Construction Boss called me The Chaplain

Mentoring in Construction is a tough gig, Gerry was my doorway.

The following is my story and intro into the high rise construction industry in Perth Western Australia through construction Boss, Gerry Hanssen. Gerry has become a friend and mutual agitator to make a difference in the lives of people and the building industry.

‘The job is the boss’ – A term that defines Gerry Hanssen. 

At a distance Gerry can appear disconnected with his outlandish statements and a larger than life attitude.

He can be his worst own enemy fighting his own conscience or as he often likes to put it “The peanut upstairs or God, whatever you like to call him; wakes me up in the middle of the night and won’t leave me alone until I act and do the right thing”

One minute Gerry will talk about a detail relating to construction, the next he would be philosophical, addressing any number of subjects leading back to the fundamentals of the human existence, what makes us tick?

I met Gerry Hanssen over six years ago at a business breakfast hosted by the Swan Chamber of Commerce. There were over hundred local business people and a handful of politicians sitting around big tables and networking as they like to call it.

At this breakfast some individuals were asked to stand up and share their perspective on the economy. I along with Gerry were chosen to speak. I was a centre manager of a number of Perth shopping centres for over ten years.  Previous to that I pastored churches and I travelled around the world teaching ethics and purposeful living for over fifteen years. I stood up and reluctantly shared my views on the retail sector of the economy which was unimpressive. Gerry had his moment to speak and he just got in his zone as he often does, something I’ve recognised over the years and I was impressed.

Silk tie days in the commercial world of property management

I was Impressed not because of the content of his address which at times seemed disconnected from his point. I was impressed because Gerry didn’t mind confronting stalemate situations by making statements that would polarise the audience. Gerry likes to call these moments, “You’ve got to throw a grenade in a room to shake things up sometimes”. I remember so clearly, Gerry stood up and gave the audience a one minute lesson on how he builds so efficiently and how he makes his money. I noted some in the audience chuckled like disrespectful children that chuckle behind their parents back when mocking them for repeating the same old stories.

I had never met or heard of Gerry Hanssen to that point and liked his shameless attitude. He definitely spiced up this business breakfast. I have attended so many of these types of events in my career and few were this memorable. A typical network business gathering often consists of the following, you eat, you mix in a cordial conversation and leave with very little gained.

Gerry continued his talk while standing, keeping in mind the theme was on the state of the economy. Gerry goes on after complimenting himself in his one minute address and then turns his attention to the local mayor who was sitting at his table. Without even a blink, Gerry started to berate the mayor for his incompetence. My ears pricked and my eyes focused to see what would happen next. Gerry picked a fight with the local mayor in front of over a 100 professionals and supposed leaders of the community. I waited to see what the mayor would do and to my surprise, he did nothing. I looked around the room, mostly silence except for some childish laughing by a minority but they also did nothing.

I must admit at this point, coming from an ethic background where tempers, emotions and opinions were always expressed. I pondered what I would do in that setting. Had Gerry berated me in that manner,  I can assure you silence would’ve been my reaction.

Some may have seen this as an act of bullying on Gerry’s part yet to me it was the contrary. This was a room full of industry leaders yet they all remained silent, especially the mayor. They were happy to let this go as just another personality quirk of Gerry Hanssen rather than an act of leadership. Gerry challenged the mayor to stand up and give an account for himself.

It has been my experience that there comes a time in every persons life where we must stand up for what we believe in or we will fall for anything. Gerry definitely has always had a sense of urgency and acts accordingly regardless of the fallout. As Gerry often says, “You can say sorry later if you’re wrong”. 

After the business breakfast I set out to meet Gerry Hanssen and see if he would be free for a coffee. When I passed him my business card he seemed unimpressed by my stature and professional manner and I felt he was a bit put off by my suit and silk tie but he was open to catch up.

The next morning I visited his head office, again wearing my blue pinstriped suit and another beautiful silk tie. I was keen to talk about leadership after researching him the night before on google. I got myself up to speed with Hanssen Construction as a company and Gerry’s career which appeared to be very colourful.

Gerry greets me in the yard of his head office and takes me into the tea room where all the workers have their tea break. He pulls out a plastic cup and makes himself an instant coffee and asked if I’d like one. It was almost as though Gerry liked me sitting in a dirty construction tea room in my polished shoes and pinstripe suit.

We talked for quite a while about everything from business, politics to religion and the one thing we instantly resonated on was people, we both have a passion to train and inspire the next generation.

I met with Gerry a number of times over the next twelve months and our conversations grew with more focus as we got to know one another.

I was ready to make a huge change in my life and had resigned from a solid career in property to venture out into the unknown wanting to help people. Gerry’s timing was uncanny when he called me with an idea to become the company Chaplain. He allowed me to discover what I could offer his company while I figured out where life was taking me.

Many people have a lot of things to say about Gerry, some good some not so good. As for me, I’m appreciative for his openness and confidence to invest his time, resources and trust in an unknown like me. Gerry would at times even defend me within his company from those that didn’t understand his objective to take on a company Chaplain.

The following are the four things reflective of Gerry’s strengths and what he has to offer as a leader within the construction industry as well as his philanthropic ambitions.

1. He attracts great people because of his willingness to risk and invest in many that society forgets. It’s not a surprise that Hanssen Construction personnel has been represented by over 60 nationalities and counting. He looks for diamonds in the rough in those with academic credentials but no experience, refugees, prisoners, mothers that need flexibility to raise their children just to name a few. Gerry can’t say no to anyone willing to work hard with a great attitude.

2. Gerry is motivated by the objective, he gets the job done which is why he repeatedly says “I’m not the boss, the job is the boss”

3. He thrives on a challenge and solving problems that most would crumble under. He often would come up with ideas that he says come from God or his subconscious that speaks to him in the middle of the night. While many mock him behind his back for his cockiness, they also rely on him to come through when they are stuck.

4. Gerry isn’t motivated by the trappings of materialism, he is motivated when others succeed, when the underdog wins. He has this addiction to see people achieve when society says they can’t. He would often say “I help others because I’m selfish, it makes me feel good” 

Gerry has picked a vocation in life that has to be one of the most fulfilling vocations one could ever pick. He builds people that build buildings and he is happiest when he’s in the thick of it with his people.

A mutual friend of Gerry’s once said to me, “Gerry has his annoying attributes and as annoying as they are, Gerry is the one person I’d have with me in the trenches, because with him you know you’ll have a good chance to win the fight”

All the above doesn’t mean I fully endorse everything Gerry Hanssen says or how he acts, Gerry can answer for himself as we should all aspire to do in life.

Grass roots success – in the coming months #yourstorymatters is a project I’ll be working on to share stories of individuals that have made a difference within the construction industry. 

Photo taken in December 2016 promoting Good Mental Health, Suicide Awareness and supporting our friends in dark times. Taken in Langley Park, Perth Western Australia with some of the Hanssen Crew in front of their projects.

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