Inside the Design/Builder's Studio

With this issue's focus on design/build, we showcased Rosendin Electric, based in San Jose, Calif., because CEO Tom Sorley is chairman of the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA). It becomes apparent through this interview with Sorley and Rosendin’s Willie Micene why an electrical contractor would become more deeply involved in design/build.

As expected, we learned the prime advantages of design/build for the owner are improved cost, schedule and constructability. Providing the client with costs during the design process allows suggestions for materials and methods that can help the electrical contractor meet the owner’s schedule, cost and quality objectives.

It is important for the owner to recognize that the design/build delivery method requires a collaborative building process and that he or she must provide a decision-maker during the process. It is important for the owner to trust the contractors hired and that the contractors provide honest, open and forthright communications to the owner. With both sides working together, 10 percent savings in budget and schedule are possible. In return, project teams will likely report enjoying the work more and likely comment on the fun they have working with an owner in this trusting environment. Working together, the electrical contractor can more easily deliver on its promises.

Can you give a little history/background on Rosendin?

Rosendin Electric was founded in 1919 and, since inception, has focused its efforts on delivering sophisticated and integrated electrical systems across a wide range of industries. This diversity has been important to our success throughout those 89 years. In 2000, we became a 100 percent employee-owned company, and that ownership culture has been the catalyst for the tremendous growth we have experienced.

When did Rosendin enter the design/build market?

Throughout our history, we have been active in design/build, but it wasn’t until the mid-1990s, after the inception of our ESOP [Employee Stock Ownership Plan], that we placed a greater emphasis on this market. It became very apparent that our industry was looking for a more collaborative team approach to construction, and we wanted to be on the leading edge of that movement.

Do you find certain market segments are more adaptable to a design/build delivery system?

No, not really. We do find that the positive impact of design/build is more pronounced on the more difficult projects (size, duration, complexity), but the integrated delivery model is just a better way to build. In fact, during the “dot-com boom” where everyone was in a race to get their product to market, design/build was the only way to get it done. While traditional methods of project delivery are in a constant state of discourse having to make choices between quality, schedule or cost, design/build says, “How can we give the customer everything they desire—quality, schedule and cost?”

Are the skills required of your project team members (estimators, procurement, project managers and superintendents) different for those working on a design/build project?

The skill sets are not different, but in a design/build project, the mindset and behaviors of all project participants must be integrated and collaborative. We do find, however, that experience does play a major factor. Having a working knowledge of constructability, costing, product application and life cycle is important on any job but is more pronounced in the integrated model. This knowledge allows you to collaborate more effectively with each and every trade to ensure the best interests of the project are served. Members must trust and be trustworthy, exchanging ideas, sharing results, solutions … and [be] able to communicate effectively. In an atmosphere of transparency, team members must not only have design and constructability competence in the type of project being built, they must be able to work collaboratively with other members of the team in order to meet the expectations of the owner.

Do the technology requirements change when working design/build?

New technology works best in design/build. How things work, how things flow and how things fit can only achieve maximum results in the integrated model. Technology helps move that integration process up in the sequence, helping eliminate conflicts before they reach the field and allowing the owner to make more informed decisions throughout the design process.

Does having in-house design and prefab capabilities influence your success with design/build?

Although it depends on the application, overall, we believe that it does, especially with technology that exists today. Our teams are able to model work and test applications in a virtual environment before they reach the field. Once a strategy has been decided, the flow of information can be easily transmitted to our prefabrication group for production and cost-effective project flow to achieve optimal results. We have found that some of our best ideas evolve out of a challenge to explore ways to simplify the design and construction internally.

What words of wisdom would you have for electrical contractors considering increasing their investments in procuring design/build work?

As with all things, construction included, it is probably best to assess your personnel to ensure that they have the competency and characteristics to pursue an integrated delivery model. For some, this may mean forming an alliance with an engineering firm your team can work with. The give and take that often takes place between trades on a design/build job is meant to enhance the quality and performance of the team and the project. Once you are confident of your resources, starting small might be in order. Document a process that works. Define, simplify and commit resources to teach and train the process. Remember, your reputation will ultimately define you.

What cautions would you have for them?

To be selected to participate in a design/build team, you must demonstrate a competency in the type of project being built. This competency must span design and constructability. In the relationship that follows, trust is built based on the degree in which the contractor works in partnership with other members of the design/build team finding solutions that exceed the expectations of the owner. Seek out relationships with partners that have similar insights in the design/build process. Ultimately, when you sign a design/build agreement, you own the design and scope you presented. Know the scope and expectations flawlessly.

Do your design/build capabilities influence your ability to serve your clients? As a corollary to that, does it influence their recognition of you (such as the Intel PQS recognition)?

Yes, even on work that is not design/build, a contractor’s ability to work with the owner, engineer and other trades to find solutions to issues that arise from time to time creates an invaluable confidence on the part of the owner, i.e., these behaviors and skill sets cross over and aid in other delivery models as well.

Are your green building efforts beneficial with design/build?

Yes. Many of our engineers and designers are LEED APs [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accredited professionals], and more and more of our projects have specific goals for sustainable design and construction. Our work at the Sacramento East End Project with Hensel Phelps achieved a [LEED] Gold rating. We are challenged to contribute maximum energy efficiency and exceed the LEED requirements. Having greater competency in sustainable design and construction has changed the way we approach design/build projects and lessened our concerns of how to achieve project goals.

Why did you choose to become active with DBIA?

The association is relatively new (only 15 years old), but the concept of a collaborative integrated model was very appealing to our organization. We felt this is where our industry was heading, and quite frankly, it represents the kind of environment that [allows] our competency and experience to flourish. DBIA was an organization that was focused on the integrated model, an advocate for change that secured enabling legislation for design/build in most areas, [and it] provided a forum for sharing best practices and lessons learned and provided education on “how to.” As the construction community becomes more skilled in the correct application of design/build, even greater gains will be made for our industry. How things fit, how things flow and how things work all are maximized in the integrated model.

What are you seeking to accomplish as chairman of the board of DBIA?

We hope to continue our goal to promote the virtues of the integrated model interfacing more directly with the many other trade and industry organizations that support construction, providing the education and leadership within each group.


As an electrical contractor evaluating your efforts in entering the design/build market, it is helpful to know of those that have already entered this portion of the electrical contracting market. Through the questions and answers, electrical contractors should find it a more comfortable transition moving into this delivery method.

FEDERLE is the McShane chair of construction engineering at Marquette University in Milwaukee. He can be reached at

About the Author

Mark Federle

Freelance Writer
Mark Federle is the McShane chair of construction engineering at Marquette University in Milwaukee. He can be reached at .

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