In this episode of the Work Done Right podcast, we welcome Janis Pieterwas, the Construction Innovation Manager at GOLDBECK Group. Janis is dedicated to enhancing construction site efficiency by exploring cutting-edge technologies and ideas from startups, industry partners, and construction-focused VC’s.
The episode delves into GOLDBECK’s innovative approach to standardization, their impressive speed of construction, and the culture of innovation that sets them apart in the construction industry. Don’t miss this episode full of valuable insights into how GOLDBECK leverages technology to drive efficiency and quality in construction projects.
About Janis Pieterwas
Our guest today is Janis Pieterwas. Janis is the Construction Innovation Manager at GOLDBECK Group, and is responsible for seeking out new technologies and ideas from startups, industry partners, and construction-focused VC’s to improve construction site efficiency.
In his position, his main goal is to improve workflows on construction sites and increase productivity, focusing primarily on construction robotics and field applications. Janis received his Master’s Degree from Leipzig University of Applied Science in Germany in 2018.
Top 3 Episode Takeaways
- An Innovative Approach to Standardization: GOLDBECK’s innovative approach to construction involves standardizing the structural components of buildings while allowing for a high degree of customization in the visible aspects. This approach streamlines the construction process and reduces costs.
- Rapid Construction: GOLDBECK’s modular construction methods enable them to complete projects, even large ones like the Tesla factory in Berlin, in a fraction of the time compared to traditional construction. For example, they completed the Tesla factory’s core shell in just six months, highlighting the potential efficiency gains through modularization.
- Innovation Culture: GOLDBECK has fostered a culture of innovation, where they actively seek out and test new technologies and processes to improve their operations. They have a dedicated team focused on identifying, testing, and implementing innovative solutions across their business verticals. This culture of continuous improvement and the commitment to making new technologies standard processes set them apart in the construction industry.
Janis, welcome to the show.
Thank you very much, Wes, for having me.
Yeah, so just kind of to provide a little bit of clarity to some of this, GOLDBECK is a company that maybe here in America people might not have heard as much about.
Could you provide a little bit of information about what GOLDBECK is and what sort of projects it is that you all specialize in?
Yeah, absolutely. Gonna start with the elevator pitch. So basically we came to the States about like four years ago with a little innovation hub, but what Goldbeck is actually about is it’s a design, built and operate company with a productized building approach.
So basically we do have a vertically integrated business model and we built commercial real estate that is completely productized and standardized. So what that means is basically look at it as like a portfolio of buildings like in logistic halls, warehouses, office buildings, multi -family housing, multi -level parking garages, schools, sometimes gyms. So it’s like a narrow space and what we did is like we productized all of these buildings. So the backbone basically the structural components are all standardized and we also produce all the components that are needed to build these buildings in our own factories.
So if I would like run you through basically the life cycle of a project or like the product service ecosystem, so to say, we basically start with a sales cycle. So we are, we have our like own sales engineers in -house and architects too and they basically narrowed down the first design of your product with you together pretty, pretty fast.
Like we bought most of our buildings in like a set of about like 80 parameters. These are questions we ask our clients and it’s like Functioning questions. We’re not talking about the machine room in the back.
We’re talking about functions. So how is it that you want to use your building? What are the temperatures you expect? What’s the light situation? Like what do you want from your building? And we’re going to take care of the entire backbone, so to say.
So the sign comes first. Once we narrow this down, I’m going to shift to the production. And currently we’re spread across Europe in 16 countries currently. And we own and operate 13 factories. They also like distributed basically across Europe to basically reach all the countries.
And in the factories, we produce the components for those buildings. And once they are produced, we ship them either with trains preferred or trucks to our chop sites. And on the chop sites, we basically do turnkey, basically assembly.
Look at it like a big Lego game, so to say. And once the building is completed, we take over and also offer like a five years service program that comes for free. So it’s basically, yeah, commercial in this state with fixed prices, fixed handover date and five years service for free.
That’s more or less the business model. And so far we are like, yeah, spread across Europe. Company has now around 12 ,000 employees turnover of around 7 billion US dollars and started back in 1969. So a little over 50 years now.
And yeah, that’s that’s goldback for you. And I’m a part of goldback innovation hub here in the States. And yeah, basically open innovation. We talk really to everyone that comes in with great ideas.
Academia, we are partnered, Syfie and Stanford talk to the MIT guys. And then on top of this, of course, like we’re talking to entrepreneurs, people with like bright minds and ideas to sort of improve our business models and our productivity on the top sides and the design phase and production.
