We recently sat down with Brian Herman, Director of Preconstruction and Estimating at Benson Industries, the custom curtain wall and external cladding subcontractor behind many of the most iconic construction projects worldwide.
Below, he shares his career trajectory, how he builds strong relationships with general contractors and suppliers, and how Benson Industries sets themselves apart in an increasingly competitive industry.
What initially got you into construction?
I started in construction in the tile and stone industry over 30 years ago. At that point, it was just a summer job to help me buy a car and means to travel.
After college, I went back into the stone world, primarily focused on large monumental casinos in Las Vegas. I did that up until about 12 years ago when I made the move into the world of custom exterior facades.
Looking back, what's the most memorable project you’ve worked on?
Working on large casinos — like the Bellagio and the Venetian in Las Vegas — was definitely memorable. However, with Benson Industries, my most memorable projects have been the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, the Wilshire Grand in Los Angeles, and One World Trade Center in New York City. Those were landmark projects that dramatically changed the skylines of their cities.
Can you tell us a little more about Benson Industries?
Benson Industries was established in 1926 as Tom Benson Glass, a small glass shop servicing the Portland, Oregon market. The company now specializes in high-quality, custom unitized curtain wall and is a world leader in bespoke facades. Benson Industries was acquired by Mitek Industries, a Berkshire Hathaway company, in 2013.
We maintain Portland as our headquarters, with regional offices in Seattle, Los Angeles, and New York; engineering offices in Manila and Singapore; and a dedicated state-of-the-art assembly facility in Otay Mesa, Mexico. In addition to our monumental major project focus in the Pacific Northwest, we have stuck to our roots and maintain full-service contract glazing offices with fabrication capabilities and services in Portland and Seattle.
What are your responsibilities as Director of Preconstruction and Estimating?
My team, working closely with sales and design, quantify and clarify project requirements, then establish a plan and a cost model that will lead us to a win. After award, our efforts are focused on the design-assist process, where we collaborate with each project stakeholder. The goal is to balance the architect’s vision, the owner’s budget, and the contractor’s schedule to fully develop an exterior facade solution.
We used to do all of our material and subcontract pricing requests via email and spreadsheets. While the process worked, it was time-consuming and cumbersome to manage. We kept seeing invites coming through BuildingConnected from our own clients and became interested in the software. Seeing the benefits it provided to them, we decided to try it out, and we’ve been happy with that decision ever since.
How has using BuildingConnected benefited your team?
Before BuildingConnected, we would just hit the highlights of our scope buyouts — the big-ticket items we knew we immediately needed to price. Now, we’re able to reach and qualify more suppliers, giving us much better coverage across the board. This, along with the Bid Leveling features, allows us to compare and contrast suppliers much more quickly. We are now able to get comprehensive and qualified scope coverage 30-40% faster than our previous processes.
This updated process gives us the ability to focus on the technical and logistical aspects of the project instead of filling out spreadsheets. It enables us to focus more on presenting the real value that Benson brings to our industry and clients.
What’s your top tip for developing good relationships with general contractors?
My top tip? Become invaluable! I want our clients to come to us because they know we can solve a problem for them.
Also, make sure to understand your scope. My goal when pursuing new work is to know our scope better than anyone else. Winning work is not just about cost, it’s about trust.