Meet Mike Cobelli
You could say Mike Cobelli was born into construction. His father had a small construction firm in New York and soon Mike was part of it, spending his school holidays shoveling and paving. From January 1, he will be the new President of the Skanska USA Civil business unit, succeeding Rich Cavallaro, who is a new member of the Skanska Senior Executive Team, which is responsible for global operations.
Mike graduated from Rutgers University in New Jersey in 1984. With a diploma in Mechanical Engineering fresh in his hand, he searched in the U.S. construction weekly Engineering NewsRecord for the largest New York-based construction company. He found Slattery Associates Inc., sent in his application and was hired the very same day. (Slattery was acquired by Skanska in 1989.)
He was not disappointed and this January, some 30 years later, he will assume the role of Business Unit President, Skanska USA Civil.
The crown jewel
"It is a great honor to be entrusted with the crown jewel of this great company," says Mike and explains why he chose this career path.
"I fell in love with the company. I liked the big marquee projects Slattery was undertaking in New York, I liked the challenges, and I wanted to make my living by being part of this organization."
Mike attributes how he became the leader he is today to the leaders - good and not so good – he encountered throughout his career.
"I have had the opportunity to work in a couple of great teams in large projects, such as the AirTrain to John F. Kennedy International Airport and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, both of which extended over a period of three to four years each. The people in these teams now hold senior leadership positions, such as Rich Cavallaro, Mike Attardo, Gary Winsper and others who have demonstrated great leadership qualities."
"I learned a lot from these teams. But a role model works both ways. Maybe I learned even more from the bad leaders I have encountered. I said to myself on a number of occasions that if I ever became a leader, I will not do it this way"
COO for 4 years
In 2011, Mike was appointed Skanska USA Civil’s Chief Operating Officer and member of its Executive Leadership Team.
As a leader, he also has an important role in helping his people lead and develop.
"The toughest situation is when you have to work very closely with someone whose leadership style is different from my own. I have a very specific idea of how leadership should be conducted, but you must also accept that it is different for each person and that is okay. I try to understand what works best for others."
Honesty and straightforwardness are Mike Cobelli's guiding stars in communications.
"Sometimes, straightforwardness can be tough, but it is much better when everybody knows where you stand and issues are not open for interpretation."
"I am trying to become a better listener and to understand the views of others. But as a leader, you often want a decision to be taken and then to move on."
What are the challenges going forward?
"The main challenge is to ensure profitable execution. We are growing into new markets and we must have the right people to execute the work according to our standard of excellence."
"Our game plan for the future also includes growing Civil's operations in Texas, potentially also in Canada, and to grow our industrial and power business. The energy boom will spur this sector and we want to be part of it. We can be where the market need exists."
Skanska USA Civil is also a vital partner when Skanska pursues PPP projects in the U.S. market.
"Both Elizabeth River Tunnels in Virginia and the recent win of the massive Interstate-4 contract show the potential in the PPP market. Together we are a strong team."
A day on the lake
Outside work, Mike Cobelli enjoys relaxing with his family, his wife and sons aged 16, 19 and 22. The older one has already started his own career in civil engineering as a Skanska employee.
A lake cabin in upstate Connecticut is where they spend most weekends and holidays.
"My golfing is not up to par, but a day boating, fishing and doing water sports is something I really enjoy," says Mike.