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  • Writer's pictureTristan Wilson

The Most Heartfelt Compliment I Ever Received

Picture this: a 19-year-old me, donning a hard hat and steel-toed boots, standing at the threshold of my family's construction business Barriere Construction in the heart of New Orleans, Louisiana. My father, the company's CEO, had always envisioned me as a civil engineer, but as a history major in a liberal arts college, I was plagued by self-doubt, fearing I lacked the technical acumen to navigate the world of construction.

My Dad shared a nugget of wisdom that, at the time, felt like a head-scratcher. He told me, "Tristan, the knowledge you need isn't in textbooks or spreadsheets, but out there in the field, working on a crew." Skepticism gripped me, but little did I know that that fateful summer would become a deeply profound learning experience.

Hard work was instilled in me from a young age. Despite attending private schools and securing a spot in a reputable college, I dreaded being pegged as the privileged boss's kid. My first days on the job were daunting. I joined a paving crew that eyed me like a hawk, keen on assessing me. Initially, my task was merely to observe, to shadow the dump man, while the rest of the crew toiled away. It was frustrating. I yearned to prove myself.

Eventually, I graduated from being a spectator to directing trucks under the unforgiving 90+ degree sun. After a week or so, I found myself holding a shovel, then a lute, and slowly but surely, the crew embraced me as one of their own. The work was punishing, involving relentless travel and early morning wake-up calls that clashed with my college-student sleep patterns. Yet, I persevered, proudly arriving early to the site, pouring in ten to twelve hours of honest sweat, and repeating the cycle week after week.

The satisfaction of gazing upon a freshly-paved road, knowing I played a modest role in its creation, left an indelible mark on my soul. It was as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in Self-Reliance: "There is a time in every man's education when he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that... no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till."

My time in the field was far from perfect. Equipment arrived late, trucks ran behind schedule, mixes went awry, disgruntled drivers tested our patience, and we all got "a wet ass" after being drenched in unexpected downpours.

But the true essence of that summer lay in its people. I was fortunate to spend time with Jimmy Fulton, who'd risen from the New Orleans projects to become a paving superintendent. Jimmy's tireless pursuit of excellence and the respect he garnered from the crew was awe-inspiring. One day, as he chauffeured me to my flagging station, he imparted a gem of wisdom: "To lead, you must be everything to your people—coach, boss, friend, father, brother, mentor, and even psychiatrist.” These types of insights aren't found in classrooms.

I also observed visiting project managers and field engineers. The ordinary ones breezed through, barely acknowledging the crew, while the exceptional ones parked their vehicles, conversed with every team member, and displayed a genuine interest in us. They saw us not as mere cogs in the wheel but as individuals with stories. This perspective transcended good and bad days; intentions spoke louder than words.

As the summer drew to a close, I felt transformed. I'd made my fair share of blunders, from accidentally wrecking freshly-paved asphalt with a bobcat to navigating to the wrong job site. However, my consistent dedication and assimilation into the crew filled me with pride.

It all came to a poignant climax on River Road in Jefferson Parish. Roni, a roller operator and quiet leader of the crew, beckoned me over from his CAT roller. Leaning out, he said, “I want to let you know on behalf of the whole crew that we appreciate you coming out here and working your tail off with us. It means a lot to us that you’re here.” Gratitude washed over me like a warm wave, a feeling I carry with me nearly two decades later.

Little did I know, that day would mark the beginning of incredible journeys for many of us. The tack truck driver would become a paving foreman, the screed men would rise to superintendent positions, and the field engineer would become a division manager. Roni is still an artisan on his roller. Years later, I would work closely with these individuals when I rejoined the company.

I learned that it was the people who fueled my passion for construction. I discovered the artistry in road building, the value of respect, and the enduring truth that it must be earned, not given. The privilege of getting to know the folks and seeing firsthand how hard they worked to provide for their loved ones was a blessing.

Through challenging days, the chaos of working amidst traffic, and the art of translating complex concepts for everyday folks, I learned a vital lesson: the heart of construction lies in its people. My father's wisdom had been spot on - this was the education I'd needed all along. I am eternally grateful for the relationships forged and the profound lessons learned that summer.

So, I ask you this: When was the last time you truly connected with a crew? Remember, they won't know how much you know until they know how much you care. In the world of construction, it's the people who truly drive the work.

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At Edgevanta, our proprietary SaaS software platform helps contractors win more of the work they want at the right price with the least amount of hassle.


Tristan Wilson

Co-Founder and CEO


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