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The B-Sides: McCann finds fit in construction management, just like Dad

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Matthew McCann gets instructions from Kurt Roubal, project manager at Shiel Sexton.

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Matt McCann remembers his son, Matthew, wandering around the yard in a hard hat and wielding a hammer as a kid.

It was the elder McCann’s hard hat, his hammer.

But that seemed to be about the extent of the son’s interest in the father’s job working for Shiel Sexton, a construction management, general contracting and design-build services company with offices in Indiana and North Carolina.

Even when Matt moved up the ladder in the company — starting as a laborer, moving into carpentry work and watching projects on weekend before transitioning to the office and working in a human resources role and safety before, finally, settling in as the head of the company’s estimating department — Matthew never was quite sure what his dad did.

But when they’d drive by The Palladium at the Center for Performing Arts in Carmel, Dad would say, ‘Hey, we built that.’ Or when Matthew would attend a concert at what is now called the Klipsch Music Center, Dad could offer the nugget of the first person to play on stage there — one of Shiel Sexton’s laborers plugged his guitar in — because the company built the facility.

They were interesting points of conversation then, but that was about it.

Until Matthew enrolled at Purdue in 2015 and had to figure out what he wanted to major in. He came in “undecided.” After looking through programs Purdue offered, he opted for building and construction management “because my dad does it.”

“I thought it would be a good fit for me,” the younger McCann said recently.

And, now, nearly two years after that decision, Matthew is spending part of his summer interning for the same company his father works for, Shiel Sexton. He’s working on campus, too, as part of a team that is renovating Purdue’s Electrical Engineering Building, the Duncan Annex, the American Railway Building and the Materials and Electrical Engineering Building.

Not that Matt made it easy for his son to land a prime internship.

Matthew said he applied for an internship and then went to the career fair to speak with representatives of the company. Then he had to interview for the position.

“It helped a little having my dad in the company, but, at the same time, he wasn’t going to let me walk in there and get a job. He wanted me to earn it,” Matthew said.

It’s Matthew’s first job, as his parents allowed him to focus on football while he was in high school. That certainly panned out in the form of a football scholarship — he's a projected starter on the offensive lineman for 2017 — but it’s also made for quite an interesting month-plus on site as he's admitting adjusting to life in the working world.

Depending on when he’s working out for football — and now that the summer schedule is amped up under the new strength staff, Matthew has had to cut back his time in the internship a bit — the day is different on the job.

In May, he would get up at 6 a.m. to train and lift three times a week before heading to the job site at 7 or 8 and then work until about 3:30 p.m. Two other days a week, he’d work out after he was done with the internship.

His responsibilities are wide-ranging — and don’t really include maybe what would be the assumption for a 6-foot-6, 300-plus burly lineman. Rarely does Matthew do much physical labor in the internship. Though he’s been asked a couple times to help people “pick up stuff,” that’s not his primary role.

Instead, he says he’s part of the behind-the-scenes work, helping manage lists, owners manuals and keeping up with subcontractors. He’s enjoying learning how to read blueprints — it’s an art, he says. Mostly, he’s an office guy, though he makes sure to get out of the trailer, too.

He’s on a “team” includes two senior project managers, a project manager, the assistant superintendent, a superintendent, a project engineer and another intern.

“I like it because it’s a new challenge every day for me,” he said. “I learned that you’re not going to run into a perfect day ever. That’s the first thing I learned. It’s changing every day, new problems and new issues and you just have to work as a team to solve it. I like it for that aspect. It’s new. Every project you run into, it’s not going to be the same. So you’re not doing the same thing every day. So one project, you might be building, there’s actually a nuclear reactor in there, in the building we’re doing right now, so you have specialties like that. Just cool things because every building is not the same.

“I just sit back in meetings and I just listen. It’s really cool to see how they go about solving problems — and they’re multi-million dollar issues that they’re able to solve as a team.”

The internship and experience has only served to bring father and son closer.

Matthew will call his dad to ask questions or ask for advice on certain elements of the job.

Matt appreciates that and does his best to supply the answers — though not literally, in one case. Part of Matthew’s internship is preparing a presentation, coming up with costs and a schedule for a project and pitching why his team should be hired for it. That includes playing the estimator role.

“So he calls me. He’s like, ‘What do I do?’ ” Matt said. “I said, ‘You start making a list. Pricing projects. I make a shopping list. Then you start pricing.’ ‘Well, How do you do that?’ I’m like, ‘I start looking in the books, look in the plans. That gives you all the information.’ He hasn’t called me (back). He’s probably figured it out or asked somebody on the job site.”

In a twist, the job Matthew’s team is working on for the presentation is a project Matt actually estimated, so he has the literal answers. He is not sharing them.

He’s proud to report, his son seems to be thriving on the site. Though Matt insists he never asks for updates, he’ll often have co-workers pop into his office to tell him how Matthew is doing, and the reports always are positive.

That makes Dad happy, especially because he said he “didn’t really see it coming” that his son would pursue a similar career path.

And Matthew's path may be a touch more direct, too, than the one Matt had. He played baseball for a bit at Purdue while majoring in what’s now called organizational management but didn’t plan on getting into the construction business. But, after college, interviews weren’t panning out as quickly as his parents would like, so when they were getting their home renovated by Shiel Sexton, they told him to go work there. So Matt started at the company and has been there now for 26 years.

He hopes Matthew can stick for a long time, too.

“I’m happy he’s going into it,” Matt said. “He has that mentality that he wants to build something and see something he was involved in. I don’t think he’s a-9-to-5-sit-at-a-desk-all-day-long kind of kid. He likes to be out moving around. I think he’s getting a big dose of reality this summer. He’s always tired. I try to get a hold of him in the evenings, and he’s, ‘Well, I was on my feet all day.’ I’m like, ‘Welcome to the working world.’

"I didn’t push him into it because it’s a tough business. It really is.”

But Matthew knows where he can turn after a long day: Dad always is available.

Matt said they’ll speak three or four times a week, and if it’s lagging in the communication department, Matthew will call and say, “Why haven’t you called?” When they’re able to be with each other — Matt tries to get up to West Lafayette as much as he can — they’ll watch TV, talk, just “hang out,” Matthew said.

“We’re pretty close,” Matthew said. “We’re friends.”

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