5 Questions with Public Sector Expert Stephen Hagan

Stephen R. Hagan, FAIA CCM is recognized as an industry expert on technology innovation, real estate, and the construction marketplace. He spent over three decades in the public sector, ending a 37-year career with the US General Services Administration'sPublic Buildings Service (PBS), which he describes as “essentially the nation’s landlord.” PBS owns, operates, and leases over 370 million square feet of building space across the U.S., for over 1.1 million federal government employees.Stephen is now president and CEO of Hagan Technologies LLC. He recently worked on projects involving strategic planning and road-mapping with the National Institute of Building Sciences, is serving a ten-year stint on the AIA Documents Committee, and speaks at major conferences around the world.As a Shadow Labs advisor focused on government and industry, Stephen specializes in emerging and innovative technologies supporting smart, connected, sustainable, and resilient cities and urban eco-districts. Here’s his advice to newcomers in the industry, including the problem with the emergence of venture-backed startups in AEC.

Why do you think this industry lags behind in tech?

The fragmentation is an issue, no question. It’s a trillion dollar industry with no major players big enough individually to influence everyone else. Even the biggest players are a drop in the bucket compared to the market leaders in other industries like FinTech, Automotive, technology, or aerospace. Most architecture firms are small and not very prosperous. How do you monetize and take advantage of technology? We have to think through what it is people will get as a return.These startups looking at construction tech are individual point solutions. They're getting money from venture but I have a sense few are thinking about the bigger picture or how these solutions fit together.

What draws you to the technology side of things?

My father worked for AT&T, the Bell Labs, and finally Mountain Bell and he worked in huge networks around the country. Ever since my start as an architect, I’ve been drawn to the power associated with how networks work and how it brings everyone together. And I get excited about how we can make tools to make lives better.

Imagine you’re talking to a high school senior. What would you tell her to major in, and why?

The kids these days… my 2-year-old granddaughter looks at a cell phone and it’s already becoming part of her life. The coding is becoming easier, so the idea of building stuff is really important. Building virtually andin reality is important.The other thing is to travel. And not just to Europe. Travel to other cities; see the world. Keep a journal. Start writing about what you want to see and do and make that a lifelong habit. Be upbeat about it -- they’re under so much pressure. Whatever next steps you have, think in terms of lifelong learning. Spend enough time with people as well. That’s very important.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?

Be optimistic. Have confidence in yourself. But there’s a reason why we have apprenticeships: you’ve got to learn and take your time. That’s some of the challenges you see with the younger generation -- they think they’re ready to step in and they’re not ready to build buildings or even talk to the client. Have patience and keep your eyes open about what’s going on. And then I’d say get a mentor. Find someone who can be supportive of you, lead you, and challenge and encourage you along the way.

If you could wave a magic wand and create a new technology, what would it be?

We are actually working on that, but I’d have to give you an NDA to talk about it. If you look at the trillion dollar industry we have and all the fragmentation -- a way to unify them to get the positive network effect. That’s something we need and something I’m personally working on.

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