The Construction Owners Association of America (COAA) is an organization dedicated to promoting the role of capital construction owners within the planning, design and construction process. The following is a question and answer session with Gwen Glattes, project controls manager at Penn Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, and board member of COAA, detailing her involvement in the organization. Glattes outlines how she got started with COAA, what’s happening currently and what she sees for the future of the organization.


What is your background in the industry?

Over the course of my career, I have been fortunate to hold several financial positions with employers representing different tiers of the construction industry.  I began my career working for a subcontractor, then general contractors and construction managers, and now an owner. I guess at the end of the day one could say I followed the money. With every position, I changed my professional perspective which became incredibly valuable to ensuring a successful career in the areas of construction audit and project controls.

What position do you currently hold?

My current role with Penn Medicine is project controls manager for the pavilion project which includes the responsibility of serving as subject matter expert for all project finances, fiscal contract compliance, and administrative controls.  The pavilion is a 500-bed patient tower with 47 operating rooms and a new emergency department, anticipated to be completed in 2021. The five-year project is being built using the integrated project delivery methodology [a team-based approach that serves to align the interests of owners, architects and contractors]. The opportunity to work on a project utilizing IPD was one of my primary reasons for accepting this position and I owe a great deal of gratitude to COAA for educating me over the years on this delivery method and supporting strategies.

How did you get involved with COAA?

At the suggestion of my manager, I attended my first COAA conference in 2006 and I have been involved ever since. I was an auditor at that time. Listening to conversations about evolving trends made me want to participate in COAA because, as the industry changes, the fiscal processes and controls need to as well. Truthfully, I don’t really remember what the content was at that first conference, but I do remember the people and the many conversations about the industry. Two stand out in particular: a discussion about the use of 3D software called BIM, and the idea of alternative project delivery methods. Fast forward a few years and look how both have changed the construction industry. 

Participating with COAA on the board level has been very rewarding as well. It has given me the opportunity to develop professionally in ways outside of employment. At the board level I have been able to watch the growth of several of COAA’s programmatic offerings; including COAA’s Owner Training Institute (OTI) and the growth of COAA’s chapter network. Peer to peer networking is a perk of any professional association, but the relationship development opportunities through involvement in COAA span across the industry.

In what ways do you think COAA is improving the industry?

Owners who engage with COAA have the opportunity to participate in evolving industry concerns. The construction industry has been resistant to change for quite a while, but it is changing and it is improving. As most will agree, successful change takes time, can be difficult and tends to happen one project at a time. With the many software tools that are now available, and the willingness of owners and industry partners to be collaborative and innovative, the opportunity to improve the project delivery process is now the desired outcome.

COAA’s biggest contribution to improving the industry is the platform we offer for education and candid conversations. Whether a leadership conference or chapter event, COAA is committed to presenting industry-balanced content and promoting collaboration and team work as evidenced in the design of our OTI training courses where the instruction team consists of an owner, an architect or an attorney (course specific), and a contractor. COAA strives to encourage this kind of interaction and collaboration and ultimately bring awareness to the value of being a “good owner” and what it means.

What do you expect in the future for COAA?

In the short term – COAA is in the process of finalizing the 2018 fall chapter workshops and OTI course offerings and our conference committee is hard at work planning our Fall Leadership Conference to be held Nov.14 – 16, 2018 at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

COAA will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2019 and although this might define us as a mature association, COAA is still relatively young, especially when we acknowledge that this association has grown primarily through volunteer and grass-root efforts.  

COAA’s participation in several industry-based initiatives over the years has defined the association as the voice of the owner.  Owners don’t need to be the loudest voice at the table, but COAA supports that the owner needs and wants to be part of the conversation. Going forward you’ll see COAA being more intentional about partnering and collaborating within the industry. We are reviewing our current business model and are ready to make adjustments if necessary to ensure our programs and resources provide the maximum support for owner engagement. The need for owner engagement within this organization is probably apparent, but it can be challenging at times. Time and obligations aside, owners tend to not know other owners unless their paths cross; and therefore, we need our industry partners to help us make the connections.

Finally, in the last 10 years, COAA chapters have grown and brought a great deal of energy to the association, through increased programmatic offerings and access to COAA on a regional level. As a result, the platform for discussion on what makes a “good owner” has grown tremendously.  The COAA board is working with chapter leadership to define our message, methodology and supporting principles which we have collectively defined as "The COAA Way."