Builders at our Core: Harley Manning

Nashville Drywall Foreman Harley Manning
Nashville Drywall Foreman Harley Manning believes that each day offers the opportunity to become a better builder and to build relationships and mutual respect with others on the jobsite. Courtesy of Skyler Herring

Ever Forward. It’s one of DPR’s core values; inviolable beliefs that serve as a starting point to defining what we do and how we do it. Drywall foreman Harley Manning epitomizes the sort of self-initiated change, improvement and learning that happens daily at DPR. To Manning, embracing the mindset that each day offers the opportunity to become a better builder has helped him find personal fulfillment that translates to better results.

Note: The recording and photos used were captured at different stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and guidelines existing at the time were followed.

Q: What is your role at DPR and describe the path you took to get there?

Manning: I’m a foreman for SPW drywall, but I’ve been taking on more superintendent duties lately. I came to DPR about two years ago from another commercial contractor. I had worked in residential most of my life, but five years ago my buddy talked me into trying commercial, and I have never looked back. I wish I’d found it a long time ago. I like the scale—the larger number of people and equipment.

Just this week, I moved to a new project. It’s an existing space, but it’s a pretty large, fast-paced job. The drywall scope is around $5 million with a schedule that has us completing in 5 months. I’m a little nervous, but I always say that if you’re not nervous, you’re doing something wrong. And I’ve prevailed every time.

Q: Why do you think being a self-performing general contractor makes a difference on a project?

Manning: The benefit for me is the relationship between you and the GC decision-makers. You’re on a more personal level. You can ask questions; they can ask you questions. I’ve worked for companies before where you don’t get much help. If you ask a question, you kind of get a cold shoulder and have to figure things out for yourself. The overall communication level and general personal relationships you build with people are different here. DPR is a people-first company—we even have relationship-building activities. Other companies pretend to care; DPR really cares, and that’s pretty cool.

Q: What have you learned from your team members?

Manning: On my last job, at the Nashville Warehouse, I learned a lot about safety. I’ve always been an interior guy, so I had never dealt with such large-scale exterior work like I did on that job. I learned a lot about exterior safety—with boom lifts, tie-offs and larger machinery.

Manning openly embraces new construction technologies such as layout tools and BIM models.
Manning openly embraces new construction technologies such as layout tools and BIM models that allow him to “see the project complete before it’s completed.”. Courtesy of Skyler Herring

Q: Talk about a time in your career where you intervened to make the work on-site safer.

Manning: There have been times in the past when I’ve seen people doing questionable things, like driving a boom lift not tied off. I’ve seen a railing that was built very poorly and could have resulted in a significant accident. But we all pay attention to things that could hurt us or others, and we call things out as soon as we see them.

Q: How is your current project different from others you've worked on?

Manning: This is a tenant improvement project with an aggressive schedule. There is a lot of drywall scope, along with other trades. I’ll be in more of a superintendent role, not in the field as much as normal. I love the field—the noises, the commotion of work—but I’m looking forward to the new challenge. Knowledge is key and knowledge is power. Anything that betters me so that I can take better care of my family, I’ll do it. Anything to give my kids a better life.

Q: What is your proudest moment at DPR?

Manning: I would have to say just moving up the ladder, becoming a better employee, becoming a better foreman. It’s about being happy in your work, but also being able to provide for your family. Going from working to running the work—I love it. I’m happy about the progress I’ve made.

Manning believes it’s important to be open-minded.
Along with being honest and understanding, Manning believes it’s important to be open-minded to the suggestions and ideas of others who may have figured out more efficient ways of getting tasks done. Courtesy of Skyler Herring

Q: To be successful in your role, what skills does a person need?

Manning: Communication, honesty and integrity. You have to be understanding and check on your team members. Be compassionate and caring about people at the end of the day. If we show our team members that we care about them, they're going to have to have a much better experience at work, and that will show in our results. Being understanding in the field is huge. You might work with 20 different personalities every day, so it’s important to be there to help and be supportive. I want people to enjoy coming to work. I want people to show up at the job site and be happy. I’m so glad I found DPR because everyone here feels that way. It's the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Q: What would your advice be for the next generation of builders entering this field?

Manning: Start early and listen to those who have experience. The folks who’ve been in the field for years will give you valuable insight into what you’re doing—even how to lift properly. When I started, I didn’t listen to anybody. If I’d kept my ears open, I would have learned a lot more.