So, so thank you for that background on that. Something to something to highlight in that is that the Goldbeck is like all in on modular construction in a big way. I mean, you all are more aggressive in your pursuit toward, toward modularization than I think any other company that I’ve that I’ve seen that I’ve worked with in my experience.
And I think the thing that that well characterizes that is whenever you’re talking about, you know, going from design to build use it. The, the, the, where you went after design was to the factory.
You didn’t, you didn’t go to a site. And I think that’s where a lot of people would hear this and say, to the factory. Well, what, what the heck are you building in a factory? Right. So, so you all are, are taking like you were saying, kind of like a standard sort of design and providing this potential experience to a customer. Right. So and what sort of what sort of projects is it? I know you told before that it commercial real estate. So anything in that portfolio parking garages, offices, and you all even, if I recall properly, you built the the Tesla factory.
Where was that one?
In Berlin, in Berlin, outside of Berlin. Right.
So so within this, everything in there is modular with that with with everything being kind of the standard kit of parts. How is it that you all are handling some of the the kind of nuances these requests that you inevitably get from owners because so I’ve worked as a subcontractor or contractor as as as the owner.
And I know that these these kind seemingly random and BES requests or demands for their specification, their standards, it must it shall be this way, get get thrown in there a lot. So how do you how are you capable of working with some of these owners, some of these clients in in this modular capacity?
How does that work?
Yeah. Yeah, super good question. I think one thing that we like had to learn, I guess, like on our journey was sort of to understand what we are good at. And we are like very good at delivering these products, basically on time with like a competitive price.
But we had to find our niche and the niche is yeah, basically part of the system just like fairly simple constructions, or we’re not doing a highly sophisticated hospitals and things like this, we picked a niche for us.
And we’re very good in delivering in that. Basically, the way we give our like clients sort of room to customize is basically that the thesis is we standardize the invisible backbone of the building.
and everything that’s visible is customizable. So if we talk about it at the product, say like a warehouse, for example, let’s pick an office building. What the customer is actually interested in, they wanna have a beautiful looking building.
It’s supposed to look nice, so facades are important for customers, I think, and then also the footprint, of course, like that’s functional for them, and then the materials that they later experience in the operations phase, right?
I don’t know, carpets and everything you touch, you see, so aesthetics. And in this capacity, we basically leave all the room our customer are looking for. So we have, we’re a very customer center in that sense.
We do have like three system centers in Germany. They’re like basically big exhibition halls where like our products are exhibited in like real size. We have like a VR room there, and our customers can select all the materials basically in 3D and then they can also feel it, touch it like all the things.
So I would say if I would need to describe it, the degree of customizability is 90% of the product I’d say is standardized and the 10% that’s needed to make it yours is absolutely possible. What we are trying to do is we got back is like, we have a decentralized organization.
So we basically have around 110 branch offices that are spread across Europe. The idea is to be very close to the customers, sort of like be able to correct the same jokes and speak the same language after all.
And this is very helpful to come into a project early on. And basically, sometimes like most of the time we are the design department, the architects ourselves, right? We have two and a half architects and engineers in house.
So we have the capabilities to do it. Sometimes some customers come in with an architect, maybe they’ve built with the architect before, like the designer aesthetics. So what we would do is we are still trying to come in early, take the initial draft and basically interested in our product.
And this leads to some changes here and there, I would say, but like we always find a good way with the architect to make sure the aesthetics that the customer expects are met. And then everything in the background, the backbone, it’s going to be “Goldbecketized”, so to say.
Right, yeah. I imagine, does that enable you to cut down on a lot of the front -end engineering as well, since many of the, many of us say like the structural aspects of all of this has kind of already been weighed.
Any permutation of this has already been done before. So you have all of that historic knowledge and information. Does that help cut down on that time frame and cost as well?
So we built 600 buildings every year and 300 of them are logistic and warehouses.
Then we built around like a hundred office buildings. So look at it this way. We iterate 600 times every year per product, sometimes, yeah, a few hundred times. So we know the process is very well and we’re like very process focused.
Therefore, like we make sure that, you know, because it has to be, you know, so where it really pays off for us is in a design phase. It starts there. So we developed a app. It’s called, yeah, it’s basically like Tinder, but it’s just the construction Tinder.
So to say it’s like, it’s called the Design Finder. So you can select your super intent to you want on your job site. Well, maybe in the future. So for now, it’s basically to narrow down like our customers like needs.
Okay. What for say it’s. like what are the things you, I don’t know, appreciate like this window, I don’t like this door, whatever, it’s like about materials and aesthetics. And then our sales engineers come into the first meeting, they already have a good understanding what the customer actually wants.
