BCxA Spotlight: David Guberud – Challenges, Thrills, Advice and Lessons Learned

You can tell just by talking with Dave Guberud that he is technical, smart, playful – and generous with his wisdom. “I’m known to be very approachable,” he says. “One of my core personal credos is that I try hard to share my knowledge for the greater good.” And that’s what he does, every day.

Dave is Senior Commissioning Provider & Partner at Ring & DuChateau, LLP.

After graduating from Milwaukee School of Engineering with a degree in Architectural Engineering, Dave started out his career in the building automation industry in Wisconsin to become what he called “truly a Jack of All Trades” in hardware and software (and pneumatics…remember pneumatics?). After 19 years with the company, which represented an Atlanta-based building automation system that grew from 7 to 45 employees during his tenure, he moved to one of the largest advanced systems and controls technologies companies in the world, headquartered in Wisconsin.

It turned out to be the wrong move. In spite of great relationships with colleagues, he stayed with the company for exactly 10 months and 10 days. Why? He found the corporation itself was more concerned with pleasing shareholders than pleasing clients.

His next move was the right one. “It started with a cold call from Ring & DuChateau asking if I wanted to be a commissioning provider. They were focused on partnership with clients and wanted to add commissioning to their portfolio.” Now, as a partner in the firm, Dave and the Cx team developed since then have built the commissioning practice within Ring & Du’s wide range of MEP engineering design services.

The irony is, Dave says, that 14 years ago when hired by Ring & Du they were concerned that other MEP designers’ critiques would be problematic…if we poked at their designs, they would poke at ours, they wanted to focus on value-added internal commissioning. How things change! Thanks to LEED™, our professional Cx practice has gained a secure position and we’ve learned that critiques are healthy for design and construction to provide better buildings for our owners.

Having been in the controls industry, Dave had been on the receiving side of what was then considered commissioning. “In a lot of cases, I could see the smoke and mirrors that CxPs were using on the witness person, because I knew how to use those smoke and mirrors myself.” Coming on board at Ring & Du, I was willing and able to look behind the curtain, to not allow a system to be smoke and mirrored as ‘operating perfectly’.”

So then, in addition to technical knowledge and problem-solving, what does it take to be willing and able? “What tripped my trigger was being an owner’s advocate. Ring & DuChateau acquired me to be on the side of customers. I created a plan to help out owners, and people liked what I was doing for them. Now, in this firm of about 90 people, we have 7½ dedicated commissioning providers (nothing more valuable than a retiree still wanting to be active half-time!). Most of our work is in Wisconsin, but we’ve worked in numerous states as our clients need us to.”

Dave does like to represent owners from a technical standpoint. “Commissioning gives me ability to be collaborative and out in the field with a diversity of trades, professions, an ever-growing wealth of knowledge. It’s humbling to learn so much from so many,” he says.

What Are Your Greatest Challenges?

The challenge is still buy-in of the commissioning process. “Contractors are either all in or not – the ones that are ‘all in’ are learning they have less call-backs and can resolve things early, before demobilizing their team. With those who are not, we’re not letting go of issues…so issues are coming back and back and back. Designers are still more sensitive to critique of their designs, but what does help with their buy-in is a CxP who affirms the OPR & BOD are being met, and not being a re-designer.”

“One of our bigger issues is also building complexity. The actual problem isn’t the complex system, where each system has a specialist associated with it; the problem is that specialists are concerned with ‘their system’ and often have no sense of the bigger picture. That’s another reason CxPs have jobs— we have a more comprehensive view, which promotes more integrated awareness for everyone.”

“We always say at our kickoff meetings, ‘if everyone on this project did their job perfectly, we wouldn’t have one!’ We’re all human, things happen; we make mistakes. We have checklists, functional testing, and issues logs as reminders to help mitigate and correct mistakes, and we always work as a collaborative group to make sure things work as intended. Things still happen, and together we test/witness/report to see if the theoretical meets reality for the desired properly operating solution.”

Biggest Thrill in Your Work?

“When people get truly engaged – not just listening, but participating, when the entire team works together to develop a solution to a means and method, a change of scope, or ideas for improvement. When people don’t engage, the commissioning train still leaves the station. We will be professional, but people who don’t engage might get bumped and bruised when they don’t participate…the train is rockier in the back!”

Advice for New Entrants to The Profession

I never imagined myself as a CxP, I wanted to be a BAS engineer. In my opinion, the best CxPs come from a world of experience rather than right out of school. People should be excited about the role, but should get experience in related fields first. The trades can be a great place to garner experience. New entrants need to put their toe in the water, whether in MEP design, equipment sales, the trades, whatever it takes to get a larger understanding of all systems and the performance big picture, i.e., systems knowledge. From engineering or trade perspective, the base information needs experience to enhance the commissioning practice.

The other really important aspect of commissioning is communication skills. The ability to connect is exceptionally critical, whether on the phone or in personal interaction with eye contact, you need to be a people person (being a CxP only behind a keyboard won’t lead to success).

Life Lessons

“Last year I lost both parents, but also gained a granddaughter. All of this has made me very reflective and also thankful. As a personal guide to discovery as son, husband, parent, grandparent, and professional, I always reference The Lion King (1994), because the Circle of Life theme fills in so many gaps and life lessons: Remember who you are, and Oh, yes, the past can hurt.”

“I like to help people learn from their own mistakes. For example, if I know someone is making a mistake, it may even have a cost, but I will often let that person make the mistake so they learn (qualifier: no one gets hurt, and I let them know what I have seen).”

Dave describes himself as akin to Star Trek’s Captain Pike (succeeded by Captain Kirk) and one way that occurs is by being playful.  “Sometimes at work we play ‘Ask Dave’ – they roll me around in a chair from one person to another to answer any questions. It can be a little crazy, it’s fun, and it makes people think.”

Influence of The BCxA?

“I became a BCxA member on a whim; I knew someone who was a member—she suggested I jump in, and I did. What a great decision! It’s a great association to be involved with, I have the envy of my peers, but geography can be problematic. The BCxA conferences are also great – all of our peers, all our competitors are in the same room. We can question and learn from each other. We’re competitors, but there’s enough work for everybody. I hate losing projects, but I don’t mind losing to good competition, it keeps the bar high. I really do want to get my CCP [Certified Commissioning Provider certification], I just need to make the time and stop procrastinating.”

  1. Kevin VanderKlay

    Good job, Dave! Thanks for taking the time to do this. Can we take “Ask Dave” to a larger scale?

  2. Tom Foster

    Glad to see someone else who looks at our business the right way, with the client in mind. Glad to know Dave through BCA.

  3. Rachel Rueckert

    Great guy! Great perspectives! Great knowledge! I couldn’t work with a better person!

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