Illustration by Jonny Ruzzo
In 2010, Kyle Larkin was one of Reno Gazette Journal’s “Twenty Under 40” award recipients while a chief estimator and manager of construction at Granite Construction in Reno, Nevada. At the same time, as president of a children’s cancer nonprofit, Larkin merged two nonprofit boards to create the Northern Nevada Children’s Cancer Foundation and then led the new one.
The Built Blog spoke with Larkin about the importance of safety in the construction industry and how he addresses the other issues Granite faces. Edited excerpts follow.
Built: How did you choose the construction industry?
Larkin: My dad inspired me. He worked in computers in Silicon Valley, and I knew I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to be outside. When I was applying to college and trying to figure out what to do, he pulled out an old notebook of mine. I’d had all kinds of ideas for projects I wanted to do, and he got tired of hearing about them so he told me to write them down. I drew designs and listed materials for a skateboard ramp and PVC bicycle, for example. He reminded me of what I enjoyed doing, and my mom found a program. I got a degree in construction management at California Polytechnic State University.
Built: What advice do you have for people looking to follow in your career footsteps?
Larkin: When I look back on my career, beyond having great champions along the way, I’ve always taken on new things. Whether it’s getting a graduate degree, signing on for stretch assignments, doing something different in the business, reading business books or getting involved in nonprofits, I made sure I was constantly learning. I’ve been working with a business coach for over a year and I plan to continue with him because he challenges me.
Built: What’s your favorite part of the job?
Larkin: The people in this industry. They’re special—hardworking and down to earth. I do like being out in the field, and I don’t get to do that much in my current role, so the days I get out and about are the best ones for me. We had safety week a few weeks ago, where a lot of our leaders go on the road and meet with our teams and promote safety. Those are great days for getting out and being in the field.
Built: What’s the best advice you ever got about this industry?
Larkin: It’s all about relationships, which is not necessarily specific to our industry. It’s also about building high-performance teams, which comes back to people. If you can build high-performance teams, you can step out of the way and let them run.
Built: What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the construction industry right now?
Larkin: Workforce development. It’s always been our biggest issue. A second pressing issue is safety. We still are a somewhat dangerous industry, and if we can become safer, we can actually promote workforce development more. People would be more excited to work in an industry that is safer.
Built: What keeps you up at night as an executive?
Larkin: There’s a lot that comes with having the opportunity to lead a 100-year-old company. I feel inherent pressure to really deliver and perform at the highest level for our stakeholders, employees, shareholders and communities. It’s what motivates me and what keeps me up at night. Are we doing everything we need to be doing? Are we doing it at a pace we’re happy with? Ultimately, we want to leave the company in a better place for the next generation.
Built: How do you structure your time to fix the most important issues you face in your role?
Larkin: We do spend time figuring this one out. It’s all about a process. We’re structured about how we approach things, such as how we set up our meetings. It’s really about calendar management; we make sure we put adequate time on the calendar to discuss and manage items that are critical for the company. We have people dedicated to them as well, which helps. One of the things I learned along the way from a book is if you say yes to one thing, you’re saying no to something else, so you need to make sure you’re saying yes to the right things.