Published November 17, 1998
Volume 6, Number 11

Richard Sampson is Building a Foundation for the Future

One of the management lessons learned in the 1980s was specialization. While a business may have an occasional need for a particular service, it's more efficient to hire an outside firm to handle that service if it's outside of your core competencies. 

Richard SampsonRichard Sampson, president of Richard Sampson Associates, Inc., knows the lesson well. In fact, it was part of the business environment that led him to create his construction management firm 10 years ago. 

"Most organizations found out they had to streamline and focus on what they do best," he explains. "The Fortune 500 companies have done exactly the same thing: they got out of the construction business and left that to the experts."

Sampson's expertise is in overseeing a construction project from the design process through occupancy. "We provide project management services to help others construct buildings faster and cheaper," he explains. 

It sounds simple, but his knowledge is hard earned. After spending six years in construction in east Asia, the Pacific, and New Zealand, where he grew up, he came to California in 1982 to enroll in a graduate program in construction management at Stanford. His goal was to learn how to better integrate the three forces he sees driving every project: the market, the resources, and the construction process. 

"A lot of things are driven by a sort of three-way conflict," he begins. "In our business, there's always a market which is driving the project, whether it is a need for more classrooms or bigger libraries. 

"The resources are the materials you're going to build the building out of and the labor and technology you're going to use. The construction is process is how you make it happen. The idea of doing the program at Stanford was to have a better understanding of how those three forces interact, and I definitely got that."

After finishing his work at Stanford, he was employed by CH2M Hill, a firm best known for their environmental services but which also had a building construction management group then. 

One of Sampson's projects during that time was the main library here in Pleasanton. "We were hired by the City of Pleasanton to manage the design and construction of the library," he says. 

It was a watershed project for him. "It's the kind of services that I performed while I was on that project that laid the foundation for what we do today," he says. 

Since starting the firm, Richard Sampson Associates has served a long list of municipal clients, including the cities of Pleasanton, Benicia, Albany, Berkeley, Burlingame, San Jose, San Francisco, and San Leandro. Libraries have become a specialty as well; their current work on the main library in Berkeley marks the tenth such facility they've been involved with. 

"There are several challenges with librariesthey're a rather complex combination of space needs, technology needs, and public financing needs," he explains. 

The space needs are particularly interesting. Some library projects require construction of a temporary facility to allow for public access to the materials if the existing building requires extensive renovation. 

"Every dollar you spend on the temporary library is a dollar you don't have on the main project, so it's a challenge to figure out how to do it very, very cost effectively," he says. These temporary library facilities were the subject of a presentation given this month to the California Library Association in Oakland. 

Sampson is quick to point out that each building is unique. "Unlike Ford or GM who will probably make 100,000 copies if it's a good model, there's only one Pleasanton Library, for instance. Buildings are always prototypes."

It is perhaps the recognition of this fact that creates the demand for Sampson's services. Problems will invariably arise as the theoretical building of the blueprint gives rise to the physical building on the site. His ability to resolve those problems is a key ingredient in Sampson's management repertoire. 

"We build an approach that says the only thing that matters is solving the problem, and who might be responsible for the problem is irrelevant to getting the problem solved," he says. 

In fact, they take a proactive approach and have developed a system for identifying and solving problems as early as possible. 

"We've developed some very sophisticated computer resources to help us track all this data, and right now we're in the process of moving a lot of these systems to the web, which will effectively allow contractors, subcontractors, and architects to do this in real time," he says. 

Sampson's next step will be selling this software to other construction industry firms.


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