New CSI Board Chair Cam Featherstonhaugh Discusses the Association’s Future
“We, as CSI, can excel at creating an environment where people can reach their full professional potential. That is the highest end goal of the organization, and it’s top of mind for me.” — Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) board chair Cam Featherstonhaugh, IV, CSI, CDT
The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) welcomed its new board of directors for fiscal year 2023 on July 1, 2022. Here, CSI CEO Mark Dorsey sits down with new board chair Cam Featherstonhaugh, IV, CSI, CDT to discuss his ongoing service to CSI, his goals for the board, and what he sees as some of the key opportunities for the association.
What would you like the membership to know about your goals as board chair?
I joined the board July 1, 2016, and as I head into my seventh year of service, we are moving into a phase where we really start to lean in on the idea that we are a space that is inclusive, dynamic, and robust. We, as CSI, can excel at creating an environment where people can reach their full professional potential. That is the highest end goal of the organization, and it’s top of mind for me.
What has your CSI experience meant to you in terms of serving your personal and professional goals?
There are three big buckets I put this into. The first is the technical expertise you gain by attending CSI sessions and from other people, who are incredibly open and share. The best form of education is learning from other people’s experiences, including our mistakes. The second is building those connections I need to be successful. I have a whole network of people who are experts in their own areas, and I rely on them to make me better in my job. The third is the leadership experience I’ve gained through CSI, first in a chapter, then as chapter president, then from being on the region board and, ultimately, the national board, which involves dealing with those issues that are deeper, larger, and affect us all.
That sense of professional community is very powerful. Given the last couple of years in the pandemic, how do you feel access to the larger community has been challenged?
I’m encouraged that there’s still a great thirst for people to be in the community—which we see in CSI’s conference attendance and within the online communities—and by how we take opportunities to stay connected, whether virtually or when we can get together in person.
What are the values of community you foresee for CSI?
The central value we share is that we all want things to get done the right way. Everybody in CSI, whether a product rep, lawyer, engineer, architect, or specifier, seeks out the best practices and most reliable methods, because at the
end of the day, we want things to work. CSI is the ecosystem that helps us ensure that when we make a promise to an owner, things actually work.
In CSI we have an opportunity to lead by example and change the game. We need to foster a community of respect and of grace. We can rise above the fray. Facebook and Twitter have become places that are not very respectful when people express differing views. We don’t need more spaces where people are hostile or confrontational, we need more spaces that are kind and accepting.
We need to be intentional about creating a space that doesn’t push people away. People want a community where they are built up, given kudos for a job well done, and can learn to be the best possible version of themselves. We have the chance to be that space.
What have you learned in CSI that you didn’t necessarily learn coming up through architecture school?
CSI has some of the best available tools for young, emerging professionals in architecture, design, and engineering. When I took my CDT, I had been in construction for several years. I had only been working in an office for two or three years, and I remember I learned so much about other people’s roles in the construction and design space. That was the big “Aha” moment. Learning about the roles and responsibilities on a project team allowed me to step into project management during construction administration of a major project with a major client, only having a couple years’ experience, because I understood why each person was on the team and could interact with them in an intelligent way.
You’ve had a storied career, but I don’t think most folks know you used to work on highways. Can you share a lesson learned, or something that moved you into your next career because of that experience?
I experienced something that fundamentally changed me. I was digging holes for sign bases on Interstate 91, and the bases are supposed to be 1.8 or 2.4 m (6 or 8 ft) deep depending on the slope. The engineer for the state came to inspect the work. When he shows up, we’re down 1.4 m (4.5 ft). The digging is horrible, and we’re right on ledge cut. I’m basically grinding up the auger on this rock.
He looks at it and says: “You’re supposed to get down to six feet.” He then says: “I’m going to go get a coffee” and takes off. We’re looking at this like, “This is solid, and this thing is not going anywhere. Let’s just put it in the ground.”
So, we put it in the ground. And I realized in that moment it’s the people who swing the hammers, run the shovels, and call the concrete truck who decide what it is that gets built. Designers provide ideas, they provide intent. They even provide (potentially) parts lists and sizes and qualities, and if designers don’t respect the builders’ processes and needs and abilities, then they’re fooling themselves.
That cognizance of the inherent partnership between designer and builder has been with me ever since. If I don’t design something that can be built by people available to do the building with the materials nearby, then what am I doing?
What do you think are the key opportunities for CSI in the industry right now?
CSI is the only space for our broad industry where everybody can sit at the table, and we need to really lean into that. We encompass a diversity of professions, educational backgrounds, and career stages. And these elements of diversity have always been present, but they aren’t sufficient to enable CSI to meet the needs of today’s industry and workforce. If we expand our ideas and behaviors about what it means to be inclusive, then CSI can do more than rise to meet its own needs and that of the industry, it can lead. With all the changes going on in investment in projects as they are influenced by environmental, social, and governance issues (ESG), we ignore these trends at our own peril.
How do you see us going forward?
I think we’re at a turning point as a society. I don’t think there’s a hard generational divide; there are people with varying values and faiths across generations. But there is always generational progress, and every generation tries to leave the world a little better for the next generation. We’re reaching a point where a huge, robust portion of the population is coming to the end of their careers. And they’re turning the keys over to younger and more diverse folks. I’m part of that transition. So, we must be ready to listen to those folks and hear their wisdom and be ready to take up the mantle and move it forward ourselves.