And they only asked like a set of questions that are about functions really, not like we’re not going into the nuts and bolts, it was like the clients, if you buy a car, you don’t want to know what this door is used in the engine, you want to know the color, you want to know the materials, you want to, you know, talk about the functions, the horsepower or whatever.
Right, right. So we do this. And so in the design phase, we ingest the like the design failure results, we ingest like those parameters that are that are requested. And then we’re able to basically generate a cheat code like production ready model within 10 minutes.
It’s like just basically a processing time of the computer 10 minutes. And then you have a model and the architects basically just come in and then basically twist the footprint a little bit and like work on a sense more of the client wants something.
So long answer to your question. Yeah, we are the the the repeatability is I think like a bill is a cool advantage to capitalize on and everything is basically repeatable production. We are like producing the same parts, so it become more efficient over time, of course, on the chop sides, I would say, I mean, my background is in civil engineering, I worked as a site manager for many years.
And I would say like if you pick a crew from one of our chop sides and swap it out with another one, like say you swap crews off to parking garages or warehouses, give them like a couple of days and they should be able to manage the chop side, because they know the products and now hard works.
Right. Yeah, no, that’s that that that aspect of standardization for for the design and of the of the construction process seems to me to be a big area where the rest of the industry kind of has a lot of room for for opportunity for improvement.
Because we do. Yes, all of our all of our great GCs out there have their standard operating procedures. These are our corporate procedures. But for some unknown reason, I guess it’s because we you know, we’re all we’re all human and we all want to make our stamp on life, I guess and justify our positions.
We do this thing where where we have to make it site specific on every single site. So we take a general idea and then we change it to be site specific. So it’s no longer really the corporate procedure.
It’s still just a standard specific job site procedure. And then it just adds complexity from site to site to site to site. So we lose a lot of that standardization. So to me, you know, I guess One, finishing up in this idea and this domain of modularization and the way that you integrate this, there’s a lot of room for improvement for the rest of the industry to see massive amounts of gains in this.
And as a highlight of that, I would like to just cover it, not to just have a pitch out here for Goldbeck, but to summarize well the value of modularization, to touch back on that, that Gigafactory, the Tesla factory.
So can you tell us how long it took for you all to build that site?
Yeah, overall construction time from like touching the ground to like key handover was around like six months. That’s corn shell. Yeah, that’s corn shell.
Yeah, that’s you know with the idea that the same similar facility here down in Austin that’s being built has been in construction for the last several years and as a native Texan of 10 years, I’m very proud of the work that we all do in the South and we have some phenomenal builders, but that difference in time is astonishing.
So I think that this is an area where we here still, stateside we have this big shift toward modularization, but we’re not standardizing it in the same way that I think that you all with Goldbeck have done a phenomenal job of kind of perfecting the ways of working around that.
I mean, just to this point, like maybe one thing to add, I guess like I do believe that like clients and like all continents probably like sort of have the same needs, right? Or like similar like expectations, they don’t even they see like construction, I think or I see oil and handshake all day like like to say this is like weird like the necessary evil, right?
Like no one wants to interact with us because we’re super nice. I mean, maybe, but like most of the people just like or clients, they want a building that they can experience. This is the reason why they interact with us.
So we have have to make it as comfortable as possible for them. And I think we can sort of like bring some of the simplicity onto our clients and like take some of the pains out of their hands, you know, like, I think the same business model would probably also work in the States.
Like, it’s the art of saying no, sometimes and say, well, I think like if we like keep it simple and you build with gold back in the system or whoever is going to work with this approach, you’re going to get a building that is on price, like with a lump sum fixed price, quality is going to be great.
And you get it to the time when you want to like fix fixed time. And I think that’s also possible in the States. Like it’s just, yeah, I don’t know, one has to put themselves out there, I guess, just like, I think so you cover that well, you know, the idea of kind of that art of saying no, which is a very difficult thing for anybody to do, whether we’re talking about in construction, when talking with the owner, or in any situation in work setting, you know, saying no to somebody who’s actually paying you money to do something is a hard thing to do.
But really, I think the thing that comes to mind, wherever you’re saying this is, is one, yeah, you’re, you’re, you know, was Andrew Goldbeck, is that what you’re saying?
Oh, Jan Hendrick. Oh, Jan Hendrick.
Yes, one of three brothers.
Yep. The, you know, he’s right that construction for the owner is a necessary evil, because if you think about it, it’s just an expense for them. Right? That’s not where they make their money.
