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C-Suite Spotlight: Adolfson & Peterson Construction CEO Jeff Hansen

This series gets into the heads of the decision-makers of CRE, the people shaping the industry by setting investment strategy, workplace design, diversity initiatives and more.

Jeff Hansen takes his cues as a leader from all sorts of places, from books by Simon Sinek to his favorite TV show, Ted Lasso.

Those influences inform his belief that leadership is changing. The days of the “hero leader” steering companies through sheer force of personality are gone, said the man who has led Aldofson & Peterson Construction, a family-owned national construction management firm and general contractor, for five years. Instead, he added, humility and learning to be a "leader of leaders" are the attributes that help drive an organization's forward momentum.

AP offers pre-construction, construction and contracting services to the commercial, education, healthcare, hospitality, industrial, multifamily, municipal, recreation and senior living market segments. It has more than 600 employees in Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, Texas and Wyoming. 

Adolfson & Peterson Construction CEO Jeff Hansen

Bisnow: Tell us about your leadership philosophy and what experiences, words of advice or mentors shaped it along the way.

Hansen: My leadership philosophy is focused on humility and servant leadership. It’s OK to not be the smartest person in the room. In fact, it can be a strength. Leaders are lifelong learners who take an interest in others and acknowledge the value they bring to the table. I have not been overly patient in my life and throughout my career. I do not believe that people “mellow” with age, but they can learn from experience and leverage situational analysis to drive action and solutions. I have learned to believe in the dream and not the result. People buy what you believe — not what you do or make. When I look at leaders I admire, they operate with humility and value the contributions of others. That is where I see people become inspired and more innovative. One of my past mentors once told me, “There’s always someone out there better than you. Focus on making yourself better each day by being a lifelong learner.” 

Bisnow: How has the role of CEO/business leader changed over time — especially when considering the early days of your career to now? 

Hansen: I’ve been in a leadership role for the past 22 years, but CEO for only the past five. In that time, I have seen the CEO position change to be more of a “leader of leaders” and have learned that leadership is not by position but by action. I have seen teams perform better when executives are leaders, not managers. The CEO should be the face of an organization and represent the values that drive the behavior of each team member. Engagement is key to team performance. A customer cannot love AP if our team members do not love AP. Our customers see the passion and energy because what we do for them is so tangible. Our team members build places where people heal, educate, live, work and play.

Bisnow: What will the role of CEO look like in 10 years?

Hansen: I believe the era of the “hero leader” is over. The all-powerful Wizard of Oz that rules a company by will and sheer force of personality will no longer get the job done. Innovation and fresh thinking will be more important as it becomes clear that no single person has all the answers. Leaders need to have the resiliency and strength to hear resistance or skepticism. Successful companies are run by people who understand the importance of input from all functional areas of the business rather than thinking the C-suite always knows best. Complexity and ambiguity will continue and the future CEO who seeks to create certainty will fuel short-term thinking and damage long-term goals and aspirations. Rather, a CEO can encourage leaders to acknowledge and embrace uncertainty and change as they work to achieve innovative solutions.

Bisnow: Was leading a company always a goal for you? If so, why?

Hansen: The short and honest answer is “no.” My career path was in finance rather than operations, but many years ago I discovered that understanding all areas of the company and partnering with operations increased my intimacy with the business. I was always impressed with operations people who also had a high level of financial acumen, and while I do not profess to be an operations expert, partnering with operations team members to understand what they need to be effective increased my understanding of the company. That level of engagement was a natural and organic way for me to aspire to higher levels of leadership in an organization. Building trust among all stakeholders in the business is a continual process, but I know how important that concept is when it comes to being an effective leader and becoming a leader of leaders.

Bisnow: What has been your biggest mistake as a leader?

Hansen: Undervaluing the importance of communication. The fast-paced nature of construction can often lead to restlessness and impatience. That is when it all breaks down. People forget to communicate, take a breath and evaluate each situation with a clear mind. That results in the questions, “Who else needs to know?” or “What else do I need to do?” Communication is the easiest problem to fix, but if left unchecked, it becomes a problem that will continue to persist. Communication leads to alignment and understanding. The times when I have not focused on clear communication in my career, messages get lost and we lose alignment.

AP Construction CEO Jeff Hansen

Bisnow: Has your thinking changed about the workplace between 2019 and today? How? What will your office strategy be moving forward?

