About Matthew Whipple
Matthew Whipple, 39, joined Wohlsen Construction Company earlier this year as director of risk management, and was recently promoted to vice president of risk management and senior counsel. He was previously a member of the law firm of Eckert Seamans Cherin and Mellott, LLC, where he frequently worked with the construction, engineering and real estate development industries.
Whipple holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Pennsylvania and earned his juris doctorate from William and Mary Law School.
He lives in Manheim Township with his wife, Jessica, and their daughters, Beatrice, 7, and Eloise, 4.
What does compliance and risk mitigation look like for the construction industry in the era of COVID-19?
One of the key lessons from COVID-19 is that risk mitigation is a team sport. In early March, Wohlsen instituted a COVID-19 response team with core leaders from across the company. Health and safety, operations, technology, human resources, legal, accounting, you name it. It was clear from the beginning the effects of COVID weren’t confined to just one project or one area of the business. Mitigating COVID isn’t just about drafting a policy document, it’s about designing and implementing real-world solutions, actively communicating with stakeholders and then continuing to adapt as things evolve. I think for both Wohlsen and the industry, COVID illustrated the need to make compliance and risk mitigation essential in all aspects of business.
In your previous legal practice, you worked with the construction, engineering and real estate development industries. What drew you to those areas and how does that experience shape your work now?
The practice of law can sometimes seem like an entirely intellectual exercise. Only attorneys and copy editors care so much about the placement of commas. From early in my career, I gravitated to working on matters where there was something tangible at stake. It gave me a great sense of pride to work on a contract that would form the basis for a new hotel or a high school athletic facility. I had the opportunity to represent owners, contractors and subcontractors, which helped me gain a different perspective on the construction process. Joining Wohlsen has allowed me to support teammates in their industry-leading construction work daily and to translate my legal background to risk mitigation and other areas. My hope is to develop practical solutions that try to harmonize all the different and sometimes competing risks on a construction project to successfully deliver the building and create another raving fan.
What opportunities do you see for the construction industry going into 2021?
The construction industry continues to experience a wave of retirement and a talent pool that’s not always matching the demand for construction services. I think companies that can entice and develop the next generation of professionals will do well. At Wohlsen, we have a unique focus on career development, and that includes leadership development initiatives for both field and home office staff, career mapping for team members and a director of learning and development who’s dedicated to company engagement and culture.
Another opportunity is the ongoing development of technology tools and collaborative delivery systems allowing the industry to move outside the traditional design-bid-build model. Wohlsen continues to expand in the areas of virtual design and construction, building information modeling, and early construction manager involvement, and I expect those opportunities are only going to grow in 2021. Most industry metrics are reflecting delayed construction starts because of the uncertainties associated with COVID, so there’s a real possibility for a lot of pent-up demand in 2021, and there may be a lot of opportunities for businesses who successfully weathered the 2020 storm.
What are you hoping to be able to do in 2021 that you didn’t in 2020?
On a personal level, seeing the inside of buildings again. My family and I moved from Pittsburgh to Lancaster in February 2020, and by the middle of March, everything was closed and nearly everyone was working from home. As restrictions lifted in the summer, we were able to explore the many outdoor activities Central Pennsylvania offers, but there are still a lot of indoor activities on our to-do list. On a professional level, COVID mitigation measures have meant I haven’t been able to see as many teammates in person as I would have liked. As things begin to reopen again, I hope to spend more time supporting teammates in person. From my perspective as vice president of risk management, the best risk mitigation tool Wohlsen has is its people, because people are more creative, adaptable and practical than any program or policy can be. I’ve been proud to work with so many talented people in 2020 and I look forward to continuing that in 2021.