5 Questions With Matt Bumgardner, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of R.W. Warner Inc. 

February 6, 2023

“5 Questions With…” is a recurring BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This week we welcome Matt Bumgardner, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of R.W. Warner Inc. 

Matt oversees all aspects of the three divisions of the company, Warner Construction, Kaempf and Harris Sheet Metal, and Warner Mechanical. He has been in construction for as long as he can remember, working for his step-father’s construction company whenever he could as a kid. Matt obtained a Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and traveled the world with the Bechtel corporation for the first part of his career, working on some of the largest and most unique construction projects out there. He has taken the best parts of these experiences forward with him to help create and maintain the best working environment possible at R.W. Warner.

Outside of work Matt enjoys golfing, skiing/snowboarding, hunting, and any other activity that can be done outdoors.  Most of all he loves spending time with his family, his wife Natalie, and his 4 children: Quinn, Harper, Hazel, and his son Bennett.

1) Please introduce yourself to our audience by looking back at your education, training, and career.

I graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Shortly after graduating, I entered the workforce with the Bechtel Corporation and had the pleasure of working on some of the largest and most complex construction projects around the world. My training all came from real-world experiences. I worked as a field engineer in multiple disciplines while with Bechtel, including:

  • Civil
  • Structural
  • Electrical and Mechanical scopes of work.

I also held positions as a Project controls engineer, scheduler, superintendent, start up engineer and design engineer as well with Bechtel.  Before I left the Bechtel corporation I went through a 2-year training program to become certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt, focusing on process improvements.

Upon leaving the Bechtel Corporation, I took a position as a project manager with a General contractor servicing federal projects around the DC area.  I quickly took over as the operations manager of this company and began to implement ideas I had gained throughout my diverse experience in construction.  I wanted to prove that trust and respect mattered in, what I had come to know as, a very tough and cutthroat industry. Through trial and error, I found what worked and what didn’t.

When I got to R.W. Warner I was able to implement all I had learned over the years and found great success in building a culture that truly cared about what we did.  In this, I saw a passion that I had not seen for a long time in the construction industry.

2) Looking at your career path, you have been in the Mechanical Engineering sector for 15 years. What are some habits you learned early across your roles that you continue to hone and implement?

There are 3 things that I have always felt were not only most important in any position, but in any business you might be in:

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  • Work Ethic: The desire to show up every day and work hard for the time you are there.  This is so simple and important, but so often not accomplished.  I have always felt that if you are going to do something, you might as well give it all you got, or what’s the point of doing it? Just by showing up and working hard for the time you are at work, you can impress a lot of people. It is simple and something you have complete control over, so why not.
  • Attitude: When I got into the construction industry, it seemed there were a lot of people with bad attitudes – it seemed like they didn’t want to be there, and it was as if they didn’t care about what they were doing. I have also had some personal adversity that I have had to overcome in my life, which made me realize that perspective and attitude are something I have control over.  So, I chose to start smiling more, laughing more, and not taking everything so seriously all the time. I chose to look at the positive side of every situation, even when there was a tough problem to solve.  This has made me a happier person, and now I’m more productive as a worker. I really think attitude is everything, and you do have a choice to be happy.
  • Communication:  I often say, “Every problem I must get involved with now as a manager comes down to miscommunication.”  We focus on communication specifically, more than anything, here at Warner.  Defining what effective communication looks like is important.
  1. How fast should you be responding to communication? 
  2. What information should you be providing in your communication?
  3. Are you communicating clearly?

Everyone needs to be able to understand what you need. It all comes down to defining what the people you are communicating with expect, and then executing that expectation.

You might notice that these 3 things don’t have anything to do with the technical side of what we do, and that’s important. These are things that anyone can change about themselves, without any experience or training. I think it is very important to focus on those things you have complete control over and then do those things very well. When new employees start with Warner, even if they have no experience at all, we ask them to do 3 things:

  • Show up on time
  • Work hard
  • Have a good attitude, and then make sure you let others know what you need to be successful.  If they are able to do that, then they can have a very successful career here because we can always teach them all the other stuff.

3) You are 6 years in at Warner. What are some of the qualities that they have as an employer that persuaded you to work there?

I love this question because I am very passionate about the answer. Warner has been, by far, the best place I have ever worked for one main reason – The company cares. It’s a 3rd generation, family-owned business, and as such, they truly value the meaning of family.

There are many companies in this world talking about the quality of life and supporting their employees.  The problem is, they often don’t know how to physically execute these ideas. Here at Warner, we take a lot of time to focus on each employee individually, to make sure they feel valued, and we get to know them each personally. We want to know what their needs, strengths, and weaknesses are in order to be able to best support them as an employee so that they are then capable of always bringing their work to the highest level possible. Quality of life is not always about salary, time off, or benefits. What quality of life in the business world really comes down to is simply people feeling valued.

This story means so much to me and I love telling it. Six months after I started working at Warner, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and I found out I would have to go through nine weeks of chemotherapy. I had the daunting task of walking into Matt Warner’s office and having to tell him this. Despite my trepidation, it was his response that brought me to tears. He told me he would continue to pay my salary every day for the 9 weeks if I had to take off work.

That is real support; it made me feel both valued and loved. I ended up working every single day all the way through the whole experience, solely because I respected a company willing to do that for me. I wanted to give them everything I had. That is the kind of company we are, and that is what I am proud of. I believe all our employees feel the same support here, and I genuinely feel they wouldn’t want to work anywhere else because of it.  That is what brought me here, and that is what keeps me here today.

4) Being the Vice President Director is no small title. What are some existing differentiators and/or upcoming initiatives that you’re excited to see coming down the pipeline at Warner?

We focus on up front planning here at Warner, which I feel differentiates us from others. Our goal is to impress our clients right out of the gate, so they trust they are getting the best product throughout the entire project. Heavy front-end planning, along with front-loaded scheduling is the key to our success. We spend a lot of time figuring out how we can do things earlier than expected on a project.

As for new initiatives, we also are intently focused on prefabrication. Within the next 5 years, I believe we will be able to prefabricate entire mechanical packages, which then could be shipped anywhere in the world for installation by mobile crews. I am very excited about that possibility.

Ultimately, we are not interested in being the biggest company in the world; we are interested in being the best company in the world, while still realizing a great quality of life. After all, what’s the point of working hard, if you are not happy and enjoying life?

5) If you could bring someone from the past to the present day, who would you choose and why?

I would choose my grandfather – my mother’s father.  I never met him, but from what I’ve been told, he’s the person who gave me a lot of my personality and my own personal characteristics. I feel this is a big reason why I am where I am today. My grandfather was an incredible individual, a civil engineer with a degree from Georgetown University, where he is in the hall of fame for playing football there on the national championship team, and he was also an accomplished boxer. A man of loyalty, passion, and love, he was providing for his family through hard work. He built the home my mother grew up in almost completely by himself, from the design to the construction.  My mother talks fondly of how much he loved his family. Just in hearing how she talks about him, I can see the respect she had for him, which I think says a lot about who he was.

He died from complications of a brain tumor before I was born. However, from the stories I have heard, he seems to have had a similar mindset as I do myself, and this is something I value tremendously. I am proud to say I live by getting things done while still showing gratitude and compassion.  I imagine I got a lot of that inner compassion from my grandfather.