At 26 years old, Alvaro Lopez, Jr., a project manager of Texas-based Longview Bridge and Road, has overseen several large road and bridge projects in the Lone Star State, but the father of two — soon to be three — aims to have a lasting impact in this field.
"I have been fortunate to be part of this highway heavy civil field since 2015," he said. "I have worked with amazing superiors and managers from national top companies like Kiewit, Jacobs and Webber in which I have attained very valuable experience, but with this complex industry you must constantly continue to expand your knowledge. In this industry, you constantly get exposed to changing circumstances and new challenges, so to this day, I strive to learn new practices, explore different methodologies and implement value engineering every day.
"As a project manager for projects ranging from $4 million to $88 million, there are many key stakeholders and employees that depend on me, so I consistently have to prove myself," he added. "Being that I am 26 and my colleagues being 35 to 40 plus years of age, there is an added pressure to demonstrate my competence, but this does not intimidate me at all. My dad, Alvaro Lopez Sr., is very old school and he has always instilled that if I am going to do something, I better do it right, so I keep that to heart and always give my full potential at all times. And without exception, stay humble and treat everybody with the same respect so you can get the same in return. Earn people's respect, show them what you are capable of, and always keep your word.
"Construction can be very a stressful occupation but my lovely wife Stephanie is always there for me," he added, "and my mother, Alicia, is always someone I could speak to for advice, especially about working in family construction business — she knows construction and the demands it can place on people involved in it. Construction has its great rewards, but time with family and friends also keeps me grounded and without their support, none of my success would be possible."
Lopez, Jr., who was born into a family involved in civil construction, is introducing his son Julian to the business in a similar fashion.
"I have a 2-year-old son, and our favorite pastime is visiting our job sites and operating equipment on-site," he said. "I was fortunate to grow up around construction, so I can proudly say I know how to operate my fair share of equipment. As my family taught me, I want to make sure my son learns how to operate equipment and to be hands on in the field. I greatly enjoy learning about new equipment and ways to make our work easier and more cost efficient. My current employer, Longview Bridge and Road, has acquired new GOMACO slip form paving machines, barrier/curb slip from equipment, bridge screeds, pugmill machines, concrete plants and crushers in which we have transitioned to stingless paving methodologies with advanced Trimble survey systems.
"In addition, we use GPS systems and advanced methodologies in which we constantly seek to improve and better suit our company for the strict specifications and tight budgets," he explained. "As a manager, following all our policies and inspection requirements is a must. Additionally, I expect all my employees to treat our equipment as if it were their own in order to keep our equipment in top shape, which then allows our company to be profitable and in return, enables us to provide for our families."
Project managers take on immense tasks that are far from easy. Whether it be large or small projects, one has to get everything right, bring the project in on budget and schedule, deal with a variety of people and suppliers and understand the psychology of people from management to the field level. When asked how he deals with the pressures and get the best of out of people, Lopez, Jr. replied:
"Relationships are key in any field or position, With the size of our projects, having the right team is essential to success. I make it a priority to develop great relationships with my project team, stakeholders and associates. We spend more time with the people around us at work than we do with our blood family, so it is only just to treat them likewise and create a great environment at work. One may not be remembered for how well they did on a project, but will always remember how we treated others and were able to work out imminent disputes and issues.
"I have high standards and expectations, the same of which I anticipate my team to follow," he added. "I commend people when its due, and motivate my team to always improve. Pressure and stress are inevitable in this demanding field, so it's necessary to keep composure and keep your team focused on the same goal to be profitable, efficient, and most importantly, safe. I work on getting the best out of my people by constantly setting goals and inspiring them to reach further potentials in order to grow."
This includes giving people opportunities to make suggestions and feel at ease when speaking with him.
"With all the work associated in managing $90 million projects, it is only feasible with proper delegation of work and providing opportunities for those that seek to improve and take on more responsibility," he noted. "One should always have aspirations to move up in the company and provide a better future for themselves, family, and the company. Seeing people become successful and grow is an amazing accomplishment for me as a manager.
"With me being so young, I find it necessary to hear everybody out and let them provide suggestions," he added. "This allows me to broaden my horizon with different perspectives and planning. I find myself a people's person, so I believe everyone feels at ease when speaking to me. Unfortunately, with our busy work schedule and life, it is difficult to make all the time I wish I had to visit more with all my people."
In a major sense, a career in highway and bridge construction was pretty much a given for Lopez, Jr.
"I grew up working construction with my family since I was 9 years old with a very small family construction business — Universal Concrete & Pools," said Lopez, Jr. "There I learned to pour and finish concrete, tie steel, set forms, operate equipment and work as a laborer, which is where I developed my love and niche for construction. Additionally, my father and his seven brothers worked for the same heavy civil contractor, LA Engineering, where I was greatly intrigued by all the amazing work they did and showed me. My family comes from a very small town, Encarnacion de Diaz, Jalisco, Mexico, where we grew up with very little and have had to work extremely hard to get where we are at now. Without this great construction field, our lives would be completely different.
"Consequently, I always dreamed of becoming an engineer in order to help build bridges, roadways and city projects just like my dad and uncles," he added. "During my undergraduate studies, I worked for a transportation design consulting firm, Jacobs, where I was able to expand my knowledge in roadway and bridge design, but shortly after I decided to go back to where I felt most suited — heavy civil construction, and I have not looked back."
Lopez credits his education at Texas A&M with his ability to handle complex situations.
"This helped me significantly with the theoretical information and design aspect behind what we build," he said. "It not only did that, but most importantly gave me the confidence to solve complex problems and situations with the difficult coursework we encountered, being that A&M is a top 10 ranked civil engineering program. And lastly, being that there are now close to 70,000 students at this great institution, the network and lasting relationships that you build with other students is a major advantage. This industry is huge, but at the same time you always run into old colleagues that are willing to lend a hand when needed. My experience at Texas A&M was amazing and I couldn't picture myself where I am now without my time in College Station."
Despite the challenges and hurdles he encountered at the beginning of his career, Lopez, Jr. kept his cool and persevered, winning the respect of all due to his dedication.
"My initial experiences included a demand to quickly adapt to the projects and nature of work, which at times can feel like you are being thrown in the water full of sharks," he said, "but it was the best way to quickly learn and grow. I have worked from the bottom up and have advanced from a labor hand, foreman, field engineer, superintendent and project engineer to now being a project manager. Doing so has allowed for me to become a better manager because I understand the situations that my team is exposed to due to the fact that I was once in their shoes.
"The most satisfying and fulfilling part about construction to me is seeing the project come together and how it positively impacts our growing society," he added. "Heavy civil construction plays a critical role in our infrastructure by providing essential methods of transportation. Consequently, due to the fact that it is vital to society, it is everywhere and it will continue to be a great market to keep up with population increase, which makes it an ideal career for any young student with aspirations of making an impact in the world."
And finally, when asked if he thinks people appreciate the hard work and professionalism that goes into the construction of roads and bridges, Lopez, Jr. replied: "I believe society has a lot of respect for us due to the impact we make in their daily lives, which allows for them to not only safely travel home, but also use the infrastructure they sometimes forget, like water, sewer and electricity to improve the quality of living." CEG