No Time to Relax – 1997
One would think that after the success of completing the Olympic stadium by our joint venture team, we could all slow down and enjoy a job well done. In reality we had to speed up again and quickly. We had to turn the Olympic stadium into the new home for the Atlanta Braves for the 1997 opening baseball game. Before we could start the retrofit, we had to wait until the Olympics and Paralympics were completed in August 1996. Turner Field had to be ready for play on March 30, 1997. The Olympic stadium was designed in such on a way that approximately 35,000 seats were actually temporary seats and could be easily removed. It was neat how the Olympic stadium was designed for conversion. If you look at the Olympic stadium pictures and Turner field stadium pictures, you can see where the temporary seats were located. You can see the lights and upper deck and you can see where the temporary seats were located. We then had to build the outfield sections and restaurants, the dugouts, and locker rooms and many other things that had to be installed to retrofit the stadium and have it ready in 7 months for opening day. The part that amazed me the most of the entire retrofit was the drainage and irrigation system for the baseball field. I had never seen such an elaborate underground watering and drainage system in my career. I personally felt we had more pressure on the retrofit because we had to have enough time for the grass on the baseball field to be ready and secure in the soil before March 30, 1997, the first home game. Things were getting tight and we had plenty of rain, and we were having trouble getting the topsoil dry for grass. The project team put their heads together and decided to rent a couple of helicopters and let them hover over the field to dry the soil and the plan worked. I really enjoyed watching the retrofit take place. I often wonder if people ever think about what it takes to build a project and the ingenuity required by the project team to complete a project. I will always admire the craftspeople and the building project field teams. They are the people that make it happen every day on a building project site. They are creative, they must solve problem every day and keep everyone safe on a project. We finished Turner field on time and it was so cool to sit in the stadium for the opening day game and know we were part of the team that built Turner field.
We were having a great year; in 1997 we broke ground on the new Philips Arena. It was a four way joint venture of Beers, Holder, Russell and Moody. It was on this project I started building an excellent friendship and business relationship Tommy Holder and Holder Construction Company. I will talk more about this project and my relationship with Holder in future posts. We had just started the site work and foundations in 1997 for Philips Arena. I was living a great business life, new work and building some of the premier projects in Atlanta.
I know some people might read my blog and think work was falling out the sky into my lap. That is far from the case, we were bidding 15-20 projects before we would win 1 project. Also a project can take a few years of pursuing, then awarded and waiting before the project actually breaks ground. That is why cash flow and financial strength is important in the construction business. In construction you carry an estimating department, accounting department, office cost, insurance, job support staff and a long list of other cost just to stay open. This is where one can be out of business real quick, if you don’t have enough cash and work to carry your overhead. This is another reason I recommend to aspiring business owners, the importance of cash flow, a line a credit and keeping your money in your company. I still believe today something my dad taught me as a young man, always live beneath your means, and keep something for a rainy day.
I was quickly realizing I needed more business owner training. I was accepted to an executive week long training program at Dartmouth Amos Tuck Business School in 1997. It was ironic I was going to a university I actually thought about attending in 1974, but I was tired of snow and when I was interviewed for Dartmouth in 1974, it looked so cold in the slideshow I was shown during my interview, I decided to not go any further in the process for admittance. This is one of the choices I talked about in an earlier post, how some decisions we make in life have life changing results. Suppose I had chosen Dartmouth over Morehouse, I believe my life would be completely different in many ways.
Anyway I decided to attend this one week executive training program in lovely New Hampshire and sleep in a dorm for a week at 41 years old. Now I will share something only my wife knows, I was really nervous about attending this program because it was only 5 years earlier at a week event out of town that I had my first panic attack from disclosing my childhood trauma. I was worried about being back in a similar setting and having panic attacks. Even though I was worried, as I always have been able to do, I pray, trust my faith and push myself through the fear. I learned a lot at the program, met some new friends, and had a blast in New Hampshire. Even though I would still worry at times during that week, I was happy with myself that I had pushed through the fear that had developed in me. It is so weird and tough to explain what it is like to be a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, hide it for 26 years, then say it out loud and how your life changes forever. I never want another kid or adult to suffer this, but unfortunately it is something tough to stop from happening to others. I just pray my words and sharing my story helps someone overcome the trauma and know happiness does exist and other survivor out here to talk too for support.
Well back to the business, we were getting some great projects and reaching new milestones in project size. We had won our first job over $7,000,000 in size, doing churches, post offices and another historic renovation project. We also won our first design build project in 1997, the Grady Hospital East Point medical clinic. This project won a design build project award. We were growing and hiring more people and I am still guessing how to run a business. I was also starting to realize the decisions I make as a business owner had an impact on our staff and their families. I realized people fed their families, sent kids to school on the income they made from my company. That actually became a new worry; other people depended on me for a living.
