After a 42-year career with R&H Construction, CEO John Ward will be retiring at the end of April.
During his impressive career, John has held nearly every position in the company, from Carpenter and Superintendent to Vice President and eventually CEO. Having served on R&H’s executive team for over 25 years, John’s leadership has guided our company through years of significant growth and evolution, including the development of an award-winning safety program, receiving recognition as one of Oregon’s Most Admired Companies for over a decade and constructing iconic projects like adidas Village, the One North development and The Village at Mary’s Woods, R&H’s largest project to date. John led the efforts to relocate R&H’s headquarters office and shop to a new home in NW Portland in 2019 that provides ample space for our company to thrive for decades to come.
Join us as we take a look back at John’s phenomenal career and learn more about his plans for retirement in the Q&A session below.
As bittersweet as it is to close this chapter, we’re thrilled that R&H’s President, Kraig O’Connor, will assume the role of President & CEO. Having worked in tandem with John for the last several years, we know Kraig’s leadership is the perfect fit to continue John’s incredible legacy. You can learn more about Kraig in his Q&A session here.
John Ward (third from left) with R&H clients and leadership team members in the late 1980s.
Q: What project has been the most interesting and/or most rewarding to you in your career?
John: Three projects come to mind:
- Wieden + Kennedy Headquarters – We converted an early 1900’s historic cold storage and warehouse building into an open-office space in the early days of the Pearl District re-development projects. We had a tower crane which was special at the time. The renovation involved large-scale demolition, very complex concrete and framing systems, a unique mechanical system and large glulams. The development, ownership and architecture team were exceptional to work with and together we created something truly unique and iconic.
- The Village at Mary’s Woods – This project remains R&H largest project to date. Mary’s Woods had been a client of R&H’s for nearly 20 years. The Village project was a once-in-a-lifetime project for them, developing 13-acre plot of land into what would become a nine-building expansion of their senior living community. In just under three years, our team built nine buildings that ranged from assisted living and memory care to residential apartments and amenities buildings. An impressive feat by our team and I was proud to be a part of it.
- Barbara Walker Crossing – I always wanted to build a bridge. Turns out, it is a challenging feat! This bridge, a pedestrian crossing, connects the popular Wildwood Trail by crossing West Burnside Street. Due to the busy nature of the street, the bridge was fabricated almost entirely in Northeast Portland then cut in half to be re-assembled, lifted by crane and welded back together while limiting impact on traffic on a busy road. The project was both incredibly challenging and rewarding.
Q: You’ve held many positions in operations over the years, what have you enjoyed the most? What has been the most challenging?
John: It sounds like a cop out, but I have truly enjoyed them all for different reasons:
I enjoy actually building things. I like the physical part and most of the time being in the elements is great. Plus, it’s very gratifying to stand back and look at what you’ve created.
I like working with numbers and have always enjoyed managing a budget. I was very fortunate to work with some very talented superintendents early on in my career and I learned a ton. I loved working with superintendents on shop drawings, ordering steel, joists, glulams, etc. to length and ultimately, having them all fit. I was always trying to put myself and the company in a position to excel and win work.
Operations Department Head:
I enjoyed developing careers and working with superintendents and project managers to solve problems.
VP and President:
In this role, I enjoyed interfacing with all aspects of the company, working with more than just operations. Negotiating contracts, taking on new challenges, and managing people versus projects.
This role has been the most challenging and rewarding of my career. I’ve enjoyed working with a very smart leadership team on strategic plans to set the direction for the company. As CEO, you take everything personally and feel responsible for everything the company does and how it is seen in the community. It is a 24/7 job. I am inquisitive, I like to learn, negotiate, win and set the table for team members to do the same.
R&H’s Canyon Place project crew in Beaverton, OR (1985)
Q: R&H has seven values. Which one stand out to you the most and why?
John: Safety – because it involves peoples lives. When something goes wrong, it gets very real, very fast. It’s incredibly hard but incredibly important work to keep everyone safe. We need to keep it as Mission #1. I am very proud that there have not been any significant work injuries to an R&H employee in my 42 years with the company. I hope that remains true for decades more to come.
John awarding R&H team member Safety Awards during Construction Safety Week (2020-2022)
Q: What has inspired you in your career journey?
John: The people in our business that are incredible at their craft, whether it’s actually building, managing or planning a construction project.
Q: What makes R&H successful and unique in your opinion?
John: It’s the culture and the people. The service we provide, how much we care, always doing the right thing, and having fun along the way.
John has been an active part of R&H’s culture, participating in activities like the R&H Hood to Coast team, Oregon Food Bank volunteering, indoor skydiving at our team building events and more.
Q: What advice would you give those that are just starting their careers in the construction industry?
John: I would say to first learn the technical aspects of your trade, then master your listening and verbal communication skills. If you don’t understand something, ask someone to explain it to you. Be inquisitive.
Q: What is the biggest change you have seen in the industry during your career?
John: The speed at which information moves and access to it. It is incredible how quickly information is now transmitted and the expectations that have followed for the actual building process to be faster too. The construction process as a whole is definitely more efficient, yet principally we are still using many of the same tools and construction methods that were employed decades ago.
A sampling of John’s most memorable projects and clients from his 42-year career.
Q: If you had a crystal ball, what would you see as the next big disruption to the construction industry?
John: It would have to be Artificial Intelligence (AI). Much like my comment on how fast we move information, AI will fundamentally change many aspects of managing a project. We don’t know just yet what tasks will be replaced and what new positions will be created. From an actual building perspective, we continue to make gains in how we build.
A mix of moments from John’s time at R&H.
Q: What are you looking forward to most in retirement?
John: What I’m looking forward to most is the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I choose. More specifically, tinker with my house and yard, exercise more and do some traveling. Both my daughters live in France and I would like to see them more. I’m looking forward to playing golf, taking up fishing again, bike riding, skiing somewhere with good snow and maybe a little consulting.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote or saying? If so, let us know what it is and why.
John: “Don’t sweat the little shit and remember it’s all little.” Construction is full of opportunities, issues, problems or whatever your term is. If everything went perfect there would not be any need for most of us. With that said, whatever the issue is, deal with it an move on the next one.
Q: Any final thoughts?
John: I’m really proud of the thoughtful succession plan that we put in place over 2 years ago. With my retirement, Kraig O’Connor has assumed the role of CEO and President. Kraig is a seasoned construction professional and a long-standing R&H team member, who started his career with the company over 17 years ago as a project engineer. I know Kraig will do a tremendous job leading R&H and our team members to new heights. Consistent with R&H philosophy to promote from within, Kraig’s promotion has opened the door for other leaders of the company to step into new roles as well. We are stronger as a result and better set up for whatever the future holds. After 42 years, I am going to miss working alongside the incredible R&H team members, but I know they will be in good hands and its time for my next chapter.
Congratulations John on an incredible 42-year career. We’re grateful for your leadership and you will be dearly missed.