By Rachael Kvapil
A brief break from years in industry reaffirms a passion for business
In December 2013, John Eng sold his established general contracting business and took a three-year sabbatical. He traveled and spent his days trying a variety of activities. At some point, he even considered retirement. Ultimately, Eng decided to create High Point Construction in fall 2016 and he returned to the industry with the same dedication that made him a top player in the field.
“Maybe it was just boredom,” Eng said jokingly when asked about returning to construction. “But after much thought and deliberation, I realized my passion is business — the construction business in particular.”
Eng, president of High Point Construction, has been in the industry since graduating college in the 1970s, conducting quantity surveys, cost estimates and project assignments on commercial, health care, military, education, entertainment, food manufacturing and transportation projects. In 1993, he founded Cornerstone General Contractors Inc. and built it to an award-winning firm with a strong reputation.
He appears to be on the track to success once again with High Point Construction. In the time since incorporation, High Point Construction has been investigating market opportunities, acquiring contracts and hiring employees for leadership and craft assignments.
High Point Construction Inc. focuses on vertical construction projects and renovations such as the improvements to the Kenai Fjords Tour offices in Anchorage.
John Eng, who sold the construction company he founded in 1993, recently created High Point Construction after a brief sabbatical. Photo courtesy High Point Construction.
One High Point Construction leader who has played a major role in the company’s success is senior project manager Douglas Cobb. Cobb worked with Eng on various projects over the years as an owners’ rep and project manager. He was running his own consulting firm, Project Development Associates, or ProDev LLC, when Eng approached him about starting High Point Construction.
“The timing was right for me,” Cobb said. “My business partner retired and moved out of state, plus the market was changing.”
High Point Construction is developing an impressive portfolio that includes work for the Valdez School District and Kenai Fjords Tours as well as renovations to the Alaska Regional Hospital. It is also gearing up for a summer project renovating earth-covered magazines at Fort Wainwright.
Cricket Gartrell, a project manager at Ascent PGM, said diligence and attention to detail really showed when it came to the renovation of Hermon Hutchins Elementary School in Valdez. High Point Construction was responsible for interior elements of the project, primarily window replacements that changed the previous slanted design to vertical. Gartrell said a condensed timeline created the biggest challenge, as crews couldn’t start work until classes concluded in late May. Additionally, as the project was a renovation, the window openings weren’t uniform, further complicating and delaying order placement.
“High Point did an excellent job communicating with the vendor, tracking shipments and working seven days a week when the windows finally arrived. They were excellent with their paperwork, which was really appreciated.”
Gartrell, who worked previously with Eng through Cornerstone, said she’s impressed with the support he provides his crews and employees, building leadership skills with them regardless of age or experience.
Eng has a clear vision when it comes to employees. First and foremost, they must have empathy for all project stakeholders. “There are people with experience, but if their attitude doesn’t match the ethics, character and needs of a customer and stakeholders then experience may not be all that helpful. Appropriate attitudes are the most important quality in team leaders.”
To overcome hiring challenges, Eng looks to his networks and researches the references of prospective employees. He also devotes significant time to employee training, in which the firm’s values are imparted regularly, and attempts to align his employees’ personal interests with their job assignments.
“It is important to remind ourselves that we lead people and manage things, it is a mistake to treat teammates like things and manage them as opposed to leading them.”
High Point Construction has been an AGC member since 2016. Eng said his company has benefited most from AGC training programs and the opportunity to establish and maintain relationships with subcontractors and material suppliers and to attend presentations by public agencies outlining the needs for the approaching years.
Eng said he is excited about the future for the firm, stating that the key to success is emphasizing customers’ priorities. This means maintaining high standards in the paperwork process and providing quality construction while developing good relationships with everyone involved. He said good relationships lead to repeat customers and word-of-mouth references that will further the growth of High Point Construction.
“We can expand quickly with valuable employees that match the needs of our clients and customers,” Eng said. “So much of our work depends on strong relationships.”
Crews from High Point Construction completed structural upgrades and replaced windows for 30 classrooms as well as a new cafeteria
storefront at the Herman Hutchins Elementary School in Valdez. Photo courtesy High Point Construction
Rachael Kvapil is a freelance writer living in Fairbanks.