25 Feb 2022

With Cash House Renovations, HBS Gains Ground Towards Racial Equity in Construction Projects


by Shona Simkin

In October of 2020, when one of the 12 original Harvard Business School (HBS) campus buildings was renamed in honor of Professor Emeritus James Cash, discussions about the buildings’ renovation ticked up a notch. Long on the list of maintenance projects, Cash House jumped to the top.

For Phil Memmott, senior director of capital projects, who also works with leaders from Harvard University, other higher education institutions, and greater Boston construction management organizations on industry-focused diversity efforts, the project was one that couldn’t be considered without an eye towards advancing racial equity. Over the next year, Memmott and Andy O’Brien, chief of Operations, and their team worked to hire, track, and support the crew of minority, women, and local construction managers, workers, vendors, and tradespeople. “Those efforts and learnings have already been applied and implemented into current construction projects,” said O’Brien.

Completed in 1926, the building—formerly Glass House—was one of seven HBS buildings named after US Secretaries of the Treasury. Senator Carter Glass, who served as Treasury Secretary from 1918-1920, was also an active promulgator of segregationist policies in Virginia.

"We cannot allow the Glass name to remain at the School, even while we recognize and cannot forget that it has been a fact of our history for 75 years,” said Dean Nohria in an announcement to the HBS community in October 2020. “It is important that members of our community see themselves in our spaces and take pride in those whose names define our physical landscape. Cash House will reflect our deepest belief that leaders are individuals of not just great competence, but also outstanding and impeccable character."

James I. Cash, the James E. Robison Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, joined the HBS faculty in 1976 and in 1985 became the first Black member of the faculty to receive tenure. In his 27 years at HBS, he taught in the MBA and Executive Education programs, wrote dozens of cases, and served as chair of the MBA Program, head of the Leadership and Learning initiative, chair of Baker Library, and senior associate dean and chair of HBS Publishing. He is considered a beloved friend and mentor and continues to be an active force towards increasing and supporting diversity at HBS.

Memmott, O’Brien, and project manager Christina Wrobel engaged the services of Shelley Webster, a construction-specific diversity consultant, to assess the School’s policies and procedures and to recommend the services of diverse businesses in her network.

At HBS, standard construction projects begin with sending out a request for proposal (RFP) to a small list of companies. This time, the team tweaked the language in the RFP to state their intention and commitment on diversity and to get specifics on each company’s own diversity goals.

“One of the industry’s best practices to ensure positive diversity outcomes is to communicate diversity goals very early on, in solicitation documents and contract language,” said Webster. “We crafted RFP language that communicated HBS’s renewed commitment towards diversity and posed questions that would help us understand the construction management companies’ past efforts and engagement with minority and women business enterprises to provide a basis for what their efforts would be at the Cash House.”

Two larger firms with whom the School had well-established relationships and two smaller minority-owned local businesses were invited to bid. Unbeknownst to the team, two of those companies, Shawmut Design and Construction and Janey Construction Management, had been seeking an opportunity to work together, and approached Memmott and O’Brien to ask if they could submit a joint proposal—which ended up being the winning bid.

“It was a great opportunity on all fronts—for the business school to work with Shawmut, which has a proven track record, and to elevate the experience by bringing in a valued minority-owned firm that hadn’t had the opportunity to work with Harvard before,” said Kevin Sullivan, executive vice president of Shawmut’s New England region. “Greg [Janey, president and CEO of Janey Construction Management] and I looked at this project as an inclusive teaming opportunity. We’re galvanized now and believe this successful, impactful project will serve as a roadmap for joint ventures in the future.”

For Janey, the experience was particularly meaningful in opening doors to the higher education market, which he noted has been particularly challenging to enter, and that it was a project honoring Dr. Cash.

“It was important to me that Harvard Business School took the initiative to be bold with their diversity commitment and that they were thoughtful and intentional about this project for the legacy of Professor Cash,” said Janey. “Harvard is opening up the doors for more Black and brown communities to contribute to the campus and to Harvard’s learning so that there's reciprocity. There’s learning on either side, and that’s what I enjoyed.”

The team set minimum diversity goals that they tracked throughout the project—people of color, women, and local residents working on site—and dollars spent, researching previous projects to achieve realistic metrics. They set the Massachusetts’ Affirmative Marketing Program’s goals—8.8 percent of overall construction contract awards must go towards women business enterprises (WBE) and 4.2 percent to minority business enterprises (MBE)—as a baseline. At the same time, they dug deeper to examine the diversity of each company’s entire workforce to ensure that vendors and subcontractors also met diversity goals. In the end, the Cash House project exceeded those goals, reporting over 20 percent WBE and over 25 percent MBE.

Renovations included repairing and restoring sections of the exterior and roof; new windows; new offices, kitchenette, and bathroom on the first floor; new carpet, paint, and furniture; and kitchenette and restroom updates.

On October 25, 2021, the first residents of Cash House moved in: the School’s first chief diversity and inclusion officer, Terrill Drake, and his team of Jennifer Eliason, associate director of diversity, inclusion, and belonging, and Andy Martinez, coordinator, as well as Executive Education project managers. The Operations team is still completing final details, including installing a front door with glass panels to highlight the new portrait of Professor Cash, which will be unveiled in the dedication ceremony on April 11.

In true HBS design-thinking fashion, Memmott says that the lessons the team learned through this project have already been implemented into three construction efforts currently underway.

“It was a pilot but it has been a catalyst for us—it’s changed how we approach engaging companies,” said Memmott. “We learned that we have to look at this issue with both technical requirements and emotional intelligence. It’s about more than budget and schedule. Small improvements to a process are simple to implement. Here at HBS we test things out, learn and test more things on the next try—we iterate and evolve.”

Post a Comment

Comments must be on-topic and civil in tone (with no name calling or personal attacks). Any promotional language or urls will be removed immediately. Your comment may be edited for clarity and length.