In his time with Kinzie Builders, Matt Shepard has helped to develop many of the firm’s suburban projects like 444 Social in Lincolnshire, Marq on Main in Lisle and 10 North Main in Mount Prospect. He began his career at Kinzie as an assistant project manager and was recently elevated to vice president of construction.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, where did you go to school?
I was fortunate to grow up in a suburb just west of downtown Cleveland. Though my parents were Ohio State alumni, I received my bachelor’s degree in industrial and systems engineering with a minor in mathematics from Ohio University.
When you were young, what did you aspire to be?
Throughout my childhood, I promised my parents I would become the next great middle linebacker for the Cleveland Browns. Upon observing reality, I followed my passion for math and science, which my parents supported from early on. Whether helping me with extra math homework or allowing me to occupy the entire dining room with science fair projects, they pushed me to ask questions, which oriented me toward engineering.
How did you get your start in the industry?
One could argue Legos and Lincoln Logs sparked my interest in creating physical structures. However, my first hands-on exposure to the construction industry began in high school when I worked as a plumbing apprentice. I studied the logic behind plumbing schematics and efficiencies and observed how integrated variables composed the anatomy of buildings, in addition to the practical work of installing systems.
Fast-forward to post-graduation when I met the owner of Kinzie Real Estate Group, Steve Spinell, during a visit to Chicago. He extended an invitation to interview for an open position as an assistant project manager at Kinzie Builders. After receiving an offer, I packed my bags the following week and the story continues.
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
Steve Spinell has been a monumental figure in my life. Absorbing the experience and knowledge he has within construction and development has been essential for my growth. Steve has taught me countless lessons professionally, but he has also helped me create the mold for the person I want to become. A true transparent and faith-oriented family man who conducts business with integrity, although construction and development are far more than just business with Steve.
While at Focus, the development firm where I landed after my first tenure at Kinzie, Josh Stark reinforced there is no problem too difficult to solve and trained me on the most effective strategies to do so. Josh is another impeccable mentor and encyclopedia of construction knowledge, to which I owe much gratitude.
What does a day in the life of Matt Shepard look like?
I apply the saying, “No two projects are the same, and all projects are not created equal,” in two ways: I consider each day its own project, and quite literally, I do not anticipate encountering two projects that are identical.
That said, I do have a routine. I enjoy getting involved in nearly every Kinzie project, and my daily responsibilities are contingent on their respective stages. I am consistently composing new estimates and presenting them to clients, while also overseeing construction progress and financials at ongoing projects. Highly collaborative engagement from all parties is essential to every project’s success, and if I am not in meetings, on the phone or sending emails to clients and subcontractors for much of the day, I am not doing my job.
Coinciding with work, I am classified as a creature of habit. My morning consists of reading material and coffee, and my breakfast is identical at the same time, Monday through Friday. Once home from work, I try to partake in physical activity daily, with running and lifting staggered and meditation on off days. Dinner is an important time for my fiancé and me, and we like to put our chef hats on and explore new recipes.
What do you like most about your job?
I enjoy every aspect of my job, even the “fires” that need to be put out as those problems are unique learning opportunities!
Analyzing new projects in conceptual phases is always exciting. It’s an investigation to determine the most efficient and code-compliant product, requiring knowledge, experience and resources. Composing a preliminary cost estimate based off your defined assumptions and comparing it to obtained proposals or the final contractual budget is always an insightful experience.
Ultimately, the people are what make this job so special. Kinzie Builders prides itself on relationships. We are extremely fortunate that a vast majority of our subcontractors and clients are the result of a long-term, multi-project foundation. The family that composes this organization is integral. But due to COVID-19, most of the team is working remotely, which has given me greater appreciation for our amazing bond and I feel everyone’s physical absence.
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you haven’t already?
Personally, I feel an obligation to promote green building, so constructing more environmentally conscious buildings is at the top of my list. I have worked on various LEED- and EnergyStar-certified projects, but I would love the opportunity to work on a project focused on mass generation of renewable energy.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
My free time is best spent with my fiancé and our dog. My fiancé and I are big concert and event fans, so we are longing to hear live music or go watch a game, when safe. Family is extremely important to us, too, so we frequently spend time with relatives. When I have some time to myself, I try to get outside, build projects, go fishing or be physically active.
What is your favorite place that you have traveled to? Where do you hope to go next?
Our most recent trip to Colorado ranks high. Last summer, my fiancé and I spent a week adventuring around the Denver area—Boulder, Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and Saint Mary’s Glacier—and did some white-water rafting.
I hope our next big excursion is overseas: Italy, South Africa or Australia.
Who would you like to see answer these questions?
I think Vic Howell with Focus would be an excellent candidate.