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MAREJ's Best and Brightest Under 40

Phil Ritter, IMC Construction

Special Projects Division Director
Years with company: 10 years
Years in industry: 15
Real estate organizations/affiliations: NAIOP

What is your greatest professional accomplishment?

From a strictly professional sense — being entrusted to start a new division of IMC Construction to serve an untapped market for our company and diversify our reach and portfolio, all while in the midst of a global pandemic and a looming recession.

What is your most notable project, deal or transaction?

My most notable project has been starting the Special Projects Division of IMC Construction. It was a new challenge and opportunity, privileged to take on, but also one that came with a lot of uncharted territories. I had never started a new division before, but I was ready for the experience. I was excited about everything I would learn and grateful for the support and resources I had within the company. Now, two years into running this division, I’m continuing to learn more everyday. We’ve built a solid team and increased revenue year over year. But more than that, I’ve been able to take the knowledge from my prior professional experience and broaden my approach to think more holistic and be strategic about the greater company. The results present a better approach to leading the division while contributing to IMC. as a whole.

Who or what has been the strongest influence in your career?

My father. My dad is a residential contractor and has been for 40+ years. He worked as an apprentice carpenter when he was young but knew deep down it wasn’t what he was meant to do. He decided he wanted something better for himself and his future family, so he took a giant leap of faith and started his own business. His former boss, and even his own family, told him he’d never make it. But he turned that doubt into fuel and built a 40+ year successful business. He never hesitated to involve me in his projects as I got older — teaching me everything he knew about construction while also instilling the value of hard work and integrity. Some of my best memories are with him on a construction site, listening to good music, and providing newly constructed space for others. At the time, I thought I was just learning how to build, but looking back, I realize those moments helped shape my life, guiding me to the career I have now. I wouldn’t be where I am, had it not been for my dad taking a leap of faith, following his passions, building a business, and then sharing his journey and wisdom with me along the way.

Tell us how and when you began your career in the profession you are in, about your current position and why you choose the field/profession you are in today?

I started my professional career in commercial construction after graduating college with a degree in Construction Science from the University of Oklahoma. I guess you could say I probably started in this profession when I was four years old, and my dad put a hammer in my hand. He’s a residential contractor, and at the time, he was building our family home. I was four, and I loved being on job sites with him. The tools. The craft. The time with him. It was all fitting. So, when he let me come “help” (now that I have kids, I know how loose that word really is) build the house, I was in heaven. As I grew up, he involved me more and more in each one of his projects. Nights after school, summers, and holiday breaks, I was busy with additions, homes, kitchen renovations, you name it. You could say construction is just in my blood — it’s part of who I am, and I’ve loved it from as early as I could remember. When I went to college, I knew I wanted someplace with a strong construction program. I was fortunate to make great connections through college and got my first job as an Project Engineer at a large commercial construction company in Dallas, TX. After five years in Dallas, I relocated with my wife to my hometown in PA and reconnected with a construction company I interned with during my freshman year of college. Over a decade later, I’ve continued to grow and am now a Division Manager and Partner at IMC Construction —thanks to the career my dad helped craft before I even knew what construction was.

What were some of your early goals and did anything happen to change them?

When I first started my career in Dallas, TX, I remember having 3 goals:

Learn as much as I could, work on various project types and to become an impactful part of Executive Leadership within the company. I was fortunate to work for a great company, had smart and intentional mentors, and learned more than I thought possible. I quickly accomplished the first two goals and was headed in the right direction for the third goal. In the back of my mind, I knew the path forward might look different. About five years into my career, my wife and I made the decision to move from Texas to Pennsylvania to be closer to family. I knew it was the right decision personally, but it definitely threw a curveball into my professional goals. I reconnected with a previous company, but it meant I was basically starting over re-building my reputation and experience at a different company, with a totally different work platform. As I look back, it was the right move, personally and professionally. My new goals were to build trust in the business at this new company, gain the respect of those around me, learn the nuances of “East Coast” commercial construction, and be seen as a valuable team member and leader. As I grew in the company, some of my goals never changed — keep learning, and continue working on new types of projects. But my 3rd goal evolved to — find opportunities to mentor younger employees, embrace new challenges, drive strategic conversations, and ultimately earn a place of partnership within the company. So even though it wasn’t a drastic shift in professional goals, relocating five years into my career certainly challenged me to embrace and adapt to change, continue learning in new ways, and redefine my path based on the new opportunities.

What challenges and or obstacles do you feel you needed to overcome to become as successful as you are today?

I needed to be pushed outside my comfort zone and learn how to be more self-reflective. I’ve always been driven and ambitious throughout my life. But that ambition can also sometimes cause stubbornness and impatience to move forward; especially early in my career when I felt failure and vulnerability equaled weakness. I never wanted to just achieve my goals; I wanted to exceed them. And I wanted to do it better and faster than expectations (May say I’m a little competitive….). Although not altogether a bad thing, it often meant I got in my own way, didn’t always listen to those around me, and didn’t take the time to embrace what I was doing, pay attention to the nuance, or spent time reflecting on successes and failures. There were two pivotal things in my career that helped me push beyond that — 1) Starting a new division of IMC; and 2) Corporate leadership development. Starting a new division was a challenge I never coaching, and I was met each day with unanticipated challenges. It was a completely new leadership experience, met with new obstacles. It was one of the most eye-opening moments in my career where I was learning on the spot through building a business plan, hiring a team, developing business opportunities, estimating and landing work, managing financials, etc. It taught me that for the opportunity of success to be creating, I had to get out of my own way. I had to be okay with making mistakes, learning from them, and navigate new waters.

What outside activities do you enjoy during your free time?

As a husband and father to 3 young kids, my favorite activities, and hobbies outside of work are with my family — camping, hiking, playing sports in the backyard, working on a house project, watching sports, exploring nearby towns, you name it. I also still love to work on projects with my dad and spend time at my parent’s beach house in Cape May. Good music is always a plus, discovering new craft breweries, and spending time with good friends is pretty high up there on the list of favorites too.

What inspiring word of advice would you give to a young executive graduating from college today?

Never stop learning — about your craft, about your industry, about your company, about yourself. When you start your career, you’ll hopefully be fortunate enough to land a good job. You’ll be excited, fueled with young energy and blissful naivete, and ready to make an impact. But you’ll also be “green”, and you won’t know what you don’t know. If you’re lucky, you’ll be surrounded by other people who are different from you, have more experience than you do, and can mentor your growth. Don’t walk into a room and assume you’re the smartest person there. Be vulnerable enough to learn your weaknesses and absorb everything around you. Leadership success is built on being well rounded and vulnerable.


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