Behind the Build: Interview with Jonathan Wheeler, Project Manager, Fullmer Construction

The productivity challenge in construction isn’t so much a people issue as it is a process one. Knowledge silos, impediments to collaboration, and disparate data sources all contribute to the problem. In recent years, we’ve seen how advanced technology can help solve these issues by creating a single source of information, increasing collaboration, and accelerating decision-making with real-time information. 

Jonathan Wheeler, Project Manager at Fullmer Construction, is one leader in the construction industry who is leveraging the benefits of advanced technology to improve processes and productivity. 

We recently spoke with Jonathan about his journey in construction, how he uses technology to overcome challenges, and his future plans for pushing innovation forward. Read his story below. 

Tell us more about Fullmer Construction and what the company specializes in.

Located in Ontario, California, Fullmer Construction was founded in 1946. The firm focuses on commercial, precast and tilt-up industrial, tenant improvement, office and private campus, medical office, and reconstruction projects. Fullmer is known for its specialization in a brand of commercial construction called tilt-up warehouses. This includes big concrete boxes, distribution facilities, warehouse facilities, manufacturing facilities, and both heavy-duty and light-duty storage facilities. 

Walk us through your career and what led you to become a project manager.

I’ve been in some form of construction for all of my adult life. I started on the East Coast as a broom pusher for a housing developer. From there, I moved to running and managing crews on my own, later moving on to be project superintendent. This work was primarily residential with some multifamily housing. 

Six years ago, I moved out to California to get involved in the more commercial side with Fullmer. Initially, I started out as a project superintendent out here and got into the tilt-up commercial construction world, and then, about a year and a half ago, I was promoted to project manager. 

What project are you most proud of working on in your career?

I worked on a full tenant improvement project as a remodeled build-out for Kawasaki Motors in Irvine. This was an amazing project because of its custom features and its size. The site is about 300,000 square feet, and we did it in about four months. 

We were on a compressed timeline and did a lot of custom work. The timeline was the biggest challenge. We worked triple shifts, and it was very management intensive.

It was cool to work with a company like Kawasaki. It was neat to get a behind-the-scenes look at how Kawasaki operates. We built them a custom dyno building for their racing team and a big custom showroom for all their motorcycles. Plus, they have particular requirements. They know what they want, and they’re not happy until they get it. That’s why they’re such a great company with a loyal following because they try to achieve perfection.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your role? How does technology help you overcome those challenges?

The most complicated part of my job is keeping up with everything, especially the paperwork. So it has to morph. One of the biggest reasons we moved to work with Autodesk Construction Cloud and Autodesk Build is getting access to the platform, which helps us speed up communication across the board, transfer documents, and collaborate between individuals across the field and office. The biggest change for us was going from physical paper for communication and documentation to software-based communication and documentation.

The most significant challenge that technology helps to overcome is the speed at which communication travels.

Our projects are getting continuously more complicated while we’re trying to find ways to shrink the timeline of our schedules and reduce our budgets. It’s a tug-of-war.

You have to find ways to cut costs somewhere while not cutting productivity. That’s one of the big linchpins where technology can play a part.

I’m most excited about Autodesk Build helping us to bridge that gap between the office and the field. Autodesk Build is really going to help us streamline the flow of communication across the board.

What are your plans to advance innovation and productivity at Fullmer Construction in the future?

We’re focused on productivity and time management. The focus for me is finding ways to do my job quicker, more efficiently, and better. This involves improving documentation and tracking.

Just looking at the industry in the future, it’s also important to consider how quickly communication needs to travel. There’s only going to be more and more paperwork involved in our projects and our processes. That’s pushed us into becoming more forward-thinking with technology.

Now, our people are fully set up on remote-based laptops, mobile devices, file sharing programs, and the cloud. The pandemic pushed us to take multiple steps forward as a company in a shorter period of time than we would have otherwise. I imagine there’s even more significant change on the horizon. 

What advice would you give to the next generation of men and women entering and preparing to enter the industry?

Don’t get bogged down. Projects in the industry tend to really suck you in.I would tell my younger self that there will always be more issues to deal with tomorrow. You’re never going to figure everything out today. It’s about taking everything one day and one step at a time. Try not to get overwhelmed with everything as a whole because there are always going to be more things to deal with. You just manage with what you have on your plate today and then let tomorrow be what it is.

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