Wayne Flesch got his first taste of the construction industry as a teenager in his home state of Alaska. He began training as an electrical apprentice in high school before switching over to carpentry, the same trade his father practiced.
Flesch had 10 years of carpentry experience under his belt when some 2,000 pounds of material landed on him at a job site. It took him two years to walk again, but instead of putting his career on the sideline, he sought out new ways to contribute. “While I was rehabilitating, I reached out to my employer and asked to be a project engineer,” he explains. “I found out that I was actually good at it and enjoyed doing it.”
Flesch has remained on the project management side ever since. Now, as senior design and construction manager for Alaska Airlines, he is playing a key part in the ongoing redevelopment of Terminal 6 at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The $230 million project is a top priority for him and his team, a small but mighty group of empowered decisionmakers.
Not long after becoming a project engineer, Flesch requested time off to pursue a degree in construction management at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He joined a new contractor for his internship, where he worked on a sports arena project for the university. Based on his performance, he then got the opportunity to take the lead on a small nonprofit project.
Flesch continued to hone his skills in the office and in the field until he finally landed a project that would eventually open the door to his current role: a renovation of the Kodiak Airport Terminal for Alaska Airlines.
“Kodiak is a remote island in Alaska. The airport is a single-terminal building with TSA capabilities, and we had to renovate the entire thing without shutting down service because it’s the backbone of the community,” says Flesch. “Through my immersion in the operation and my creativity in the phasing, I was able to attract the attention of Alaska Airlines.”
Flesch went on to join the airline in 2017. Although he still calls Alaska home, he has spent most of his time since then in Los Angeles; he also covers smaller station destinations all over the US. The change in scenery brought with it a dramatic shift in culture that has taken some getting used to.
“It’s still a work in progress for me,” Flesch admits. “The people side of things was a major transition and learning experience, but I’ve just held to transparency and honesty in an effort to bridge any communication gaps.”
Communication is critical to the senior design and construction manager role, which Flesch likens to that of a liaison. “I approach all of my projects with the same goal: to deliver a facility that meets all stakeholder needs, regardless of proprietary ownership,” he says. “True success comes from designing and developing an operational space that works for everyone.”
That mindset has served Flesch well in his work on Terminal 6 at LAX. Alaska shares the terminal with multiple other airlines, the diverse needs and operations of which Flesch needs to take into account alongside Alaska’s own.
“I have currently been working on this program for about five years,” says Flesch of the Terminal 6 redevelopment. “When we’re done with this project, anything and everything servicing the aircraft will be brand-new. We will also have two additional aircraft positions within the same square footage that we had at the beginning of the program.”
The project does involve increasing the square footage of the terminal itself, as well as revamping all hold room areas—at a cost far lower than that of the complete terminal rebuilds favored by Alaska’s competitors. “Alaska tries to do more with less. These structures are very old and unique in nature, but with our experience, we’ve been able to deliver very similar programs for much less money,” Flesch explains.
Flesch credits his team with bringing Terminal 6 and other projects to life. As a leader, he aims to create space for his direct reports to learn from their own experiences, even if that means letting them make a mistake. “I like to think that I’m training decision-makers,” he elaborates. “I don’t micromanage; I define the need and allow them to work through the problem as the boots on the ground while I monitor from a distance.”
Flesch has a more hands-on approach when it comes to working with vendors, especially where a project’s phasing is concerned. The team went through thirty-one iterations of the phasing for Terminal 6 alone—but that’s just the type of challenge that keeps Flesch motivated.
“I really enjoy large, complex programs,” says Flesch. “When others have a hard time doing something, I like to come in and fix or execute it.”