Category Archives: Leadership

Photo of Alex Smith

Alex Smith is the New Managing Member

Congratulations to Alex Smith on becoming the new Managing Member at Subsurface Construction.  Alex is a professional engineer, a partner at Subsurface, a volunteer in his community and our friend.  We sat down with Alex to see what makes him tick.

Briefly describe what you do all day.

For the first 12 years at Subsurface, I was a project manager and estimator who had to learn and gain experience by relying on mentors and jumping in and figuring things out for myself. I learned quickly by making some mistakes and asking a lot of questions. I was fortunate to learn from some of the best leaders in the industry, right here at Subsurface. In the past year or so, I have been involved in implementing a new operating system for the business and learning about other facets of the business that I had no experience with. This has opened my eyes to how many different people and processes it takes to make a business operate effectively and safely.

What is the best thing about your job?

Hands down it is the people. I really enjoy meeting new people and helping people achieve their goals and aspirations. I really enjoy getting feedback from others that we have made a positive impact. I want everyone who comes in contact with Subsurface, whether it is a client, vendor, or team member, to have an awesome experience and believe that we as a team have added value to the projects and more importantly to their lives

What is the best thing about Subsurface?

Once again that is the people who I get to know and work with daily. The relationships that have been made over the past 14 years are what I cherish the most. Being able to contribute to a team to build great projects, learn from one another, help people achieve their goals, and develop friendships has been fulfilling. Having fun in what I do is awesome as well.

What has been one of your proudest moments working at Subsurface?

I would say that even though I have had some very difficult times over the years, whether it be project related or personal, that I have never given up and never had to compromise mine nor the company’s values. I am proud to be associated with a company in which the leaders encourage others to always do what is right and to uphold our core values of Honesty, Creativity, Respect & Dignity, and Self-Motivation. I am proud to be associated with some of the best people I have ever met and that we are a company where individuals bring their own talents and gifts together to accomplish great work, but more importantly help one another grow as individuals.

What do you like to do when you are not at the office?

I enjoy spending time with my beautiful wife Kelly, my son Landon (7 years old), and Hallie (3 years old). I enjoy duck hunting and spending time outdoors.

What inspires you?

Life. I am thankful that God has given me so many opportunities and that I can live everyday knowing that He has a purpose for me and that in some way I can help others achieve or find their purpose as well. I am inspired by seeing how others have special gifts and how they use those gifts to benefit the team. There is no one person who can do all things and seeing others become successful and add value through their gifts inspires me.

Why engineering?

I think it was what I was called to do. I was never overly excited about engineering, but it was the path that was laid out before me. The engineering path has prepared me to solve problems but has also opened many doors for helping people. I am glad I went this route.

What is the most important attribute of a good leader?

I would say always do what is right. We all make mistakes, but if you make decisions on what you believe is right and truthful, usually things will work out for the best.

Also, listening to and caring for people. There are a lot of things we cannot change about this world but having a positive impact on someone’s life is a good start. We are all leaders in some way and have influence on others. The way we treat and serve people will have an impact on future generations. One of our best opportunities to make a positive impact is with the people we work with.

photo of Greg Sullivan

Congratulations to Greg Sullivan

With admiration, gratitude, and sadness we announce that Greg Sullivan will retire at the end of 2020.

Greg has led Subsurface Construction as the Founder and Managing Member for 25 years.  He has inspired us with care for people, servant leadership, engineering expertise and wisdom.  Greg plans to spend time with family and friends in Morehead City and Raleigh upon his retirement.  He and Terry also look forward to traveling once it is safe to do so.  Please join us in congratulating Greg on his retirement.  Thank you, Greg, for inspiring us to be better individuals, teammates, and family members.  Well done!!

Empathy is Imperative – Construction Leadership

Expressing genuine empathy is critical to being a successful leader, salesperson and coworker.  Want to lose someone’s confidence?  Show them you’re more focused on short term productivity, closing the deal or getting what you want in spite of their wants and needs – professionally or personally.

Listen to understand , then respond.

When in conversation, how often are we preparing our response well before the other person has finished speaking?  In our fast paced culture we can forget that we must listen first to understand then to respond.  It’s the old joke you heard from your grandmother about God giving you two ears and one mouth.  When we rush ahead we leave the other person feeling undervalued.  Who would want to do that to a direct report, client or coworker?  I have learned the phrase “listen to understand and validate” or LUV.  We can’t help a client or coworker until we understand where they’re coming from and what they need.  We can then top that off by letting them know we have heard and understand their frustration, concern or need, i.e. the validation.

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey writes, “To relate effectively with a spouse, child, friend or coworker, we must learn to listen.  And this requires emotional strength.  Listening involves patience, openness, and the desire to understand – highly developed qualities of character.”

In the tough and fast paced construction industry, may we all aspire to show one another the respect and kindness of listening to understand.


Read about Level 5 Leaders Here.




Robert Jones Serves as Field Supervisor for AMPIS Drilling School

We would like to recognize our General Superintendent, Robert Jones, for serving as Field Supervisor for the Anchor and Micropile Installation School (AMPIS).  ADSC annually puts on AMPIS to better the drilling skills of those in our industry.

