Why Suffolk’s Chief Innovation Officer is Investing in Virtual Reality

By Patricia Riedman Yeager, Contributing Writer

Suffolk CEO John Fish lifts some virtual dirt at the 2016 ground-breaking.

When the $2.9 billion construction company Suffolk held the groundbreaking for a new addition at its Roxbury, Mass., headquarters last year, it opted not to arm the dignitaries attending the event with ceremonial shovels. Instead, it handed out virtual reality headsets and remotes. As Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and a group of Suffolk executives turned over a few spades of virtual dirt, a digitally-rendered version of the addition rose to reveal itself, displayed on giant monitors around a tent for all to see.

It was all part of what’s being called one of the first virtual ground-breakings, orchestrated by Suffolk and Theia Interactive, a San Francisco-based virtual reality firm.

“The point of a ground-breaking is to gain awareness and to help people understand what you’re doing, to build some enthusiasm around the effort and to make sure the community and everyone else around is engaged,” says Chris Mayer, Executive VP and Chief Innovation Officer at Suffolk, one of the country’s largest privately-held companies. “By doing it virtually, we basically super-sized all three of these objectives, and we were able to utilize technology that will ultimately enable us to build a better building; it’s looking to make sure what we’re delivering is value and not just sizzle.”

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