Procore set out to find the companies, projects and individuals that stood out for their bold achievements in construction. Among the 27 outstanding finalists selected, nine were named winners of the 2022 Groundbreaker Awards. This article is the sixth in a nine-part series spotlighting each winner.
Across the industry, there are innovative leaders making waves in construction, bringing original ideas to the forefront and testing out new technologies. Atul Paralkar, Procore’s 2022 Groundbreaker of the Year, is one such pioneer.
Paralkar currently serves as executive director of business intelligence and operational excellence at Holt Construction, a general contracting firm based in New York. His career has taken him on an international, multi-sector journey. In the last twenty years, Paralkar has helped deliver and support over $40 billion in national and international projects, including LGP’s LaGuardia Airport Redevelopment Program, JFK Airport’s Redevelopment for American Airlines, NYCTA’s Canarsie Line Redevelopment and their Enhanced Stations Initiative, Exxon Mobil’s Non-Road Diesel project, Brain & Cognitive Science Center at MIT and many more.
Rooted in excellence
Paralkar joined the industry by chance, as he originally had no plans on becoming an architect. Growing up in Mumbai, India, Paralkar set his sights on becoming an engineer. However, when a friend suggested he take an architecture exam, he ended up passing with flying colors. This set him on a journey of studying under Indian architectural masters like Charles Correa and further expanding his horizons through networking.
After diving headfirst into architecture at University of Mumbai, Paralkar decided to try his hand at construction management, a field that some colleagues were heading towards. He left India for America, attending Texas A&M to pursue his masters and a fellowship. Upon graduating, he started out at Jacobs in the oil and gas business, where he began his career in project controls, eventually ending up in global-focused roles there. He faced some challenges as an immigrant, but Paralkar was motivated to make a difference, which has inspired many others.
“When people see me they note that I look different and sound different, some can’t even say my name. I think it helps others who are disadvantaged, who stand out in various ways to see it as an example, and strive for that and even more,” says Paralkar. “So they won’t let go of their aspirations and will get the courage to break through walls.”
Ushering in technological innovation
Today, Paralkar’s role focuses on converting raw data into insights and actionable recommendations, something he’s deeply passionate about. As a lifelong changemaker, he champions industry evolution through technology and operational excellence. He’s made strides at Holt in integrating project data flow to better serve sales, estimating and execution processes.
With a deep knowledge in each sector of AEC, Paralkar brings a unique, global perspective to operations at Holt. His commitment to connected data has shown up in his workplace initiatives, helping to standardize reporting, dashboards, goal-setting and improving business processes. He spearheaded the steering committee and served as executive sponsor for the enterprise-wide implementation of Procore at Holt.
“Platforms like Procore enabled us to have more informed decisions, assess projects and have forced our hand towards standardization and analytics. It’s really guided our people and processes,” says Paralkar. “I’m proud to be a part of connecting all the great folks not only in the company, but also the industry.”
Breaking ceilings and rising above
Paralkar is devoted to mentorship and philanthropy outside of work as well. He co-founded the Minal Panchal Architecture Award in response to the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting to honor his former classmate, Minal Panchal, who was a victim. This award recognizes excellence in final-year architecture students. Winners have gone on to be successful innovators, carrying on Panchal’s legacy. Paralkar has served as a mentor both professionally and informally, passing on his deep trove of knowledge.
As testament of his commitment to innovation, Paralkar has been recognized with several awards, including the ENR National 20 Under 40 award in 2021. Now, he’s won the 2022 Groundbreaker of the Year award, and these achievements have inspired others. Motivated by his family and improving the industry, he hasn’t stopped bringing his own ideas to every project.
“When I received this Groundbreaker award, I had people reach out to me and say that they heard about my background, that I was an immigrant and really related to it. It gave them a boost they really needed for a sense of belonging,” shares Paralkar. “In this industry, we don’t always understand what diversity means. It’s not just about color, race, language, origin or orientations. DEI is about access, opportunity and inclusion. It’s more about the least represented in a particular situation or group, the people you don’t always think about. We’re always looking at just checking a box. Diversity without equity and inclusion is futile. We must think about the bigger picture.”
Paralkar’s advice for young professionals trying to break into the industry?
- Network, network, network!
- Find a mentor that is comfortable in their own skin, outside of your function or reporting line and one that does not hesitate to tell you that you can do better than them.
- Plan ahead but don’t plan too far ahead. Don’t hesitate to adapt to an opportunity and follow the innovation.