Applying Smarts To Everything They Start
A natural learner leads Pioneer General Contractors to success
Switching from hard hat to the proverbial thinking cap—and then back again—comes naturally for Maged Tarazi. In fact, he does it many times a day.
It’s a pretty good bet that the majority of construction managers do not hold a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) like he does. Tarazi admits the MBA might not directly relate to the construction trades, but he sees clear benefits for his own company, Pioneer General Contractors, located in Raleigh, N.C.—and for the customers and contractors his firm serves.
Just like the wise adage “Measure twice, cut once,” he adheres to the belief that good planning brings the best results.
“Many contractors do not do estimations right,” Tarazi says. “For instance, they go by a general square footage price without exploring the particulars of a project. They end up either overcharging the client—as much as 40 to 60 percent—or not making any money themselves. This type of uncertainty affects a contractor’s reputation such that they cannot hold on to repeat customers or cannot overcome negative reviews in the marketplace,” he adds.
His mission is for Pioneer to exercise the “smarts” that benefit both the company and its clients. “We give clients peace of mind in what we’re doing,” he says.
If truth be told, construction does take more skills than just the successful integration of building trades to produce a quality structure—and Pioneer excels at providing the complete package to its clients.
“We do ground-up building—from pouring the slab and erecting the steel to installing the utilities, hanging drywall and finishing it out,” he says.
Tarazi is active in all aspects of the company. He and his eight-person staff provide estimations and offer up bids for projects along with very detailed specifications and pricing.
He then plans the execution of each project by determining details involving materials, labor, equipment, scheduling, safety and budgeting. He adds subcontractors as needed, usually for foundation and structural work.
At some point, he trades the thinking cap for the hard hat and becomes the construction manager, being on site most days during the actual project work. The “brains” of the organization also knows how to build relationships so that the resulting teamwork is rewarding and enjoyable.
“Our jobs are tough and demanding at times, but sharing a laugh can make for a great day at the job site,” says Jordan Bradley, Project Coordinator for Pioneer.
Since its founding in 2012 as a general contractor, Pioneer has racked up a number of successful projects, and repeat business underscores that success. Major companies like Starbucks, Wingstop, Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts continue to contract with Pioneer. While the company has also added offices, medical facilities and community buildings to its portfolio, it’s the restaurant franchise sector that has been the firm’s primary market.
“I’ve been here for five years,” Tarazi says. “I’ve concentrated on delivering our work in a timely manner and I picked up momentum by training our crews to perform 70 percent of the work.”
Thinking and Doing
Tarazi is always one to integrate both cerebral and hands-on skills. He takes after his father, a mechanical engineer. Not long after his family immigrated to the U.S. from Egypt, Tarazi founded his subcontracting company for painting and drywall in 2003.
That five-year stint led to even more experiences. “I was a nosey and curious person, so I got involved in all other trades as well,” he says.
He began studying at North Carolina State University to obtain a construction management diploma in just two years. In the meantime, he gained knowledge and experience in reading blueprints, estimating construction projects and performing interior finishing work. He obtained a general contractor’s license in 2012.
His two-pronged “education” has paid off. He takes pride in running a lean company with a depth of experience that can perform competitively for a good price.
Such a strategy has brought his current big project—actually two projects—for the Islamic Association of Raleigh (IAR), a growing campus for religious training, education and community purposes for Muslims in the Research Triangle Region.
As a subcontractor, Pioneer was in on the ground floor of construction for a 27,000-square-foot community center and school being built at the Raleigh location. Pioneer then completed the building as the general contractor—a testament to Tarazi’s commitment and management skills. Being a subcontractor from 2003 to 2012 enabled Tarazi to grasp knowledge and site experience on all other trades involved in getting a build-out together.
A second IAR project—also in Raleigh—is now underway. Pioneer is serving as the general contractor responsible for constructing a $3 million community center measuring 20,000 square feet.
“Our jobs are tough and demanding at times, but sharing a laugh can make for a great day at the job site.” Jordan Bradley, Project Coordinator, Pioneer General Contractors
Tarazi is always thinking. What are better ways of doing things? How can clients be better served? What questions need answers before it’s too late? He likes to take a 360-degree view of all aspects of his work as a construction manager.
That perspective has led him to more or less codify the know-how he likes to share with new clients. At the start of every project, Tarazi’s team confirms many key details, including: the delivery method of the project; whether architectural drawings have been completed; whether the client has a preference on using a local versus out-of-state architect; whether preliminary cost estimates have been made; whether the owner has any unique needs or expectations; and how the project will be funded.
Reasons for some of these are obvious, says Tarazi. Initial meetings between the client and contractor are key for clarifying costs, specifications and expectations. This initial work cannot be shortchanged.
Some may see little value in having a local versus an “outside” architect. According to Tarazi, a contractor serving a region knows that a local architect understands the codes and standards in that municipality. Going local also avoids “outsider” fees, which are charged back to the client.
Finally, as a fiscal protection for all involved, an exploration of the financial arrangement for the project should be broached. Tarazi believes it’s healthy and helpful to have a mutual understanding beyond the written contract, including a pay schedule and allowance for contingencies, should there be extenuating circumstances.
The Truth About Construction
Clients, owners and developers may not realize that the construction industry is susceptible to seasonal variances. At certain times of the year, construction workers available for work can be in abundance or be scarce.
Tarazi is comfortable in intelligently tackling the business of construction. His company’s approach to pursuing and fulfilling jobs with excellent planning and skilled performance sets him apart—like, perhaps, he’s a “pioneer.”
In his mind, he says this truth applies to construction, too: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”