Les Hiscoe proves that building a success story is a marathon, not a sprint. The visionary and now CEO of Shawmut Design and Construction spent a decade “in the field” developing leadership expertise before joining Shawmut in 1998, playing a pivotal role in the company’s growth from $100M to $1.2B in revenue over the past two decades.
The Manchester, NH native defines success in his industry as effective collaboration. “Success is when I get that call from a client saying, ‘Your project manager was the best I ever dealt with.…’” he says. “That’s success to me.”
Hiscoe grew up with one sibling and two working parents. His father pursued a brief career as a professional baseball player but suffered an injury soon after he was drafted. That setback only encouraged him to guide his son toward also developing a passion for sports, which led Hiscoe to become highly competitive, dreaming of life as a professional basketball player.
As it often does for children with lavish dreams, reality set in and Hiscoe instead went on to earn a civil engineering degree from the University of New Hampshire in 1987.
In search of a career that would allow him to spend time outdoors, the visionary signed on a construction project during the summer of 1985 to develop office space for Dean L. Kamen, who would one day invent the Segway. Hiscoe enjoyed his work and found a part-time construction job the following summer. His first project was at the university, and it was then, he says, that his career in construction began.
“I really loved the tangible aspect of saying I built something, or that I led a team that built something,” Hiscoe explains. “From very early on, I was hooked on that construction process… I really wanted to learn how to build.”
The tactical and leadership skills that Hiscoe acquired as a project superintendent during the first 10 years of his career prepared him well for his later transition to management. Working in the field meant taking responsibility for all tradespeople, sub-contractors, safety, quality, scheduling, and building on a project.
Hiscoe’s natural leadership ability became apparent over time. His patience and good listening skills helped him connect with, motivate, and guide varying personality types among tradespeople on site. He was decisive, yet willing to consult his team and adapt plans accordingly.
“Looking back, I think being onsite for those 10 years was probably the best thing that I could have done for my career,” Hiscoe reflects. “I learned early on that just because I was young and in charge, it wasn’t my place to tell tradespeople what to do, but to understand what they do, and then guide them along a schedule.”
While working in his late 20s as the youngest superintendent on a high school building project, he soon realized that he was ready for a change. Having built almost every different type of structure, he was curious to experience first-hand how a project come together through project estimates, hiring, contracts, finances, sketches, and more.
“It clicked that this is really all about people, and it’s all about people management,” explains Hiscoe.
I really loved the tangible aspect of saying I built something, or that I led a team that built something,” Hiscoe explains. “From very early on, I was hooked on that construction process … I really wanted to learn how to build.
As Luck Would Have It
Though he was not looking to leave his company, Hiscoe agreed to an interview at Shawmut in Boston. Upon walking into the office, he was immediately attracted to the fast-paced, energetic office culture. His first day as director at Shawmut was St. Patrick’s Day in 1998.
Hiscoe moved down to Boston and began growing within the company as the company itself grew. While running the retail division in 2003, Hiscoe opened a new office in New York City to enhance their presence in the luxury retail space. He married his wife one year later, and the couple has since lived in the city with their 10-year-old son.
As Hiscoe was promoted to COO in 2012, then CEO in 2015, he kept his focus on customer experience and delivering above client expectations. Shawmut became 100 percent employee-owned in 2005, and today boasts a diverse client portfolio managed by 1,400 employees in nine different offices, including Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Miami.
“When I walk into the LA office, it feels different than the New York office, but the core values and customer delivery are the same,” Hiscoe says.
Shawmut launched as a fine dining restaurant builder in 1982, eventually expanding into the high-end luxury retail and hospitality markets. Health care and academic clients came next, as their long-lasting projects balanced the company’s existing list of quick-moving endeavors. A sports vertical also appeared with numerous amenity projects at various football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and horse racing venues across the country.
Expertise-driven verticals at Shawmut are what power its diverse portfolio and unique custom client experiences. For example, Shawmut’s national platform of expert staff takes on projects like installing Instant Replay and Wi-Fi in all thirty Major League Baseball (MLB) stadiums.
As CEO, Hiscoe remains focused on his company’s culture, inspiration, and reputation. Shawmut is an agile operation with the competitive advantage of meeting clients’ changing needs, which have recently shifted toward offering their own customers better experiences.
Hiscoe has garnered advice from various people throughout his professional life. He says, “People ask me, ‘Where did you get your M.B.A.?’ The flippant answer is, I got it at Shawmut, growing $100M to $1.2B in revenue over 20 years.”
Construction in the Digital Age
The visionary is excited to be at the forefront of construction in a digital society. Shawmut’s company culture emphasizes transparency and enabling clients to challenge big data competitors. With 500 projects completed last year, Hiscoe predicts that the next decade will bring even more growth in health care, as well as new construction productivity, and possibly even new Shawmut geographies.
Hiscoe begins his day early with a workout around 5 a.m. He finds his long days to be energizing, balancing them as he does with cycling trips and Friday mornings spent walking his son to school.
“I’m honored to lead Shawmut,” Hiscoe concludes. “It’s a company filled with great people. I’m really proud of our client list, reputation, and how transparent, ethical, and value-driven we are. I think my job is to bring the energy and make sure that we’re all having fun.”