AGC’s mission statement reads: “AGC serves our nation’s construction professionals by promoting the skill, integrity and responsibility of those who build America.”
Three simple words—skill, integrity and responsibility form the basis for the existence and purpose of AGC. Having been associated with AGC for most of my career in construction, I have been proud to have seen these words not only written, but practiced by fellow AGC contractors.
In his book, The Integrity Crisis, Ralph James, a management consultant with FMI Consulting, writes that he has consulted with more than 50,000 individuals in the construction industry over his career, and states that, “During this time, I have carefully searched for the factors that differentiate successful contractors from unsuccessful contractors. I have found many differences, but they all seem to point to one underlying value that made success possible—integrity.”
Another writer, 20 centuries earlier, wrote what I believe is the key to implementing integrity into any situation. That writer was named Matthew, and he summed it up by saying, “In everything, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In my 40-plus years in the construction industry, I have never found a situation wherein the decision I needed to make regarding the issue of integrity could not be decided based on whether the decision being made would be acceptable to myself or our company in exactly the same manner as I was considering.
The last year, and seemingly the next few years, are truly going to be “times that try men’s souls” for those of us looking to new construction for our livelihoods. In the previous decade, virtually every builder had more work opportunities than their capacity would allow them to undertake. Today, we are all facing much different circumstances as we seek out potential projects. The competition is strong and that in itself is going to make every successful builder work harder and smarter to get work. However, this is also a time to make the tough decisions regarding integrity.
My father once told me, “Tough times don’t build character, they demonstrate character.” Now, I am confident he wasn’t the first to come to that conclusion, but he was the one that emblazoned it in my mind. Having gone through the deepest depression our country has faced since the 1930s, he saw firsthand how tough it could be to survive such times.
Over the past 12 months, we have participated in a number of construction management presentations that are governed by the Sunshine Act. Under this legislation, no one can be excluded from sitting in on any portion of meetings held by the respective agencies. This means that if one so chooses, they can “legally” sit in on every other builder’s presentation. In fact, one agency has stated that they cannot even prevent competitors from videotaping the presentations of other builders for review prior to making their own presentation. In virtually every presentation we have made this year, there have been those in attendance that were clearly taking notes and, in once case, even videotaping the presentations of each of the companies that were submitting their qualifications for the projects.
But, one must ask, “Don’t actions such as this create an unlevel playing field if the builders that present early do not have the advantage that is gained by those that are later in the process?” Of course it does, that is without question.
But it all comes down to the matter of integrity. Just because it is legal doesn’t make an action ethical.
Going back to what my father said, we cannot wait until the economy crashes to make a decision whether to maintain our integrity. A successful football team cannot just show up on Sunday and play the game without practicing every play that they will be expected to execute on game day. We must make our decisions whether we are going to treat others the way we would want to be treated before the time comes to make those decisions. We don’t even need to know the specific circumstances surrounding the decisions—those will always be different. However, if we have made up our mind that, regardless of the outcome, we are going to base our decision on what is fair treatment to our company as well as our competitors, then we will not have a difficult decision to make when the need arises.
I’m not as concerned about the current state of the economy as I am about the “crisis of integrity” that Warren Weirsbe writes about in his book of the same title. Over the past few years, we have seen a dramatic increase in elected officials, inspectors, contractors and subcontractors arrested and convicted for their actions in South Florida. It would appear from those convictions that the root cause for this failure to act with integrity is founded in the word “greed.”
For more than 20 years, I have been asked each semester by one of my mentors, Dr. Brisbane Brown, at the University of Florida’s M. E. Rinker, Sr. School of Building Construction to be his guest speaker at their Professor for a Day, and to speak on what I believe is the most important topic that could be brought by someone in industry to the students. That topic has consistently been, “maintain your integrity,” both as an individual and as a company. A good reputation takes years to gain, and only one moment to be destroyed. As I meet students that I have lectured, they state that they have forgotten most of the lectures they have heard, but have always remembered that key word on which to build their careers—integrity.
I am thankful that AGC stands for skill, integrity and responsibility. Most importantly, over these next few years we will have the opportunity to demonstrate those in our daily practices.