Executive Spotlight Q&A: David Helveston

Photography by Don Kadair

David Helveston

Position: President and CEO

Company: Associated Builders and Contractors, Pelican Chapter

Age: 35

Family: Wife, Rebecca, and daughter, Vivienne (6 months)

Hometown: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Education: J.D., LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center; MBA, LSU Flores MBA Program; and B.S. in finance, LSU

What was your first job, how old were you and what was your biggest takeaway from the experience?

I was a summer swim coach at Bocage Racquet Club when I was 16. It was fun and fulfilling to help the kids develop and learn a new skill. Since then, all my jobs have been related to coaching or education in some way.

You started as president and CEO of ABC-Pelican Chapter last November. Since then, what have been your early accomplishments and tell us a little about your vision and goals for the association moving forward.

My focus has been establishing relationships, listening and understanding our association members’ needs. We have also put together a great team that is passionate about our mission. ABC has a strong history of political advocacy and workforce development that I’m excited to build upon. That means growing our membership, expanding our reach, encouraging more young people to start careers in the construction industry and then providing them with educational opportunities.

We hear you’re working to improve the association’s online presence and communication. Why is this a priority for you and how are you planning to do it?

To be an effective voice for the construction industry, we need to meet our audience where they are. Whether that’s engaging on Facebook, Twitter or the latest app, we’re determined to reach our current and prospective members, policymakers, high school students and underemployed adults. I’m certainly not a social media guy, so hiring a talented communications director to tell our story across multiple platforms has been a huge first step. If you look for @abcpelican, you will find us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

What’s your ideal morning routine to get a working day off to a great start?

I love setting my alarm a little early, so I can hit snooze several times until I hear my daughter babbling in her crib. Our early morning time energizes me and gets me ready for the day. A little caffeine helps, too.

What’s something about your job that might surprise people?

The level of involvement of our members in our operations. Each month in our conference room, you’ll find the owners or top executives from about half of the Business Report’s Top 10 largest private companies. They set aside the fact that they are competing for major projects and take a few hours out of their day to talk through the details of our education programs. It’s amazing.

What are the biggest issues facing ABC-Pelican Chapter members right now?

The one persistent issue is a shortage of qualified, skilled craft workers. Another big topic is Louisiana’s business climate. There have been a lot of negative changes and uncertainty surrounding the Industrial Tax Exemption Program and the state’s tax code over the past couple years. As a result, we’ve seen less capital investment in our area. As a Baton Rouge native, it’s frustrating to see so many of our member companies chasing work in Texas where the business climate is more conducive to growth.

Tell us about some of the ways the association is working to address the skilled workforce shortage in the Capital Region.

We have about 1,200 students enrolled at our Baton Rouge Training Center right now. Every evening, hundreds of students who just finished their day jobs fill our classrooms and labs. In addition to our own training programs, we work closely with area high schools to enhance their construction Jump Start Pathways and to let students know about opportunities in our industry. In October, we will host over 50 high schools at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center for Build Your Future Day where students can explore different construction-related career pathways.

As a husband and new dad, what is your approach for achieving a healthy work-life balance?

Six months in as a new dad, I’m still working on it. I’ve made it a focus to put my wife and daughter first and to always be present in the moment, whether that’s at work or at home.

What are your hobbies or favorite things to do when you manage to find some free time?

Lately, my best moments have been on the porch swing with my daughter. I also enjoy traveling and playing sports. Over-30 soccer has been a lot of fun. It’s laid-back, but the games always get competitive.

You’re taking me out to a business lunch in the Capital Region. Where are we going and what do you recommend I order?

French Market Bistro. You should try the Cedar Plank Redfish. 

What is one of the luckiest things that’s ever happened to you?

When I was a pool manager at Bocage during college, my now wife walked up one afternoon with a résumé and asked if we were hiring lifeguards. I obviously hired her on the spot. No resume needed.

You’ve been asked to put together a short playlist of about five songs at a party. What are we going to hear?

My go-to playlist right now is Apple’s 1969 Rock Hits. The opening tracks are from the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Neil Young. Hard to beat that year. 

What’s the greatest personal or professional obstacle you’ve had to overcome, and how did you do it?

Early in my career I had a big issue with public speaking. I was lucky to have two mentors who regularly pushed me out of my comfort zone and in front of a microphone. I’m so thankful for their support now that I regularly speak to large groups.

What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments?

I feel most proud when I meet our recent graduates or current students. I love to hear their pride in their accomplishments and optimism for the future. They took the initiative to learn a new craft that will fundamentally change their lives and help them to provide for their families. To play a small part in that is incredibly fulfilling.

Can you name someone who has had a great impact on you as a leader, or someone who has been a mentor to you in your life or career? How have they changed your outlook?

One person who had a profound impact on my life was the late Curt Eysink. I worked closely with Curt while he was executive director at the Louisiana Louisiana Workforce Commission and later at Louisiana Community and Technical College System. Curt had a great vision and passion for how state government and education systems should be focused on meeting the needs of employers and putting more people to work. He had a talent for clearly articulating the big picture and cutting straight through the fluff and distractions. As a leader of a member-driven association, it’s easy for me to get pulled in many directions, so I remember to focus on the big picture, just like Curt would.

What’s one thing you’re determined to do in life?

Be a good husband and dad.

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