The Christman Company’s Jay Smith engaged audience at second SPDC Industry Seminar Series

The MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction (SPDC) held their second Industry Seminar Series on Thursday, March 27, in East Lansing.

Jay Smith, Executive Vice President of Construction Operations and Corporate Safety Officer, The Christman Company

By: SPDC Communications

Highlighting Close Relationship with MSU Dating Back to 1909

The MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction (SPDC) held their second Industry Seminar Series on Thursday, March 27 in East Lansing. Featured speaker Jay Smith, Executive Vice President of Construction Operations and Corporate Safety Officer at The Christman Company, engaged students, faculty and the public during his presentation on “120 Years of Innovation.”

Joseph Maguire, President and CEO of Wolverine Development Corporation and the Society of Environmentally Responsible Facilities (SERF), is the facilitator of the Series. As well as introducing the Series and Smith, in his remarks he highlighted the importance of the broad perspective of the construction management industry, which he said is a complement to the outstanding education that SPDC students are receiving from the Construction Management (CM) faculty. Several prominent, local CM alumni and industry leaders were also present helping to underscore the importance of this Seminar Series, as well as to show the depth and breadth of what is possible for SPDC students to achieve upon graduation.

Jay Smith showcased some of the key accomplishments The Christman Company has achieved since it opened its doors in 1894, such as the acquisition of Rentenbach Constructors Inc., located in Tennessee and North Carolina; and the restoration of the Mutual Building near the State Capitol in Lansing as the headquarters of the company, also establishing it as the world’s first triple-platinum LEED certified building. Additionally, he noted the company’s specialization in historical preservation; specifically capitol restoration.

Another key accomplishment for The Christman Company--now a jewel in their portfolio--was the $182-million-project to reconstruct the obsolete Ottawa Street Power Station in to the new national headquarters for the Accident Fund, with improvement of the riverfront. This development is an award-winning example of a public/private partnership. Important aspects of this project included locating the partners, identifying the needs, working through go/no-go milestones and assemblage of a complex package of tax credits and incentives to offset the cost of the project. Smith said that the “key to these types of projects is that you have to get the dominos to fall in place before acquiring the project.”

Smith also highlighted the long history of partnership between The Christman Company and Michigan State University on more than 120 projects dating as far back as 1909 with the construction of Agriculture Hall, now called the Morrill Hall of Agriculture, which continued with the construction, and now reconstruction, of the iconic residence halls located on Circle Drive.

“You have to be innovative in this industry,” Smith said.

Advancements in innovation and technology that The Christman Company has adopted, and is currently testing, became a main focal point referenced time and again throughout Smith’s presentation, such as lean construction; pre-fab and multi-trade fabrication; virtual building/BIM, or building information modeling; smart building technology; pre-construction capabilities expansion; and purposeful facilities, i.e., strategic workplace consulting services.

Smith said that technology has transformed the industry. The Christman Company has answered this call, he said, by pushing technology, which is emphasized by the fact that they are using iPads in the field, and are utilizing the PlanGrid iPad app.

“We are soon to have virtual building at our finger tips,” he added.

While new technology is becoming a more common component in the CM industry, as evidenced by cutting-edge projects The Christman Company is working on, Smith added that new and existing companies may not be able to make the financial leap necessary to advance their companies to this new higher standard until the price of the technology drops down to a more affordable level.

Smith discussed his 35-plus years of experience with the company that started with an entry-level position. He also talked about the AGC Internship Program offered at The Christman Company that started in 1964 and through which many employees are hired. When asked what Smith, as the person who hires new employees, is looking for, he said The Christman Company searches for candidates that fit “The Christman Way” (the Company’s statement of core values), as well as those who are hardworking, creative and innovative, and exhibit technological and communication experience.

One piece of advice he gave to the CM undergraduate and graduate students present for his talk is to “commit yourself to be passionate and look for ways to stand out.”

Smith’s daughter, Nikki Smith, was in the audience. She is a 2006 CM alumna and joined The Christman Company as a Project Manager after working six years out of state for a different construction firm. Nikki Smith is one of several CM alumni that have been employed by The Christman Company over the years, further underscoring the close relationship between MSU, its alumni and the Company.

The SPDC plans to host the next Series speaker in Fall 2014. To download Smith’s presentation and for more information, visit SPDC Industry Speaker Series. Questions about this Series can be directed to Heidi Charron Macwan, SPDC Communications Manager, at or call 517.353.4454.

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