Veterans in Construction: Brandon Cullum

Veterans in Construction: Brandon Cullum

Bluebeam’s lead development representative once spent his weeks preparing communications for the president of the United States as a member of the US Navy

Brandon Cullum is a lead development representative at Bluebeam, working with potential customers every day to help them figure out what the construction technology company’s software can do for their business.

The job can be challenging. Being good at communications and logistics is paramount; days can be stressful; and there are big, performance-based goals to be successful.

Luckily for Cullum, one of his previous jobs prepared him well.

Before helping construction companies find the proper technology solutions for their business, Cullum spent his days, nights and many holidays aboard the USS Shiloh off the coast of Japan as a member of the United States Navy.

There, Cullum took on responsibilities with large, geopolitical implications. The naval ship primarily patrolled the Sea of Japan, tracking missile activity from North Korea. Among other assignments, Cullum monitored naval traffic, air traffic and assumed the role of tactical data coordinator, communicating with other ships and aircraft.

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Yet perhaps his most high-profile responsibility came in the form of the military communications and logistics planning he undertook, which was routinely reviewed by the US military’s commander-in-chief, the president of the United States.

Deep in the heart

Had it been up to Cullum, however, his military career would have been in the air, not out at sea.

Cullum grew up as one of six kids, and when his parents told him they couldn’t afford to pay for college, he and his older brother started talking about joining the armed services. “I didn’t want to go into debt,” Cullum said. “And I felt like serving my country at that time was something I would enjoy and I was looking forward to doing.”

Cullum’s brother joined the Air Force, which was Cullum’s first pick as well. But his vision in his left eye was too poor to qualify for that branch of the service, so Cullum wrote a letter to the Navy, which accepted him.

Cullum left his home in Arlington, Texas, for boot camp and school in Chicago at the Recruit Training Command. “At 5:30 in the morning in January, walking out with that lake hitting your fresh-shaved face, it was a little tough, I’m not going to lie,” Cullum said.

Despite the cold, Cullum emerged from his training as a tactical information coordinator; he was assigned as a navigator to the USS Shiloh, a ballistic missile defense ship.

As a Navy tactical data coordinator, Cullum led teams through 10 multinational and joint exercises; he also trained 30 junior officers in their duties and responsibilities in the combat information center. Cullum was also responsible for the daily ballistic missile defense (BMD) report that covered all movement in the 7th Fleet.

On a weekly basis, this report went directly to his captain, commanding officer and the president of the United States. “It was a 365 slide that was updated every single day,” Cullum said. “It didn’t matter if it was Christmas, it didn’t matter if it was just a regular Tuesday, it was always updated.”

Reporting to his captain with the BMD report was “the toughest sell of my life,” Cullum said. “I had to make sure that everything I had lined up was what he wanted to hear, and I had to make sure I had the questions answered that he was going to ask.”

New tasks and purpose

In 2016, Cullum left the Navy after four years of deployment and returned to Texas, settling in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “I didn’t have a solid plan getting out,” Cullum said. “I just wanted to come home to my family and I was so fortunate enough to meet the CEO and founder of a men’s dress clothes company called Mizzen+Main. They were a startup brand. I started helping out with customer service and they saw some potential in me that I’ll always be thankful for to start doing operations and logistics.”

Soon, Cullum realized that his experiences in the Navy had prepared him well for the startup world. He was accustomed to organizing and tracking detailed information from numerous sources, prioritizing tasks and performing in a stressful environment.

Cullum nevertheless found more ways to help build the company, discovering a passion for customer development. “As a small startup,” Cullum said, “I did basically everything under the sun as far as talking to customers; I would help go to our pop-up store, set them up, hang around for the opening event, meet people, ask them what they enjoyed, what they didn’t enjoy.”

Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, sending economies around the world into a recession. Retail suffered more than other industries. Cullum found himself at a critical juncture.

“I honestly had had conversations with myself, saying ‘are men’s dress shirts really my passion?’ I didn’t know if it was. I felt like I was more in love with the idea of giving my all to a company,” Cullum said. “And, I told Bluebeam this when I was getting ready to accept the job … I could tell that everyone in this industry and at Bluebeam was super excited to be there. Not only that, but the product was great, and if you have a great product, it’s not hard to sell.”

Do it right

Cullum said there are many skills he picked up throughout his time in the Navy that have translated into his civilian career. But one saying in particular stands out, especially as he has learned more about the construction industry.

“My first captain, Capt. Jones, his sign-off was always, ‘If you’re going to do it, do it right. That is all.’ And, I know that that’s something that is a military term, and it definitely translates to the construction industry with time and money … either the owner says it, the architect will say it, the engineer will say it, or your general contractor or subcontractor will eventually say it. So it’s simple, but at the same time, there’s a lot that goes into making sure if you’re going to do it, you do it right.”

Although Cullum hasn’t worked in construction personally prior to his role at Bluebeam, his military experience has helped him recognize the similarities between working on a construction jobsite and a naval ship like the USS Shiloh. He said one of the greatest similarities he’s observed is the need to have a solid plan.

“I think the greatest skill—and I don’t know if it’s a skill or is more just drilled into my brain—is just this need for a plan for my day,” Cullum said. “When you’re in the military, they tell you what time you’re going to eat, and they’re going to tell you what time you’re going to meet, and they plan it out. Across the construction industry, you need to know what you’re doing and when you need to do it, so you can just excel at your day.”

Today, as a lead development representative on Bluebeam’s sales and marketing team, Cullum guides the team tasked with communicating to potential customers. He admits communicating to prospective customers isn’t quite the same as his military communications he prepared for the leader of the free world.

Still, he takes the responsibility just as seriously. “It’s my job to get customers’ foot in the door and make sure that the relationship is something that’s not just great for them, but great for us at Bluebeam,” Cullum said.

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