Portfolio
Studio
Recognition
Haven
Careers
Connect
CONNECT
CAREERS
HAVEN
RECOGNITION
STUDIO
PORTFOLIO




HAVEN:
AN INTERVIEW WITH AARON GORDON, AARON GORDON CONSTRUCTION, INC.
1 April 2024
Get our newsletter



When Aaron and I first met in 2017, I was struck by his candor and his commitment to his craft. As I’ve come to know him over the past seven years, my admiration has grown. He is one of the most genuine people I’ve met in our industry, and his intentional approach to business is one I do my best to emulate. After many years of friendship, we are now working on our first project together. I thought this would be a wonderful time to sit down with him and explore the words that I most associate with him: candor, loyalty, communication and trust. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as we did.


I’ve always been a builder, starting with Legos as a kid. It’s just in my blood.


Aaron Gordon founded his company — a high-end construction company known for its quality craftsmanship, deep integrity and highly-communicative process — over 24 years ago. A native of San Francisco, he still lives in the city he has always called home. His route to the leadership of his own construction company was circuitous.

Originally thinking he would follow in his father’s footsteps and enter the family business manufacturing audio loudspeakers, he studied business in college. A several-year stint as a stage hand and an adventurous year spent traveling the United States and Mexico in his van followed.

Deciding he needed to settle down, he posted an ad on Craig’s list for a handyman, then learned the construction trade the old-fashioned way, through apprenticeship and hard work. Driven to learn, he worked seven days a week, reading books at night to learn more about the art of construction.

Nearly a quarter century later he sits at the helm of three companies: Aaron Gordon Construction Inc., his high-end construction company; 415 Remodeling Inc., a design/build firm run by partner Bill Johnson; and Heirloom Builders Inc., which specializes in smaller projects with more constrained budgets, run by partner Zach Heir. With long-term partnerships built upon trust and open, honest communication, Aaron leaves the management of the second and third businesses to his partners, keeping his focus squarely on AGC. With a growing reputation as one of the most respected contractors in San Francisco, AGC now has 36 employees, and averages six to twelve projects at any given time, which Aaron views as a perfect size.

 

I love putting things together, and I don’t see building a business as being that different from building a structure.


What sets you apart?

I don’t accept mediocrity. All of my employees are the best they can be. If you have one person who is underperforming, it impacts the whole team. Construction is a team sport; it’s about the job site culture.

Building a business in our industry is a long game. Have there been any pivotal moments in the growth of your business?

There are moments that you can point to where the economies of scale shift. It’s all about having the right systems in place to capitalize on them. I’ve taken the time to develop and implement really good processes. I’m also really good at delegating.

Delegating isn’t easy when you own your own business.

It’s all about trust. In order to delegate, I need to be able to share the responsibility, then let it go, knowing it will be taken care of.

How do you develop trust?

It starts with taking the time to hire the right people. You need to trust history and experience, and once you hire enough people, you develop a better sense of who people are over time.

When I think about you, the first word that comes to mind is candor. What does it mean to you?

I tell it like it is. Honesty is important to the way we do business, as is the ability to learn from mistakes and move on when something isn’t working.

What about your communication style?

For me, good communication comes from knowing people well, so you can read the signs and read between the lines. Not just listening to their words, but paying attention and hearing what they are trying to tell you. Even when I’m not on the jobsite every day, I listen, learn and pick up on what’s going on. I am very attuned to the nuances of every project, as well as its contributors.

 

 

There are a lot of group dynamics to keep track of.

Once the positive dynamics are in place, I can step back because of the trust I have in my team.

Another word that comes to mind is loyalty.

On these very high-end projects, it’s incredibly important that we operate well as a team, and that involves respect and loyalty.

When I think of loyalty, I think of reciprocity…

The best relationships are reciprocal, not in a transactional way but over time. The key is the intent. If we want what is best for one another, over time it balances out. It’s important to me to have balanced relationships with everyone we work with. Knowing the intent is there, we can also have candid conversations when we have to.

And respect…

That’s the thing about being in business for a long time. You find your people, and that is not only satisfying, it makes for great teams. If you consistently perform at a high level, your reputation precedes you.

I admire the integrity of your work, it is really a form of art.

I love building things, but I also love design. I just love it from a distance. I am a conduit for the realization of great design.

 

Do you see any developing trends in the industry?

With high-end projects, there is a positive trend with the increased participation of owner’s reps. They bring value and contribute to the success of projects now more than ever. I also see simplicity making a comeback. Design that appears simple isn’t always simple to achieve. It takes attention and expertise to pull it off.

Where do you want to go from here?

I’m not driven to grow to a huge size. I’m driven to take on more interesting, challenging projects, working with talented architects and designers. I like to take on projects of all sizes, and I’m not interested in doing the same thing over and over again. Have you ever read the book From Good to Great? You really should.

 

Now for a few fun questions…

What’s the one thing you love most about what you do?

I love solving difficult problems. There are times when a client asks for something that hasn’t been done before or is told that it “can’t be done.” I tend to go down the rabbit hole to find a way to make it happen.  I rarely take no for an answer until I’ve exhausted all options.

Who — or what — inspires you?

I’m inspired by great design and architecture.  I’m frequently blown away at how beautiful the design is that we are building and strive to honor the design with a quality build.

It may be cliche but Frank Lloyd Wright’s work still blows me away.

What’s the single best business or creative advice you’ve ever received?

When I was learning to sell work, which did not come naturally to me, I was given the best advice I’ve ever had — “just be yourself” — from Patrick Bell.  It flipped my approach and since then I show up as myself.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?

If I weren’t a GC I would be building for myself.

How do you love spending time outside of work?

On the water. Either on the lake or fishing in the SF bay and ocean.

What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Hmmmm….nothing really.

Last book you read?

Vagina Obscura in a book club through Urban High School….but I think saying “Season of the Witch” may be more apropos.

Do you have a favorite quote? If so, we’d love to hear it!

From The Big Lebowski: “That’s just, like, your opinion, man.”


Q+A