Construction Management: Financial Executives Need to Ask, “What’s Next?”

April 29, 2015

Preparing for the future is key to continued success in construction management.

Allen_Bona

I have enjoyed a career focused on real estate development, construction, management and ownership. Companies I have served are as diverse as a Dutch-owned commercial real estate firm to a publicly traded hotel owner based in Dallas to my current role as Senior Vice President / Chief Financial Officer of Kajima Building & Design Group in Atlanta.

One thing is clear to me after 30+ years in the real estate industry: our markets are always changing, so we must constantly ask ourselves, “What’s Next?”

I grew up in an Atlanta suburb, and graduated from Birmingham-Southern College with a double major in Business Administration and Accounting. Ironically, I initially did not care for accounting (too boring!), but made a successful career in finance once I broadened my view. Occasionally I look back and wonder, how did I get here? The answer is quite simple. Being a CFO is not just about dollars and cents, but it is also about serving as a strategic voice and helping a company move into the future, and sometimes, in a new direction.

I had to ask, “What’s next?” I had to evolve from the quiet “numbers guy” to a strategic thinker who was not afraid to share his views. The key was to have an open-minded approach to new opportunities and engage my colleagues in the thought process. I had to help others see ideas, issues, desires, and goals from different perspectives in order for us to make informed decisions; moving us from “no” to “let’s try it.”

More than 50 years ago, KBD Group’s parent company, Tokyo-based Kajima Corporation, also had to ask, “What’s next?” After completing its first U.S. project in the 1960s, the ceremonial teahouse on the grounds of the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., the firm had to look to the future. Kajima’s leaders saw the growth opportunity in the U.S. market and took a calculated risk to continue building here, eventually leading to the creation of the KBD Group you see today. As CFO, it’s my job to continue that tradition, use all of my financial faculties to help analyze opportunities and to “calculate” if risks are good ones.

Today, KBD Group has annual revenues in the $400 million range and is growing. It has faced challenges through the Great Recession and remained strong. The environment in which we work is still in a constant state of flux, but flux creates innovation and innovation whats-next-written-on-an-yellow-sticky-note-pinned-on-a-cork-boardcreates success. As market forces change, we find our clients asking us to move into new market areas and this keeps our team challenged to create pioneering solutions.

One such example of pioneering thinking is our newest project, the 309,000 SF flooring manufacturing facility and 221,000 SF warehouse in Cartersville, GA for BFS USA LLC, a Belgian flooring manufacturer. In recent years the flooring industry took a hit in Georgia, but foreign direct investment in the U.S. remains strong. KBD Group shifted its thinking. In addition to working with domestic and Japanese companies we looked to European-based manufacturers and assisted in bringing their industries and jobs here.

The KBD Group has also enjoyed a surge in its tire manufacturing business. It’s my job as the finance executive to prepare for the next surge. Managing financial performance is a critical aspect of my role, but looking to the future considers where our company and industry are going. This is about asking, “What’s next?”

The company’s founders asked the same question resulting in wonderful long-term results. I’m glad they asked because 50 years later we are building upon the Kajima foundation and are continuing to challenge ourselves to be ready for things to come. KBD Group will be ready because we will always ask, “What’s next?”

– Bona Allen, Senior Vice President & Chief Financial Officer, KBD Group USA