That’s where you make money. Right? They’re, they’re only spending money with an aim of getting to an end result. And I think that, that for, for you all to say, no, listen, this is our expertise. This is what you want.
And this is how we can deliver it on time on budget for the experience that you’re looking for. You know, it’s then up to the owner to say, you’re right, this isn’t, this isn’t my competence. My competence is in, you know, the, the, the operations of this building or of this facility, whatever it is, and, and to, to have that understanding and to have that kind of humility in that is, is really what would help shape the industry in a way that would enable more people to kind of to join you on this journey of modernization in a way that makes sense.
I agree. If you think about it like example, automotive industry, right? Like we compare ourselves, like, I’ll back a lot with them, because like we are, we also have this like manufacturing mindset, like factory mindset.
And the equivalent of what we do in construction and automotive, I think would be, you basically, you order a car, you go down to the last nut and bolt, and then you going to go to the factory where they built your car, and you’re going to be around the entire time just to make sure that they built the car the way you want it, or that you ordered it.
Right. And then at the enterprise is whatever it turns out to be. So like that can’t be the case. Like if we want to scale and deliver products like in an easy way, I think we should. Or like it makes sense.
Yeah, yeah. My personal experience. There was a there’s a panel just a minute ago that was that was talking about, you know, productivity in the industry and what it is that we can do in order to ensure that they were able to achieve the productivity that we set out to have.
And they related it over to the automotive industry and their people on there saying, you know, it’s just not possible. The nature of the way that we work is is is keeping us and will keep us from ever doing this.
And I know by the sounds of it, that’s not that’s not the truth. Right. There is a better way. I do believe so.
I was just going to say, we’re running somewhat short on time, so I just want to make sure we have an opportunity to cover as well.
So your specialty in all of this is innovation.
As you say, you’re over here, you’re based in the Bay Area, and you’re here to talk with the best and brightest in order to identify what areas of opportunity there are for Goldbeck to improve their innovations, to expand their innovations, and to adopt new technologies.
I’d like to give you an opportunity in order to spell out the process for identifying new solutions, testing new solutions, and deploying new solutions for Goldbeck, and how it is that you do standardize every single site kind of the same way, and how that goes.
So could you lay that out there for us?
Absolutely, absolutely. Love that. Yeah, so we basically touched base in the States about four years ago. I’m here since then, since day one. It’s been a great ride, really, but it’s like a small team.
We started off with a team of three, then got another addition we have four now, and the idea really is we took this integrated business model of Goldbeck, broke it down into design, production, and construction, and the operation.
There were basically four verticals, three or three or four, and we have an innovation manager for each of these verticals, and the team is set up in a way that all of us have an background in the actual projects.
So we are with the company for a while, and we also served on actual construction projects in various phases of the projects or angles. And now the goal or the target is for this team to really find solutions, innovations that we can incorporate into our processes and then basically uplift all of the projects.
So the way we think about it, and I think the standard standardization again is like a cool advantage for us because I’m going to pick an example for like construction for example. So construction robotics is for us in the factories, like I would say more or less like standards, but like for like 20 years, like we like keep all the may all the meeting more tasks in the in the factories takes time but like step by step and we can basically follow through with this on the job sites.
And the idea there is that once you like we identify a technology where we see impact either it’s like coming like from a point pain point from the job sites. Maybe it’s our own experience. Sometimes it’s something opportunistic with robotics like it makes a lot of sense because standardization repetitive processes in production.
So repetitive processes on the job site. So we paint like some of our like parking garages, for example, we paint the underside of concrete slabs. Super stringless job if you’ve painted like a ceiling before it’s nasty to say the least.
It’s just like uncomfortable for something like that. That’s heavy mill coating. It’s even worse, you know, it’s potential to drip.
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Like your neck’s gonna like it’s, it’s unknowful.
So if you do this, like on a commercial scale, big time and you have to do is every day and you basically paint and it’s just not great. So we reached out to at the time is like a company out of Tel Aviv or Kibo.
And we basically asked them to help us tracking this use case for us. We piloted their software or sorry they’re there robot on our job site. And it was like, the results were great, like we were working very well, also together with our subcontractors.
And then the next step is basically after this. Yes, it’s working on one job site. That means we can basically apply it amongst all of our projects that are the same car parks in that sense, it’s like 100 of them every year.
Perfect rollout. And this is how we think about like innovation in general, we’re trying to identify innovations that we then make a new standard process within our company sign enterprise contracts with the startups or technology provider, and then roll it out company wide to uplift the quality of the entire company.
