Barry Schmidt founded Schmidt Construction Consulting because he truly believes better results can be obtained on construction projects through providing greater care and oversight than what’s typically found in the industry. “After working in New York City for 15 years as a project manager on all sorts of projects, I kept seeing the same mistakes being made by different people. I also saw new ‘avoidable’ mistakes year after year. By the time I was ready to consult I had a long list of things not to do,” said Schmidt.
He graduated from SUNY Stony Brook in 1986 with a Mechanical Engineering degree. “Office construction was booming in Manhattan in the 80’s, so it was a natural place to start an engineering career. Growing up in Queens I always loved the Manhattan skyline and especially the twin towers,” he said.
So after a couple of years working as an engineer for a Long Island manufacturer, Schmidt found his first Manhattan job working for a large construction management firm building a 23-story office building on 5th Ave. “The glamor was irresistible, but after spending three years going from pre-construction to occupancy in the middle of a real estate crash, the lessons learned were profound and formative for my career,” he said.
The budget was $20 million in 1988, probably half of what it would cost today. He helped his bosses create the construction budget, an elaborate 20-plus page document, except where the calculation for the electrical work was done in two lines of rushed chicken scratch by the senior executive. The lack of thoughtfulness on that one line item resulted in a catastrophic delay and cost overrun two years later, none of which came to light until the 11th hour. Needless to say heads rolled and a young Schmidt was charged with completing the project and getting it signed-off by the DOB. This was during a disastrous financial time for the developer, the industry and pretty much everyone involved with the project.
During the initial bidding it was apparent the electrical budget would be busted. Instead of acknowledging reality, the construction executives found a financially unqualified electrician to take the project on the cheap and the eventual default was disastrous. Rule number one was formed for Schmidt Construction Consulting, detect and deal with problems as soon as possible, lest they comeback to cause calamity.
The next 10 years found Schmidt working on several high budget New York City gut renovations, including Scholastic’s headquarters in SoHo, the New York Public Library’s Science Industry and Business Library in the B. Altman Building and the transformation of the St. Moritz to the Ritz Carlton on Central Park South. Barry also worked on several luxury high rise developments for a notable NYC residential developer. After finishing his MBA at NYU’s Stern School of Business and amassing 15-years of lessons learned, Schmidt was ready to advise clients directly on how to get better results on their projects, and Schmidt Construction Consulting was born.
Schmidt Construction Consulting has worked on a wide variety of types of projects in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the surrounding area since its founding in 2000. Those projects include new construction, renovation and interior fit for private and public sector clients. Value is added by casting a net of oversight, in order to detect and correct problems early.
“Construction projects involve a host of characters from architects and engineers to general and sub-contractors” said Schmidt. “People naturally operate with their own bottom line in mind, as everyone does in business. But the owner isn’t always experienced enough or able to invest enough time to make sure their interests are protected.”
Schmidt takes a holistic view of projects, considering the most pressing risks to the owner’s interest of completion being on time and on budget. That risk is not always in the actual construction, although it most certainly can be. Design completion and government sign-offs often present a larger risk to the investment of the owner’s time and money.
“When we built an out of the ground condo in Harlem we had fully coordinated plans with permits and were good to go on an 18-month schedule. Mid-way through construction a design addition of a small penthouse created coordination issues and ripple effects in the already topped off structure. Although seemingly minor, resolution of design and coordination issues for the small addition was the most crucial threat to the budget and schedule and needed to take immediate priority.” Seemingly counter-intuitive at the time, the needed actions would not have been taken without Schmidt’s presence on the project. The time-value of money makes the added value clear.
“The construction process is inherently risky,” said Schmidt. “You can’t have the same people sitting around like in a GM plant stamping out a million cars per year, where that system is down pat. Every project is unique, the location, the design, the contractors and government inspectors. You have to bid everything out so you don’t know who you’re going to get. The owner needs to have their interests protected or the project won’t flow the way they need it to flow.”
A few years ago, Schmidt was brought in to help a small contractor complete a gut renovation of a five-story walk up in Harlem. The marching orders were to help, but as time went on it was apparent that the contractor was not up to the job, and with correcting non-conforming structural work already done, the project was going to cost the owner more than the end value of the building. “It’s a difficult call to tell your client to stop the project and sell, but it was the best advice we ever gave a client,” said Schmidt. Shortly thereafter, the housing bubble burst and as a result Schmidt prevented the client’s loss of nearly $1 million.
Today Schmidt’s projects include the construction of two private schools, a landmarked gut renovation in Cobble Hill Brooklyn and the planning for an out of the ground school in Ethiopia. “Each project has unique challenges for their own obvious reasons,” he said. “Despite the complexities each successful completion validates the work we do and my own early insights from 25-years ago. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next 25 years will bring.”