Jeff Akers brings the experience of a military education and playing middle linebacker in college to the job site, but he doesn’t bark orders or threaten to take off heads to get the job done. As a Haskell Project Superintendent, he relies on communication and team-building to make his jobs run smoothly and efficiently.
Akers, 41, is a 2001 graduate of Virginia Military Institute, where he earned a degree in Civil Engineering and began his career as an assistant construction supervisor with a large international contractor in Washington, D.C. He joined Haskell in 2018 when he heard about the Blue Origin South Campus project in Merritt Island, Florida.
Currently, he is supervising construction of the Gulfstream Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) Facility at Alliance Airport in Fort Worth, Texas, a 160,000-square-foot building that encompasses hanger space, back shops and employee and customer offices.
Prior to joining the team, Akers found Haskell’s culture and benefits attractive. A family man who lives with his wife, Mandy, and their children, ages 18, 7 and 5, in Viera, Florida, he plans trips home to make sure he doesn’t miss important life events, such as birthdays, graduations or dance recitals.
Since breaking ground on the Gulfstream project in late January, the subcontractors and labor force are apt to see Akers where the action is rather than sitting in his trailer. He makes it a point to introduce himself and build rapport with the 100 to 150 men and women he is supervising on any given day. He sees himself as the link between the subcontractors and the Haskell culture.
“My biggest thing is to build relationships,” he said. “I make it about more than just work. I ask about their families. I get to know the workers, not just the supervisors. I build relationships with the subs and the guys to make it more personal than just a job.”
This leadership style hasn’t been lost on his fellow Haskell team members. David Bates, Vice President for Construction, appreciates Akers’s professionalism.
“What I have seen with Jeff is his approach and that his style overseeing the work leaves no question who the leader is and who provides direction,” Bates said. “There is a good understanding of where the project is and how to get to the finish line.”
Not that it is his way or the highway. The current project has provided specific challenges from the beginning. The sandy Texas soil must be backfilled with a mixture of mud and dirt to create a sturdy, dependable foundation. This technique was new to Akers, so he was quick to leverage the expertise of a local foreman. He’s known for asking questions.
“That was a learning curve for me,” Akers said. “They had to teach me how it works. It’s a whole different kind of construction that I am not used to.”
Jason Heuler, project manager on Akers’ previous assignment at the Blue Origin South Campus Warehouse, saw right away that Akers wanted to learn. Heuler recalled the supervisor asking constructive questions about why things were done in a particular way.
“In the weekly subcontractor meetings, he promoted dialogue from everybody,” Hueler said. “He wanted input. At the conclusion of the meeting, everyone understood what they had to do to make the entire job a success.”
Alden Slemkewicz has found that to be true working with Akers as the project manager on the Gulfstream project.
“You don’t need to know everything, but you have to know to ask the right questions to dig into things,” Slemkewicz said. “If we are going over a procedure and if Jeff doesn’t know how it works, he drills down and brings up good conversations on it. That’s very helpful on the project.”
Akers uses his football experience to motivate his crews.
“I am more of a coach on this team,” he said. “You are always better because of the people you are surrounded by. Plumbers, electricians, drywall guys, I learn from them. They take pride in their trades. Let them show you what they can do, and they will take more pride in their work.”
Problem-solving comes with the job. Akers lost about a week because of the devastating Arctic storm that shut down Texas. Although the site had generators, he halted the project and told subs not to drive on the icy roads or expose themselves to the bitter cold, but rather to attend to their families as they dealt with a lack of electricity and water.
A similar call was made when hurricanes threatened the Blue Origin project in Florida. Already facing a tight construction deadline, Akers sacrificed valuable construction time and directed crews to secure the job site.
“Safety first. It is not worth a job schedule if we have an accident or an incident,” he said. “It was not worth putting themselves in danger.”