Yeah, that that is vastly different than the way so now working with the technology provider, again, having worked with a sub GC, the owner and now now on the technology side, that is not the way we do things typically.
And I see even even the customers that we have that have enterprise contracts set up for us or for other companies as well, it’s still very much an elective site by site project by project decision to use any of these different technologies and it kind of goes by the whim of a couple of key stakeholders on each of these projects and whether or not these things will actually get adopted on those sites.
So why do you see value in doing it this way and what has gotten you to this point? Because I think it’s a brilliant idea. But what is the value that Goldbeck sees in that?
I mean, the value really is that you impact the entire company with your efforts of bringing in or optimizing things.
Instead of just like uplifting one project. And it is challenging because like you want to make sure that you’re not sort of bringing something in from the top. And you know, like we still have to have teams on the ground that like help us rolling the solutions out.
But the rollout strategy is very comprehensive in a way that we really make sure it’s becoming a standard process and people are supposed to work this way. And we expect that.
Yeah. I imagine that that culture though of kind of continuous, this is the way we do things.
And when we roll something out, we’re going to roll it out everywhere. That’s the expectation because that’s what’s been reinforced. I imagine for on a boots on the ground level, you know, if if somebody is hearing, we have this new technology or this new process, this is how we’re going to do things.
It’s already been ingrained. Well, this is now how we do things because we have a we have a culture of not only innovation, but also like a culture of adoption. Yes. Basically, is that how you see it?
I would say so. And also like our CEO is like very innovation for what really is like, that’s the reason why we have this like team in the States. So he’s also a big advocate. So he would like bring it into the company news and like, guys, this is the new thing for the job sites, like funders in the States, but like management support, I think it’s very important.
And then what we also make sure is that we have like good support structures. In the actual departments that roll it out. So if you have any questions, you need resources, you need anything. We have our own support hotline for the job sites.
They can just like call and say, OK, I want this technology now or is it not working? And they talk to a Goldberg service person that helps them out. So you have your own like internal customer success that does that covers all of the innovations for a particular domain, whether it’s construction, manufacturing or what or the services.
That’s right. It’s like different hotlines are basically design and construction is basically we call this like BIM hotlines department. Hotline and then factories have their own services. They’re one.
So one eight hundred Goldbeck, one nine hundred gold. That’s right. That’s right. The different ones. To me, you know, the idea of having the mandate from the top, it’s, you know, that kind of heavy handed approach is very much discouraged from a lot of people because the perception is we should do this.
collectively. But but to me, it’s that’s the that’s the push, right? That’s just the initial kind of push out of the nest. Yeah. And then from there, you know, you’re not just left to fly on your own.
You have a you have opportunities for soft landings and having a support system there. So it’s not just this is the way we’re going to do things. It’s this is the way we’re going to do things. And we hear the resources in order to help you to succeed.
Right? So that to me is a huge opportunity for people to to again, take advantage of the learnings that you all have had over the last 50 odd years of being in business.
I completely agree. And best in best case, it’s like, have a like, innovation or solution that the people just like want something that’s like, right, like the pool is naturally created at some point.
This is best case, not always, but like also with that. Yeah, no, that’s, it’s again, very encouraging that everything is going to be just a knockout of the park home run. But know still getting on first or second base is still a win in my book.
Rapid Fire Questions
But so, Janis, we’re coming right up on time. We’ll like to ask a few less minute rapid fire questions to get to know Janice Peter Voss, the man, not just the professional. So first question, what is your favorite book?
The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo.
Yeah, great book. And if you could give any piece of advice to somebody just starting off in their career, what would it be?
I think it’s incredibly helpful to have a, find a good mentor, someone that like, that you can follow for a while and see how they sort of navigate some situations to sort of like, I don’t know, place your or like find your place and see how you can start to navigate your job.
It was like incredibly helpful for me when I started off, I did like a sort of like a hybrid do a dual study system where I had like a mentor, I was working and I was at university. So this gave me like a good sort of start to know how to interact with the people.
So find a great mentor, someone that you admire, maybe or like respect, of course.
Yeah. Yeah, that’s a great piece of advice. And then if you could have dinner any one person, who would it be?
I thought about it. It took me a while.
I would probably like go out with Michelle Obama. Yeah. Yeah, I really admire like the entire family. But I think with Michelle, it’s probably like a lot of exciting, exciting conversations. A lot of stories to hear.
Yeah, they’d be awesome if Michelle Obama listens to this episode. John is open for dinner. I would be very happy. Yeah, to stay for joining us for the show. I really hope that we can do this again sometime.
Thank you very much, Wes.