March 27, 2003

Success times 10 — follow these leaders

  • Construction legends share their experiences
    Kinman & Associates

    Can you pick the entrepreneur who started his career at the youngest age from this lineup of the “usual suspects”?

    1. George Allen — McKinstry Co.

    2. Don Bocek — D. Bocek Company

    3. Terry Deeny — Deeny Construction

    4. Dick DelMissier — TriWay Industries

    5. Hugh Ferguson — Ferguson Construction

    6. Larry Johnson — Prime Construction

    7. P.D. Koon — MKB - Beck Construction

    8. Bob Landau — GLY Construction

    9. Allan Osberg — Osberg Construction

    10. Frank Young — GLY Construction

    Here’s a clue: At 9 years old, he got a health license and a work permit to sell ice cream at Seward Park, cleaned his father’s office on weekends, and mowed lawns in his spare time.

    The answer is at the end of this article.

    These leaders in the construction industry all have three things in common:

      1. The desire to achieve — the strong work ethic or the “fire in the belly” as Terry Deeny calls it.

      2. They are extremely active, even in retirement, in the state and local communities, serving on boards and advisory committees.

      3. They were influenced by relationships that propelled them along sometimes unanticipated career paths.

    Each of the above leaders was exposed at an early age to role models with strong work ethics. Each of these leaders had mentors who acted as sounding boards, shared expertise and ideas, and helped expand their knowledge base and network.

    Family influence was a significant factor, running the gamut from workaholic fathers to alcoholic fathers, from successful sibling work arrangements and transition plans to dissolving the business because of family involvement and the lack of a feasible transition plan. A few made their own way at an early age and a few grew up with the focus of being included in the family company.

    There were other influences in young careers. Frank Young’s teacher taught him how to write the perfect business letter; a colonel told Hugh Ferguson he should go to officers’ school; and an employer had such confidence in Bob Landau that he gave him a set of plans and instructions to open an office in Spokane and build Atlas missile bases there.

    To what do these entrepreneurs, most of them in the University of Washington Construction Management Hall of Fame members, attribute their success?

    George Allen: “My claim to success was that I focused on what I was doing, I was a construction guy doing engineering type jobs. We built our company on our ability to change. Every time I sensed a change coming, we tried to be the first company to try it. We were the first to do design/build, the first piping guy to start our own sheet metal shop, the first to focus heavily on customer service and repairs. We diversified. Instead of just pure construction, we diversified to service and energy and temperature controls and tenant improvement.”

    Success is a dash of work ethic, a dose of community service and a lot of who you meet along the way.

    Don Bocek: “The lesson I’ve learned is to maintain lines of communication with the people you are affiliated with — subs, owners, suppliers — to let them know what’s going on, keep them informed as to what the status is.”

    Terry Deeny: “Networking is extremely important, especially through AGC. Being able to call somebody in any other part of the country and talk about a business problem and ask them “How do you handle this or that?’ Just knowing that I could divulge and they could call me and divulge made a lot of difference.”

    Dick DelMissier: “I went from the metal fabrication business (Acme Iron) to the marine business (TriWay), which was totally new and different, at age 40. I didn’t really have anybody other than the guys in the shop to teach me the ropes. It was absolutely on-the-job training. The company I had bought had barely a six-week backlog at the time, and when I sold it, we had a five-year backlog. It was a huge learning experience for me.”

    Hugh Ferguson: “I was lucky — I picked the one thing I was good at and made a science out of building tilt-up buildings. I taught a lot of people how to do it, and they went on to start their own companies because of that. Also, we’ve always believed in helping out where we could, so Jane and I founded the Hugh & Jane Ferguson Foundation as a way to give to cultural and environmental organizations throughout the Northwest.”

    Larry Johnson: “Community service. I’m on several local and statewide boards and advisory committees. One of my proudest achievements is that I helped organize fundraising and building of an Olympic-size pool in Kirkland. It’s our duty to do something for the community we live in. If everyone did, our world would be a better place to live.”

    P.D. Koon: “I had the instinct and the desire and the go-ahead ideas. I just decided I was going to be successful and I wouldn’t settle for anything else.”

    Bob Landau: “You’ve got to provide goals to your employees — and to your kids — and give them an opportunity to meet those goals. You’ve got to prove to them that they are part of the organization, that they can express themselves, and that there is opportunity for success in your firm. Also, the philosophy at GLY is that honesty is still a darned important part of a job.”

    Allan Osberg: “Osberg Construction’s success was due in part to having several excellent, reliable, long-term employees; we were very fortunate.”

    Frank Young: “I got involved in our industry, got to know other people, and got active at the national level in AGC America. The people you met there weren’t people you were competing with, so you got good counsel and advice when you needed it. You could talk with them about problems and situations, and they felt free to give you their opinions and thoughts on the matter. I could list at least 50 people that had an impact on my progress that way throughout the years.”

    And now, the answer to the youngest entrepreneur question: Terry Deeny.

    Diane Kinman, Kinman & Associates, has worked in the A/E/C community for 25 years. Her focus is on developing and nurturing client relationships and conducting client surveys. She can be reached at (206) 232-1628 or by e-mail at

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