When Gilberto Neves, chief executive officer of Miami-based Odebrecht Construction, called Eloise Gonzalez in the middle of the night to come with him on an emergency trip to earthquake-torn Haiti, she was astounded. The owner of a small business, Commercial Interior Contractors, she says she had never worked outside Florida, let alone in a disaster zone. But she agreed, and within 18 hours Neves’ team was mobilized to begin restoring the American Airlines terminal at Haiti’s airport.
Gonzalez agreed to step out of her comfort zone thanks to the trust and loyalty bred from years of working with Neves, she says. “His philosophy is to bring people to the next level,” she says. “He pushes us to get better, even when we don’t want to.”
That philosophy is embodied in a training program of seminars that runs the gamut from building information modeling to worksite safety. A local joint venture of Parsons Transportation Group and Odebrecht USA (POJV) holds a $542-million contract for Miami International Airport’s North Terminal expansion, and team members have taught more than a dozen seminars to date.
Out of 83 South Florida Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) firms that have attended the North Terminal Educational Institute, 36 had or have contracts to perform work on the airport program—the rest were contacted through extensive outreach by brochure, letter and fax. “Even the airline employees have trained with us,” says Neves. The seminars have on average 60 participants.
What informs his philosophy? Neves credits Odebrecht’s longstanding policy of social responsibility and mentorship; further, he saw a need for better relationships when he began working in Florida. “In every project, what I found coming here 20 years ago was how small contractors feared large contractors,” he says. Neves directed his employees to extend a higher level of patience with inexperienced small contractors to help them learn. “I told them we can’t just terminate them. Their success is our success,” he says.
Gonzalez calls the program “an MBA course for contractors” and says the crucial factor is in the level of commitment. “These courses I’m taking from them, they’re not getting any credit,” she says. “This is not to make things look pretty or score points. They’re passionate about sharing this information.”
That extended even to Haiti, where local residents were trained for carpentry work. Neves mobilized a team in 18 hours after receiving a call from American Airlines, and the subcontractors answered the call in good faith, even though there was no firm contract. “We had no contract signed. I called contractors who could trust that they would get paid. We took care of [vaccine] shots and international insurance and loaded planes,” says Neves.
Odebrecht also is working on a $6-billion dam in Brazil’s Amazon, where originally 70% of the workforce was to be imported. Instead, “We have trained more than 12,000 locals,” says Neves. One trainee, he says, was a single mother who applied for a janitorial job at the project site. Six months later, she became a heavy excavation operator making seven times as much as she had before.