Culture

Design/Build/Both: ABC's 2023 Young Professional of the Year, Matt Terry

‘We’re really in the business of building people. We just happen to build buildings to do so.’
By Maggie Murphy
May 30, 2023
Topics
Culture

When he first received notification that he was a finalist for ABC’s Young Professional of the Year award, Matt Terry was sure someone had the wrong number. “What’s going on here? Who’s calling me?” he asked the person at the other end of the line. But it turned out that Terry had just the stuff ABC was looking for. He describes the moment he learned he’d won as “full of humbleness and, frankly, speechlessness.”

“We had our senior leadership team meeting that day, and our PR and marketing team was also notified,” says Terry, executive vice president with TDIndustries, based in Dallas. “And so, there was some communication about it in that meeting, and it was very humbling to hear my name connected with that award by someone from our leadership team. It was a special moment. Then I got to go home and say to my wife and kids, ‘Hey, guess what happened today?’”

LOVE OF THE GAME

In high school, Terry was an active athlete, which he considers foundational to his leadership style and his ability to overcome adversity. “I was blessed with an amazing coach, Todd Dodge, who not only taught us the game of football but more so taught us how to be men; taught us how to be leaders,” Terry says. “I remember sitting in the locker room before practices, and he would take us through studies of ‘What does integrity mean? What does it mean to be authentic? A man of character?’ And when I look at my career journey, I think that’s really where I learned how to lead, how to influence, how to build trust, respect and rapport with people around me.”

When he wasn’t playing football on evenings or weekends, Terry was busy pursuing another passion: building. “Houses were being built in my neighborhood at the time, and I remember I used to walk through them all the time just looking at all the building stages and learning everything I could,” he says. “When other kids were out buying the newest CD or sneakers or whatever, I was at Home Depot buying a table saw. I really spent my formative years, when I wasn’t on the sports field, building things. Building cabinetry, building jewelry boxes, building whatever I could get my hands on.”

When high school graduation rolled around, Terry saw two paths: He could design things, or he could build them. Ultimately, he decided to study mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. “I learned a lot about math and engineering principles, most of which I’m not sure I really use anymore,” he says with a chuckle, “but what I really came away with is a better understanding of how to think critically, analytically and strategically.”

He put those skills to work post-graduation initially as a mechanical design engineer with L3 Technologies, the aerospace and defense company. “I went and crawled around airplanes for about two-and-a-half years, designing airplanes, measuring components of the aircraft, reverse-engineering them,” Terry says. “My program focused on retrofitting three planes we’d rescued from the graveyard, and it was really interesting, but I learned a couple things. One, I don’t love airplanes. I could tell you the plane had two wings and a vertical stabilizer, but beyond that, I wasn’t passionate enough about aeronautics to tell you much else. And two, the people I worked with—they loved it. And I realized that’s how I felt about the built environment.”

TD TIME

That realization was just the “gut check” Terry needed to take the next step in his career. “I had a lot of life-changing situations going on at the time,” he says. “I was about to get married, and in addition to that, I realized ‘I don’t think I’m fulfilled in what I’m doing.’ And so my soon-to-be father-in-law, one evening I was sitting down with him, just kind of sharing and talking about the upcoming wedding and what I wanted to do with my career, and he said, ‘Matt, I’ve got the perfect company for you.’”

His father-in-law connected Terry with TDIndustries, and as soon as he walked into the interview for a position as assistant project manager, “It was immediately apparent [TDIndustries] was a great place to build a career.”

Fifteen years along, Terry—who lives in the Dallas–Forth Worth area with his wife, Lindsay, and sons Parker, 8, and Peyton, 10—has never doubted that original belief. “I often say that at TD, we’re really in the business of building people,” he says. “We just happen to build buildings to do so. It’s been amazing to be part of a company with a very clear mission of growing careers, and I am surrounded with amazing people every day who have poured into me in ways that, frankly, I don’t deserve.”

ABC PLAYBOOK

Terry’s first exposure to ABC came at the ABC TEXO Chapter’s “Bring Your Boss to Work” event. “It was an opportunity for the young professionals to bring their leadership with them, and we had an amazing speaker who talked about empathetic leadership, and it was just really neat to be able to be in that environment where you and your bosses could network and learn together,” he says. “It was in that moment I really understood the power of networking, the power of relationships and the power of continuous learning. At that point, it was like, ‘Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of this?’”

Today, Terry serves on ABC TEXO’s board, which he calls “a neat evolution of continuing to deepen the connections and really influence the team that I lead to not just ‘sign up,’ but to really get deeply involved.” He adds: “The biggest challenge in our industry right now is workforce development and the talent pipeline, and there is not an industry in the United States that is doing more to grow the workforce than construction. We’re competing against so many other segments, and we really need to lean into our ABC relationships and work together to figure out how we draw people in and show them the appeal of this industry.”

For Terry, it all comes back to the same things that first drew him to construction. “You can be an engineer, you can design it, you can build it,” he says. “You can do whatever you want in this industry, because there is never a shortage of opportunities in front of you. I have so many people that I work with and around who have had amazing careers, fantastic careers. Some have gone through the trade-school route, some have gone through the university route, but the construction industry is big enough for both.”

by Maggie Murphy
Maggie Murphy is managing editor of Construction Executive.

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