Right Thing = Good Business w/ Chris Szeliga, JE Dunn Construction

RecognizeGood: We’ve done 100 of these over the years, and one of the big differentiators is whether a business does just enough, which is totally fine, or they make a proactive decision to go above and beyond. Y’all are in the latter category, but what’s the return on investment, specifically about the different ethics trainings and some of the more proactive policies and procedures that JE Dunn has in place? What’s the return on that for y’all that makes it worth the investment?

Chris: Well, the investment is that it allows us to continue to remain relevant as an organization. Notre Dame head football coach Lou Holtz says “Business is like a tree. You’re either growing or you’re dying.”

So, JE Dunn making the investment in ethics training, crucial conversations, and unconscious bias  continually allows us to set the expectations with our employees of what we expect and demand from them, but also allow us to be relevant because while we have those trainings, we get to hear from our employees what’s important and what’s relevant in their world.

Topics like the environment and how we ethically take care of Mother Nature. Topics like the Black Lives Matter movement, these things. We get to get feedback from our employees and again it helps keep us relevant as an organization so that we can continue to grow, we can continue to thrive now that the world is an ever-evolving place and evolving very rapidly. If we can continue to evolve as an organization, we too then can say relevant and feedback from our employees is a great way for us to achieve that.

But ultimately, creating a safe work environment for our folks so that they can be heard so they can be seen so that they have a voice and so that they can thrive and give us their best. Ultimately, it makes our organization a better place.

RecognizeGood: You’re the office leader in the Austin area, JE Dunn has thousands of employees. You’re responsible for hundreds here in the Austin area, how important it is for you as the leader here to be modeling that the behavior that you want to see on down the ranks?

Chris: I think it’s of the utmost importance, particularly trust and transparency. Those are the cornerstone of our business and how we remain successful. In addition to the ethics topics, we just spoke about a minute ago there have been books written about it.

The speed of trust unique to what we do as an organization in commercial construction building is that we have projects that start and they finish anywhere from 12 months to 36 months later. We don’t have time to build trust with every new project where we have a new owner, a new architect, new design consultants, and new trade partners or subcontractors.

We have to build trust and transparency as a brand to our organization. We have to have that as a reputation within our organization so that when we start new projects, we can hit each project and hit the ground running. Building trust and being transparent is really the cornerstone to what we call operational excellence, which includes safety, quality, schedule and budget.

If we can be transparent and we can be trustworthy and honest to ourselves and to our clients, we can deliver operational excellence to a much higher degree.

RecognizeGood: Great points, transparency is really the best course from an efficiency standpoint. Anything else you’d like to add?

The only thing I was going to add is that it’s important for our Austin team to know that the leadership of the organization and the leadership of our region has their backs.

It’s important for them to be able to watch what we do so that they can emulate that behavior, especially when no one’s looking because we’re out on different projects, we’re spread all over the city, all over the region, all over the country as an organization. We need to have our people behave a certain way and it’s much easier for them to behave that way if they see our leadership groups doing that at each level of the organization. Over the last two years, we’ve been recognized nationally as  ‘best managed’ and I think that stems from our leadership  having a moral compass, being ethically involved and being honest and transparent with our employees.

That works its way down through all 4,000 employees and that really helps JE Dunn become a builder of choice.


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RecognizeGood: THE Foundation (commonly known as simply RecognizeGood) is a local nonprofit that provides a means for individuals, businesses and other nonprofits to illuminate selfless volunteers, charitable acts and community service throughout the greater Austin area. There are several active RecognizeGood programs that work toward this mission from different angles, but the common theme is simple – the illumination of GOOD in our community.