To learn more about ADSC’s training opportunities, visit ADSC-IAFD

Congratulations to TJ Ju – a leading engineer, businessman and friend on becoming a US Citizen

Congratulations to TJ Ju, PE, on becoming a US Citizen.  TJ is our lead geotechnical design engineer, a partner at Subsurface, a volunteer in his community and our friend.  We sat down with TJ to see what makes him tick.

Briefly describe what you do all day.

I design excavation shoring and deep foundation systems, respond to various field issues for ongoing projects and brainstorm with team members on new proposal ideas.   I stay up to date reading technical papers from geotechnical engineering journals.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Each project is unique and demands the most creative solution for its success. From time to time I encounter a very challenging one, but I work with very talented team members including PMs and superintendents to get it through. This is very enjoyable and rewarding.

Whether I am designing a shoring wall or deep foundation system, I know our work is one of the first activities on site. Success of the whole project always requires a great start. Our design and construction are essential parts for the project’s success.

What’s the best thing about Subsurface?

Subsurface genuinely cares about people, not just our employees, but also our clients and project owners.  Subsurface works together as a team. We have very talented team members, engineers, estimators, PMs and superintendents. We always do our best and learn from each other.

What’s been one of your proudest moments working at Subsurface?

The most memorable moment in my 17 years at Subsurface was the day I was offered partnership. Since starting Subsurface in Spring 2002, I have tried my best to help the company grow. Then I felt that the founders had recognized the work I did for Subsurface. I was very thankful and truly felt Subsurface caring, not only its success, but also each employee’s growth and success.

What do you like to do when you’re not at the office?

I enjoy spending time with my family. We often go biking and swimming all together. NC is the best state for a family and I want to take advantage of it as much as possible. I also like to travel with family and read books.

What inspires you?

God. He always works through people around me to give inspiration.

Why engineering?

I enjoyed math and physics through my K-12 years and wanted to help practically people in need. Also, my father was an engineer (textile engineer, also businessman) and taught me what engineers could possibly do for the world. Truly it is a joy to see my designs being built and later being used by other people.

If you weren’t an engineer, what would you be doing?

Movie director. When I was in college in Korea, I used to work with a group of people making independent movies. I enjoyed it very much. At one point I seriously thought about becoming a movie director but gave it up due to some personal reasons.

What lead you to become a US citizen?

Below is a copy of my short note to a dear friend who congratulated me on becoming a US citizen. I think that this can be my answer to this question.

“I do appreciate your thoughtful and caring words. Now I can tell you this. Truly what led me to become an American today is not that it is the richest country in the world full of great opportunities, but Americans like you, everyone who has supported me, cared for me and treated me as a real friend of theirs for past 20 years. I assure that you are definitely one of them, my dear American friend. Once again thanks a lot for everything you have done for me and my family. May the Lord always be with you.”


level 5 leadership pyramid

Are you a Level 5 Leader?

Leading in the Construction Industry


Jim Collins in “Good to Great” defines Level 5 Leaders as those who blend personal humility with intense professional will.  While Collin’s team didn’t set out to focus on leadership, during their research they observed that Level 5 leaders were at the helm of every Good to Great company during their transition to greatness.   The difference between Level 4’s  and Level 5’s is one of direction.  While Level 4’s are effective, they focus inwardly on success.  Level 5’s use their immense energy to forward the larger cause rather than themselves.  Unlike conventional wisdom that may seek a larger than life CEO, successful companies require leaders that are a blend of personal humility and fierce resolve.

Unlike their Level 4 counterparts, Level 5’s see the future of their organizations as being brighter after their departure.  They work hard to set up their successor to be even more successful.  Rather than quick returns and personal accolades, Level 5’s seek to create an enduring organization.

While humble and outwardly looking, Level 5’s have a strong professional will to do what must be done to move the organization forward.  They are fanatically driven to produce results.  With high standards, Level 5’s often set aside tradition and nepotism to recruit the best possible team members.  They will change with the times and rebuild as needed.

Harry S. Truman said, “You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit.”

Our entire team gets credit for all of our project accomplishments. You can see them here.

Recommended reading: “Built to Last” and “Good to Great” by Jim Collins

Leadership Development

Recently our Regional Managers, Alex Smith, PE and Jodie Nixon, PE, attended the Bell Leadership Institute’s Achievers™ conference in Raleigh, NC.  The Bell Leadership Institute is a leading organization in executive education and development helping organizations through its programs and services since 1972.  The focus of the Achievers™ conference is “become a great leader by building yourself first”.  The three-day training conference is designed to help you lead like the best in the world with a deep understanding of your personal strengths, weaknesses and motivations.

The training program is based on a half century of research and consulting with thousands of leaders across the world.  Achievers™ is unlike other programs in that it goes deeper, providing key understandings of why you behave as you do. Knowing yourself deeply and how your behaviors affect others enables you to develop your unique leadership style.  With Bell’s model, personal assessments and those from invited colleagues, attendees are provided with a deep understanding of their behaviors, thought patterns and then a plan for developing into a well-balanced leader.

“I am glad that I invested the time to go through the Achievers™ training program.  I was encouraged by receiving a better understanding of my strengths and challenged to make improvements with a better understanding of my weaknesses.  My eyes were opened and I now have a better understanding of why I think and behave certain ways.  With knowledge, the path of improvement is much easier to follow.  I would encourage other companies to invest in their team members with Bell’s Achievers™ program.” – Jodie Nixon, PE

To learn more about this program visit