THE ETHICS OF DESIGN BUILD
“In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” — Warren Buffet
“The ethical framework of design build in our world of construction is based on integrity, the respect of all the professionals and ownership combined, and our commitment to make sure the owners’ understanding of the design is fully, clearly and sharply in focus.” — John Tahtabrounian
The construction industry has had its own Code of Ethics since 1992 (and updated just this past April.) But there’s also an unwritten code that involves the recognition of integrity that leads to trust.
John Tahtabrounian, who heads Oliver Construction Inc (OCI), says, “The design build ethos isn’t built around finances and it isn’t built around the process; the mutual understanding and the trust factor are more important. You have to be able to look at the people you’re working with and working for, and know the trust is there.”
Building that trust pays off for everyone when it comes to problematic situations involving bid shopping or change orders. “Normally, a lot of owners will look at the bottom line numbers, ‘This is ten thousand, this is eight thousand, this is nine thousand, we’re going to get the eight thousand. Done. We’re finished,’” without asking the pertinent
and very important questions, says Tahtabrounian.
“In construction, you’re relying on trust in a number without seeing the finished product. Ethics-wise, that’s what we look upon; to make sure that all the numbers work, that the owners fully understand where the numbers are going. and to give them that sense of understanding.”
As to the bid-shopping undercutters, Tahtabrounian is firm. “I can’t walk into a Ferrari dealership and expect to buy one for the price of a Corvette.”
But isn’t there always some sort of “magic deal” possible?
“There is no magic deal for a project that has nuts and bolts, material, equipment,overhead, expenditures, and profit,” says Tahtabrounian. “Everyone’s entitled to a profit. The dealers are entitled to a profit, the contractors are entitled to a profit, and when someone is squeezed out of a profit when they need it, that will come back to bite
you, because you won’t be able to get what you need.”