Hansen: The pandemic proved that we can be agile and meet the remote needs of our team members. The needs were not exclusively a technology issue, but rather how we pivot to move the organization forward and keep our employees engaged. We did, however, introduce new challenges. Many of our team members value face-to-face interaction and professional development. Does a remote-working environment change the direction of a person’s career? We certainly hope not, and it’s our intention to address the needs of all employees, whether they can work remotely or not. We will see a trend in those looking to preserve some ability to work remotely and meet their work/life balance needs. That will play into our long-term view of the real estate we occupy to conduct our day-to-day business. The challenge will fall on our leaders to manage the effectiveness and productivity of our team members. We acknowledge that remote working is not for everyone, but we want to live by our values of work/life balance, and this is a topic that will need to be addressed for the long-term engagement of our team members.

Bisnow: There is a massive conversation underway regarding advancing more people of color and women into the C-suite. What are you doing to address those voices and that movement within your own organization? 

Hansen: Construction in general is not an overly diverse industry, especially in many parts of the country. And the level of diversity among the C-suite in our industry becomes even more problematic. AP, from an officer and board level, has made strides in this area in the past several years. Like any other general contractor, there’s still work to be done and our commitment to diversity is front and center in our workforce development initiatives, execution of work, external messaging and long-term goals as an organization. To promote diversity in our workforce, we need to have leadership that is not only diverse, but committed to diversity and inclusion. 

Bisnow: What do you think about the recent focus on sustainability and climate change? Is it overblown? Insufficient? Is your company tackling climate change in any way or taking it under consideration in your planning? 

Hansen: First, I do not think it is overblown for one simple reason — many of our customers are requiring the use of sustainable materials on our construction projects and others are making their companies sustainable because they see the long-term benefits of focusing on clean energy and other sustainable initiatives. AP has environmental stewardship as one of its long-term strategic goals. We live in a very industrious world, and I do not see that changing. The debates around advances in technology and alternative energy sources are more productive than the debate on the elimination of all fossil fuels. We have made strides in the U.S. to reduce/eliminate the reliance on foreign sources of energy due to the many levers we can pull from an energy supply perspective. AP prides itself as being one of the leaders in sustainable construction, especially since our customers and other stakeholders are demanding it more each year.

Bisnow: What is something CRE gets wrong in your eyes?

Hansen: As an industry, we sometimes forget buildings are really about the people and not about the transaction. A great example of this is today’s office market downturn. Developers, owners and users assumed that a large, sudden shift toward remote working would never happen. Then came the pandemic. Ultimately, I think we need to get to the point where we look at office, education and healthcare properties and envision a way to build them in a way that not only anticipates, but expects, that change is the new constant.

Bisnow: What asset class or location will perform best over the next five years? Why?

Hansen: From a construction perspective, I still see industrial construction being in demand for quite some time. The reliance on logistics for the delivery of goods and services through online purchasing will continue to increase the demand of distribution and fulfillment centers. Light manufacturing is another market I believe will continue to emerge from the pandemic as a strong need to address the supply chain shortages. Healthcare and hospitality took a real blow during the pandemic, and I only see healthcare construction coming back even stronger.

Bisnow: What book, article or TedTalk meant the most to you? Why?

Hansen: I would select Simon Sinek’s TedTalk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action. I have always been a Simon Sinek fan, including his books Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last. People know what they do and how they do it, but very few people take the time to know why they do it. That is what inspires action in companies, especially if you get your team members to think and then act that way. Leaders who start with what they believe are the ones who inspire those around them because, in the end, we all follow those who lead not for themselves, but for others. Our challenge is operating in an industry that’s often treated as a commodity — it’s about low fee and price. Our most valuable asset is our people. They deliver a very valuable service to owners and it’s that trusted adviser relationship that drives repeat business opportunities long-term. 

Bisnow: What is your all-time favorite TV show? Why?

Hansen: Currently, Ted Lasso is my favorite. The show is as much about an unorthodox coaching approach as it is about a personal commitment to a team. He values his team and places them above all else. And there are a lot of leadership lessons to be learned, as well. It blends humor, serious current issues and personal tenacity to achieve a great result. 

Bisnow: How do you spend your Saturdays?

Hansen: I must answer by season… after all, I live in Minnesota! Spring and summer are typically spent at the lake. It is our favorite place to be as a family and it has provided us with some of our fondest memories. The fall is awesome in Minnesota. Not only are the fall colors beautiful, but the season signals the start of college football and other outdoor activities. In the winter, my wife, Shannon, and I are usually wrapped up in projects around the house and enjoying the plethora of holidays that take place. Of course, there is also the occasional ski trip.