In the early days of the pandemic, Frank Giunta realized the world, and the industry, had never encountered anything like this. Giunta, as head of the Americas for HKA, had been watching the virus progress around the world.
“It dawned on me that it was going to be far more serious than we expected,” he says. Giunta, an engineer with years of experience in project oversight, started thinking about how to help construction professionals get a handle on their pandemic-related problems. His idea: Invite leaders to share how they were dealing with a broad range of pandemic-related issues and discuss best practices. The program would be free and available to everyone.
“Frank loves addressing problems. He treats them like they are puzzles, and he likes to fix things that are broken,” says John Paolin, regional head of marketing at HKA. After working with Paolin and talking with industry groups, Giunta’s idea became a webinar series that landed at the American Bar Association’s Forum on Construction Law. Then-chair Kristine A. Kubes and distance learning leader Rob Ruesch of Verrill helped launch the series within a few weeks. HKA Partner Tracy Doyle, quickly helped organized topics and panels for the weekly series.
Kubes says the group landed on the format of a roundtable where “knowledgeable people could talk about the problems the industry was facing, share ideas, field questions” and together develop working resources.
The first webinar, April 7, was followed by 13 more with topics ranging from cash flow and force majeure to mediation and resilience. Participants stressed a cooperative, not combative, relationship between contractor and owner to handle virus-related delays and cost overruns. They discussed not only the problems, but also the solutions, such as advancing technologies that allowed work to continue both on and off site.
“It gave people an outlet,” Giunta says. “We tried to bring in the best and the brightest to help answer all of the questions.” When the series ended in September, it had drawn more than 3,000 people. It will start up again this spring.
Timely and useful
A range of groups from the Associated General Contractors of America to Columbia University’s Center for Buildings, Infrastructure and Public Spaces offered COVID programming as well, but the ABA series was broad-based and multidisciplinary. “For the price, you couldn’t get anything like this,” says Leslie King O’Neal associate general counsel for Brasfield & Gorrie, a participant on two of the webinars who listened to others. It was “very timely and useful,” O’Neal said, and neither participants nor organizers were getting paid. “It was a true service to the industry.”
Though HKA could have used the series to advance its business and charge participants, Giunta said it wouldn’t have been as successful without letting everyone know that no one was profiting from it. That premise attracted participants such as O’Neal and Michael T. Kamprath, assistant general counsel at the Tampa International Airport.
The series “was invaluable,” says Kamprath. “It provided comprehensive regular discussion and expertise on emerging COVID issues on construction projects and how they were being addressed across the nation.”