As project director of GI Stone, a Chicago-based commercial stone provider, Sai Uppalapati ensures the successful sourcing, fabrication and installation of interior and exterior custom stone on high-profile commercial real estate projects in Chicago and Texas. He also leads the firm’s estimating, including all bidding activity.
Currently, he’s overseeing stonework on about 10 projects, including several in Chicago: Cirrus Condominiums in Lakeshore East; the hotel portion of St. Regis Chicago, along the Chicago River in Lakeshore East; Tribune Tower Residences on North Michigan Avenue; One Chicago in River North; Salesforce Tower at Wolf Point; Prairie Shores in Bronzeville; and one in Austin, Texas: Sienna at the Thompson.
Uppalapati initially assisted with estimating at GI Stone. He quickly moved up, from project engineer to project manager to his current role as project director.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, where did you go to school?
I grew up in Vijayawada, a city in the southern part of India. My family was in the movie business.
Indian families take their studies very seriously. It’s very competitive in India, so if you don’t get good grades, then you’re done. I really liked science, but I just studied enough to pass, so my parents had some sleepless nights worrying about my grades.
I got my bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in India, and I moved to the United States and graduated from the New York Institute of Technology with a master’s degree in environmental technology.
How did you get your start in the industry?
After finishing my master’s degree, I had to decide between going back to India to start a business or staying in the U.S. to pursue an engineering career in the construction industry.
While making this decision, my best friend’s cousin told me that GI Stone was looking to fill a position that suits my educational background. He connected me with Sandya Dandamudi, the president of GI Stone, and she hired me in November of 2016.
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
I will forever be indebted to Sandya for training me and investing a lot of time in me initially. I was just out of school, and my mind was like a blank paper that anything could be written on. I am very lucky to be written on by one of the best!
Even though I was not the best student growing up, my family taught me great habits like discipline, time management and staying organized, which are major assets to help carry out my daily operations at work. So, I am very grateful to my parents.
What does an average day in the life of Sai Uppalapati look like?
I wake up around 6 a.m. and read the news while having coffee. Then I get ready and start my day.
I spend the first 30 minutes prioritizing the rest of the day. Then I keep going on whatever needs to be done while I am constantly on the phone with either clients or my team members.
If I need a break from work, I take a quick five-minute walk around the office, have random chats with my colleagues or go walk a job site.
What do you like most about your job?
I love that I work on some of the coolest buildings that have ever been built and that all the work that we do is going to be “alive” for a long time – maybe forever. I am very proud of that.
The favorite part of my job is to walk a job site after the work is finished and enjoy the beauty of the work we do. Many times, I stare at our finished product and forget everything for a moment. That makes me believe that all the hard effort we put in is worth it.
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you have not already?
My goal for this year is to implement a few technologies for GI’s project management team to increase our efficiency. For instance, I’m looking at a software that will help us manage all the daily activities that go into a construction project. This is not only good for the company, but it also helps with an employee’s mental wellbeing as they can get more work done in a shorter amount of time. I’d also like to implement Salesforce CRM for bids and follow-ups.
What kind of changes do you hope to see in the industry in the near future?
I hope to see more people consider construction as a career. The industry needs more talented people, and there are so many growth opportunities.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
In India, cricket is a religion. I love watching and playing cricket. I also love watching movies.
My wife and I are big foodies, so we try a lot of different restaurants. We also love traveling, but the past two years we haven’t been able to travel.
What are you looking forward to most in 2022?
My wife and I just bought our first home, so we are looking forward to making it truly OUR home. Apart from that, I hope the pandemic situation gets better so that I can get my wings back and continue traveling.