating in those cultural differences I got international experiences that were essential to successfully managing abroad.

Which attributes or characteristics are integral to the role?

You need vision, determination and commitment. You’re the captain of the team and you have to be seen playing the game and leading by example. Engineering backgrounds are very common amongst construction industry leaders, as they tend to be very logical people. On top of that, you also need intuition and perception to deal with people. I learned the importance of intuition during my MBA. You need the ability to see possibilities that are beyond logic.

Additionally, it’s important to understand the difference between management and leadership. Management is moving resources around, versus leadership, which is getting people to follow you on a common mission.

What advice would you give to the next generation of professionals aspiring to become a construction leader?

Get yourself known by getting face time with different people in the organization and in the industry. This is essential because people need to see how you behave in order to believe in what you’re saying. They can’t fully trust in you from your written words. You have to engage with people you’re working with on a personal level. Getting your MBA will give you a framework of ideas for engaging a team.

You have to understand that everyone’s DNA is different and it’s difficult to know how we influence each person. Objectively, look at your strengths and weaknesses and identify traits in other people to try and build relationships. And finally, I recommend finding a mentor at each stage of your career to help you develop. Find someone that you look up to at each level that you want to emulate and follow.

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