May 21, 2009

Ron Morford

Ron Morford

Company: General Construction Co.

Position: President and district manager


Ron Morford says he knew from an early age that he would go into construction. His father helped build the Boeing Aerospace Center in Kent in 1965, and Morford followed in his footsteps, getting his start in the industry as a teenager.

Today, he leads General Construction Co., a heavy construction contractor that specializes in marine, industrial and heavy-civil work. The 99-year-old firm was acquired by the Kiewit Corp. in 2001.

General won AGC’s heavy/industrial award for its work on the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 91 Berth M reconstruction, a project that required a bit of tiptoeing around the aging Magnolia Bridge, which has foundations that are susceptible to settling.

The contract amount for the project was $4.9 million, but Morford says joining Kiewit has enabled General to bid on megaprojects it hadn’t been able to pursue before, such as the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge ($615 million) and the Gateway road-and-bridge program in British Columbia ($2.6 billion).

Morford joined General in 1982 as a field manager.

“I went to school over at Washington State and got a degree in civil engineering,” he says. “Graduated on Friday and came to work at General the next Monday. Here I am.”

What do you like best about your work?

The variety of things we do. No two days are ever the same.

What’s the worst?

The hardest part of probably any management job is dealing with people, having to make management decisions about who to fire, who to promote. Even harder is if we’re in the situation we’re in now, where we’re in a recession and you have make decisions about letting people go. The construction work is pretty easy relative to the people — concrete and steel and equipment and stuff. You just do it.

What sets your projects apart?

The type of equipment we use. Marine equipment is very unique — it’s all very large, it’s specially built, you can’t go down to the store and buy it, you can’t go down to the rental store and rent it — you have to have it. (Also) I would say the size and complexity of a lot of the projects, where we have to put together large teams of people and manage all aspects of the project.

Any advice for a young person?

The biggest thing that’s unique to the construction industry is the fact that people have to travel to where the work is being built. You can’t build a bridge in a factory and ship it to where the bridge wants to go. You have to build it where the bridge goes. So people that are entering the construction industry need to understand that they’re going to have to move to where the work is.

What’s a misconception people have about the construction?

The general public thinks it’s low tech. It’s kind of just dumb, easy low-tech work.

In today’s world, the construction industry uses very sophisticated computer software. We use CAD programs, we use building-information modeling software to help us design and build, we use GPS survey equipment to do our surveying and layout.

We use just a lot of high-tech type tools to help us build or work that the construction industry didn’t use 20 years ago.

Do you see a silver lining to the recession?

Yes. People are probably going to be a little more frugal with their money, and maybe save a little more, which is going to be good for all of us because I think we were overspending our means as a society.

What is one thing about you that would surprise people?

I’m not very surprising. Engineers are kind of boring, you know.

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