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Q&A with Westchester County’s James Riina

James Riina shares his journey from a construction-rooted upbringing to becoming an adept owner’s project manager, while offering valuable insights and reflections on project oversight, collaboration, and career milestones.

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Q&A with Westchester County’s James Riina

James Riina is a Geographic Discipline Leader with Colliers Project Leaders based in Westchester County, New York. With more than 25 years of consulting experience in analysis, strategy, and implementation, James is a proficient problem solver guided by strategic acumen and core values.

From growing up in a family deeply rooted in the construction industry, James shares his inspiring path to becoming an owner’s project manager. In this Q&A we delve into his experiences, insights, and reflections as he navigates through the complexities of overseeing projects, ensuring contractual integrity, and fostering collaboration among diverse stakeholders.

What led you to become an owner’s project manager?

I was fortunate to grow up in and around the construction industry. My father was a mason, one of my uncles was a carpenter, and my other uncle was a site developer working in the single-family home industry. I grew up continuously working on different aspects of construction projects, whether it was mixing cement, digging for foundations, framing houses, or installing windows and roofs. You name it, we did it and it was invaluable growing up in that space.

I was the first in my family to go to college, ultimately earning a master’s degree in strategic management. After college I worked in corporate America and later pivoted to go into business with my father full-time when he was diagnosed with cancer. We worked together side-by-side to build homes and his business. After he beat cancer and wanted to retire, I decided to go in a different direction, which is what led me to become an owner’s project manager. It’s the perfect blend of the construction world I grew up in and the business world I worked in.

What is your favorite thing about being an owner’s project manager?

An owner’s project manager (OPM) is the eyes and ears of the owner, which is a responsibility I take very seriously. It’s not just about what happens on the jobsite, but making sure that contractually the owner is protected as the project evolves.

No project is perfect, and no design is 100% foolproof. The job is about helping the owner navigate those situations. Fostering a collaborative relationship with the design team, the contractors, the construction manager, and the municipality that you're working in is the key to a successful project. You're always dealing with varying levels of people across multiple organizations that have common goals yet can also have competing interests.

My favorite part of being an OPM is finding a way to delicately balance those competing interests while finding common ground to reach shared objectives. Being solution-oriented is critical in this business.

What’s it like working in Westchester County?

Westchester is a very accessible county just outside of New York City. You have people who live and work in the county, as well as people who live here, but work in the city, or vice versa. There is a lot of growth and activity happening, from amazing independent school projects to a growing biotech hub.

Some of this growth has been fueled by the pandemic, as people left the city wanting a little bit more space and room to breathe. There is a lot of untapped potential in this region, and I’m thrilled to be part of many exciting projects that are happening across the area.

What project have you enjoyed working on the most?

One of my favorite projects I’ve worked on is Hackley School’s Center for the Creative Arts and Technology in Tarrytown, NY. The Center is a new ground-up 50,000+ square foot project involving a very high-level design. It looks like a simple building from the outside, but once you start peeling away the layers, it’s very complex. The aim of the project is to establish a creative environment fostering interdisciplinary collaboration among the performing, visual, and digital arts.

It’s been great to work with seasoned designers and a great construction manager (CM), while we navigate how to successfully build this beautiful, complex work of art within budget and on schedule.

What career accomplishment are you most proud of?

I was the first of my family to go to college and to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. I then went on to earn a master’s degree in business administration and graduated with a high GPA at the top of my class. That was an important accomplishment which set a different trajectory for my family.

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