Scott Fehrman’s attachment to the trades started early.
“My dad was a sheet metal worker,” he said. “I remember being in kindergarten — our school was right down the road from where he worked — and every day after school I would stop in to see him.
“I remember one guy at the shop would always chase me around and put me in a 50-gallon drum, just to mess with me. They would let me run a drill. And, as a kid, you’re fascinated by power tools. That started my interest.”
By high school, Fehrman was doing walls and footings for a concrete company.
“I worked three summers for those guys, and I really enjoyed the concrete business. But, after three years, I thought, ‘I want to know more. I’d like to learn more about the overall program, not just concrete.’”
Nearly 35 years later, Fehrman has spent his career searching for ways to expand his education, which includes a degree in construction management with an emphasis on design.
“After I got out of school I realized I didn’t know anything about hands-on. Everyone said, ‘Call me in about five years when you get some experience,’” said Fehrman, a construction superintendent with Madison-based design-build firm Iconica for almost 20 years. “I said, ‘I feel like the dumbest guy in the world. I feel like I wasted four years of my life.’ I had so much to learn: the hands-on and how people really operate. You just can’t replace the experience.”
Fehrman’s experience includes years spent in concrete, metal building and office construction, as well as his early days as a draftsman, a job he had for about a year before getting one of his first opportunities as a superintendent.
“It was 1983, early recession. There was no work and I got put on a $9 million job. I was in way over my head. And I didn’t have a clue, but I was fortunate enough that there were a lot of big contractors there and I got to learn from those guys.”
It’s why he’s so focused today on sharing his knowledge with others, even if that makes his own job a little harder.
“Everyone is down-sized and, right now, there’s a ton of work,” Fehrman said. “And it’s hard to find people. But I still enjoy starting a job and finishing a job. And it’s a team effort, not just me. I’m just a spoke in the wheel. I run and organize the job, but it’s a team effort.”
The Daily Reporter: When you have a bad day, what keeps you coming back to work?
Scott Fehrman: Being a seasoned superintendent, for me, when things are going a little rocky, that’s normal. When things are going to smooth, I get nervous, like, ‘What did I miss?’ It’s just the job; I expect problems. And I enjoy what I do. I enjoy seeing the buildings go up. It’s nice to say, ‘I did that,’ or drive by and say, ‘I remember that building.’ To me, that’s what gets you going.
TDR: What is the most useful thing you’ve learned since starting your job?
Fehrman: When I went to college I learned two things: When the wind is out of the east, expect bad weather; and the five Ps: Prior preparation prevents poor performance. And I have three simple rules: Come to work on time, keep the job site clean and don’t make work out of work.
TDR: What do you wish you’d learned sooner?
Fehrman: I get to learn on the job. I’ve built 14 houses — all stuff I’ve learned from other people. I get educated every day, and I get paid to do it.
TDR: What do you consider your biggest achievement so far?
Fehrman: It would be my family. I’ve got two sons. I’ve got two granddaughters now — one is 5 and one just turned 1. I work for my family.
TDR: What can you spend hours doing that’s not work-related?
Fehrman: I’ve got a cabin up north in Coloma, and we go up there every weekend. That’s my hobby. My son and I are diehard bow hunters. We’ve got 56 acres. We’re farmer wannabes — we plant corn and soybeans. We just shut the phones off and go. It’s fun. We’re just playing out in the dirt.
TDR: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Fehrman: Right now I don’t know if there’s anything I would change. It’s like asking, ‘Would you marry your wife all over again?’ I’ve been married 34 years, and my wife, Rosemary, has put up with a lot. If I changed anything, it would be spending more time with my kids. I spent a lot of years doing side work. I was gone working all the time. I wish I would have said ‘no’ more. So, now, when my granddaughters want me, I drop what I’m doing. There’s a balance.
TDR: What are you craving right now?
Fehrman: At my age — I’m 58 now — I’m looking toward retirement.
TDR: Which famous person would most like to have a drink with?
Fehrman: Oh boy! I’d like to have a beer, just a Bud Light. And I would have loved to have sat down with (former Penn State football coach) Joe Paterno. Even after all the stuff that happened, I thought the guy was just an influential figure.