In 1996, Jeff Oviedo launched JOA Group in Orange County, California. 25 years later, the construction and project management company is going strong and continuing to grow. As JOA Group’s Director of Marketing, I asked Jeff some questions about his start in business, his daily routine, and the business philosophy that contributes to JOA Group’s success.
Read on for his inspirational story.
How did you start your career?
I was enrolled at Orange Coast College, taking general education classes, and not sure about my career path at the time. A friend of mine told me about a part-time engineering intern position at the City of Costa Mesa. He said to tell them I was an engineering major. I got the position and worked there for 2-1/2 years while I pursued a degree in civil engineering at CSU, Long Beach.
During my senior year, I worked 30 hours per week at a construction company with the intent of working there after graduation, but the company went bankrupt. The owner set me up with another job, however after my first week, I knew I needed to leave and find something new.
I looked in the yellow pages and started calling companies. One of the calls was to PRC Engineering. The economy was slow at the time, and the receptionist said they weren’t hiring, but I went over to hand-deliver my resume anyway. Surprisingly, the Director of Engineering at the time called me that evening. The next day I interviewed and was offered a job. So, my career as a project engineer was launched working on a wide variety of projects including water systems and airports.
How would you describe what JOA Group does?
JOA Group is a consulting business that provides a wide range of project management, construction management, and technical advisory services for clients in Southern California. We serve as a trusted partner for the development and maintenance of facilities and infrastructure. We accomplish this through the integrity and expertise of our versatile team and a dedicated commitment to our clients. Together, we navigate to overcome obstacles for program and project success.
What gets you up in the morning?
Coffee and the Bible. Every morning at about 5:30 am, I have a great simple routine with a fresh cup of coffee and reading passages from the Bible. If somehow I don’t do this, the day just doesn’t go as well.
What serves as a guiding principle in your life?
I don’t like to follow the crowd, and I’ve learned it’s okay to step out and follow your unique path. I mean, who wants to be like everyone else? I extend this philosophy to business as well. With JOA Group, I continue to craft a company that doesn’t follow the cookie-cutter way of doing business. I have always wanted to lead a company that stands out. We have developed a unique set of core values and behaviors, which show up in our job performance and our company culture.
How have you improved yourself over the years?
About 5 years ago, I read the book Boundaries for Leaders by Dr. Henry Cloud, which reinforced the idea that you can grow your organization by being with other people who can challenge you. This book defined how important it is to be with other leaders, and it inspired me to join a CEO group.
Since I joined, JOA Group has grown substantially. When you meet regularly with other business leaders you get inspired, challenged, and learn accountability. This group gave me the tools to continue to build on our foundation. Now, we are in a good stride, and also have our eyes on the future. I’m setting the direction and foundation for the next 25 years.
What is an achievement you’re proud of?
On a personal note, becoming a certified hot yoga instructor is something that comes to mind because it was one of the most difficult things I have done. It was totally out of my comfort zone. Once a week during training, we did “popcorn” teaching, in which the studio owner would randomly select one of the students and have them teach a portion of the class to their peers. I hated it because I never did well; I would forget and mess up. I decided to quit halfway through the teacher training, but the owner and my peers convinced me to stick with it. I continued and worked hard until it finally clicked at the end. I finished the course and got certified.
How do you challenge yourself?
I challenge myself when I take one of my ideas and decide to move forward with it 100%. Of course, there is always risk, and not all of the ideas are successful. But the journey is fun and adventurous and that’s what keeps me going every day.
One of my most recent ideas was to have a special father/daughter dance at my daughter Jeanette’s wedding. I went to Atomic Dance studio and told them I needed a choreographed dance with the song Cinderella by Steven Curtis Chapman. For the next three months, I learned to dance. Since Jeanette was living in Wisconsin and the wedding was also there, I arrived one week before the wedding day and practiced every day on the driveway with Jeanette. Then, the wedding day arrived, and we got to enjoy the special dance in front of friends and family. That was a lot of work!
How do you foster teamwork within the entire organization?
My advice is to keep it simple. First, you need the right team players. Second, you need consistent communication among team members. Third, you need to provide clear direction, objectives, and goals. Fourth, hire someone who can help with culture and connection and empower them to do just that.
How does a company successfully implement a large-scale process change?
Change is a continual affair. I believe it’s best to be in continuous improvement versus abrupt 180-degree changes. The intent is to check in frequently, evaluate, and make adjustments along the way.
We spent significant time coming up with core behaviors. We worked hard and really thought it through. For each core behavior, we asked ourselves several questions–Do we truly believe it? Do we really want it? How does it make us unique? We wanted to be able to embrace something we believe in our daily values.
We have also implemented a strategic planning process that defines our annual 2-3 initiatives based on a SWOT analysis. Goals are set based on these initiatives and reviewed monthly.
What’s the best thing about leading JOA Group?
There are so many wonderful things about leading JOA Group, I could write pages. However, I think the best part is working with great people and allowing them to excel. I am realizing more and more that I can see the potential in people and how they can develop their careers in the years to come. I like to nurture that potential in JOA Group employees by giving them lots of responsibility and the latitude to explore opportunities within their jobs.
What is the most difficult thing about being a leader?
Every leader faces challenges. For me, I think one of the most difficult things is the disappointment that comes when we don’t win a contract after we put so much time and effort into a proposal. And of course, the hardest thing, which I fortunately have not had to do very often is deciding to go separate ways with a team member.
What is your overall philosophy for leading an organization?
First of all, I would say my philosophy has been developing as I learn from other business leaders, read books, and get key feedback from my staff. My philosophy is focused on developing our unique culture that is centered around our core behaviors. This culture becomes the business DNA that attracts top talent and drives our business to success.
Any final thoughts and advice?
I’m at a stage right now where I’m focused on what I want to do and what I do best. I like what I’m doing, with a balance of life and business, so I can do other things too. I feel strong, and if I can focus on what I like to do best, I can focus on building the company for the next several years. I’m also looking forward to developing the future leaders of JOA Group to continue the company’s growth and success.