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  • Writer's pictureRich Robb, CEO

E Pluribus Unum

CEO Letter, Rich Robb


Where are you from? It’s a simple question to ask. But for most of us, it’s a complicated one to answer.

Take me, for example. Though I was born in New Mexico, I often say that I’m from Minnesota. This July I’ll have lived in California continuously for 20 years (15 of which have been spent with this company).

So am I from California now? Or, am I still a Minnesotan? And while we are on the subject, how would you answer this same question?

Looking across the company, I estimate that at least 60% of us come from another country or grew up communicating in a language other than English. Steve hails from Yorkshire. Burak from Bursa, Marcelino from Yutanduchi de Guerrero, Monica from Quito, Anita from Guatemala City, Amir from Suva, Bhavini from Gujarat, Alex H. from London, Alex Z. from Guadalajara, Saransh from Udaipur, Becky from the exotic land of Irvine, and the list goes on. Many of our partner subcontractors are also founded by and/or largely staffed by first-generation immigrants.

But where we’re from is not just about geography. We have lots of folks who were born and raised right here in the Bay Area. Eric, George, Frank, Lisa, Rain, and Michael are all East Bay-raised. Joe and Brandon are Skyline High grads, Britt a Cal High San Ramon grad, Ivan from South San Francisco High, and Travis has the triumvirate of Acalanes High, Laney College, and Cal-State East Bay!

My point? Where we come from has just as much to do with life experience as location. Jason studied African-American Studies at Yale (which made him a shoe-in for an entry-level job in the veneer business in Oakland). Julie used to work in litigation consulting. Eliza has a background in education and then fine-dining in San Francisco. Amber was an HR manager. Alison was a nuclear medicine technologist (and still leads bicycle tours in her free time). Cheyenne was an Olympic athlete. Douglas served in the US Navy after leaving Ohio. Rani taught English in Japan. Dave was an investment banker. Craig, Peter, Keith, and Rob were (and still are) professional rock-stars.

The richness of all those life experiences, backgrounds, educations, and origins comprise the soul of MN Builders. It also drives its difference. After all, when you’ve lived in different parts of the world, or you have to relocate to a completely different community, or you have had to make a major shift from what you should do to what you are called to do, you are challenged and forced to grow in ways that fundamentally improve your critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. And what is our shared profession but a continuous series of problems to solve?

This diversity of backgrounds and histories also adds something very important to the first of the Five Key Things that I mentioned in our 40th Anniversary all-hands meeting in April: developing the next generation of leadership at MN.

I firmly believe that we will be best served by a variety of approaches, attitudes, and thoughts as we continue to do bigger and better things. I am so proud to be a part of a team that gives opportunity broadly and effectively—and I hope all of you feel the same way. I personally prefer, and am aiming to bring together the most diverse team of employee-owners possible in order to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.

So with all this talk of diversity of thought, what is it that drew us all together? What keeps us glued to MN? These questions are just as important to answer as the one about where we come from, but exploring the answers will have to wait until next time.


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