In 1997, my family was doing well, my son was in middle school, my daughter was doing well in elementary school and Karla was doing her thing as a hospice nurse. I was coaching the kid’s teams and we were staying busy as a family. Karla and I were doing our best to make sure we still had date night every couple of weeks. It was still hard to have date night with work and the kid activities. We made sure we took a family vacation and then our momma and daddy only vacation yearly.
It was cool to see my son attending the middle school our company built and completed in 1996 in a joint venture. It is always nice to walk through a building we built and see people enjoying the building.
In 1997 we won our first AGC build Georgia award for the Scottsdale Child Development Center. I was so proud to win our first building award for a construction project. I felt like we were an equal now to the other construction companies, we too could win building project awards for outstanding work. We were also named one of the top ten fastest growing private companies in Atlanta. We won the Shoney’s classic American award, and the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Community Service Award. I was proud of the construction awards, but in my heart more proud of being recognized for being a good corporate and community citizen.
I was admitted to the class of 1997 for Leadership Georgia. That was educational and a lot of fun. The beauty of the program is that spouses are included. We visited different places in the state and learned about the history of each place. Karla and I met some new friends and really enjoyed learning and seeing other parts of the state. Georgia has some very interesting and beautiful places to visit.
I am going to close with a couple of the many funny things that happened to me in 1997. The first story: we were doing a project where we were driving auger cast piles. I was on site one day and the pile driving rig was going full steam ahead. I was standing in the parking area of the site, near my ford bronco, and I had on my new Indiana Jones hat. I know I am looking good. Well, the auger cast rig is pumping the concrete through the hose into the piles and the hose blew and concrete went everywhere, and all over my brand new hat. You can’t get concrete off of the material of my hat, my hat was ruined and everyone tried not to laugh, but they couldn’t hold it anymore, they all busted out laughing. I laughed too and then got in my bronco and yelled out loud, DAMN, my new hat is messed up!!! Lesson learned; never wear anything on a job site you don’t mind getting messed up.
The other story; we were a finalist for Ernst and Young entrepreneur of the year. We didn’t win in 1997, we won in 1998. Anyway, I invited the CEO of Beers construction and my joint venture partner Larry Gellerstedt and his wife as our guest. I learned a valuable lesson about reading invitations that night. I didn’t read the entire invitation, especially the line about the attire. It was black tie and we had on suits. Larry and my wife Karla both had asked about the attire and I said business attire. Boy was I wrong. I mean everyone was in formals and tuxedos, except our table of ten guests. I was so scared and embarrassed, I had invited Larry Gellerstedt my joint venture partner and the CEO of one of Atlanta’s top construction companies and I have him not dressed properly for the event. I think he sensed my panic, because he said oh well, let’s get a beer and give it to me in the bottle and then laughed. He gave me a good natured hard time, but I have not missed reading the required attire for an event again.
I hope you are enjoying the journey of my life and business. If you do like the blog, please like it on the blog page and check follow on the blog site.
I am enjoying looking back over my life and the joy of getting through the fear we encounter in life.
Have a great new year in 2013.
Please read the poem below, it is written by a great friend of mine named Steve Copeland. We have been friends since 1971. I will talk about Steve in future post and a rafting trip we took and how a bad situation in the water turned out good. I asked Steve to write a poem that fits what my blog is all about for you to enjoy.
Life, it is what it is!
It’s life, it is what it is.
It’s a gift, yet, we resist acceptance.
We often question it and insist that it’s unfair when it doesn’t go the way we’d like it to flow.
We deceive ourselves into making believe someone else
is the cause of our problems because it gives us an excuse for not solving them.
But if the truth be told, the way our lives unfold,
most of us control our own destiny.
Yet, to accept that reality, creates personal responsibility.
Life is what it is
but it is to be lived and not feared.
One should passionately embrace it and not timidly waste it.
Life is what it is
so it reflects that which you give.
Your very existence is God’s investment and your personal enhancement is His interest.
Life itself is free but like anything else that is free,
it comes with no guarantees.
There are no take backs, second acts, instant replay or just one more day.
Life is the game you play where you don’t get to practice
so you just go at it because time is of the essence.
Life is what it is
so instead of trying to balance it, challenge it!
There’s nothing sadder than wasted talent.
Just step out on faith and dare to be great.
Life is what it is
and while it’s the unknown that frightens us,
it’s the everyday experiences that enlighten us,
the good times shared that delight us and thoughts of what could be that excites us.
You need to seize this moment because it’s yours to own it.
Live every day of your life like there’s no promise of tomorrow.
Always smile as if you’ve never known sorrow.
Pursue your passions as one who’s a stranger to failure or fear
and embrace your chosen faith as that you hold most dear.
Strive to be valiant in adversity and be encouraged in tragedy,
for every day you awaken is one more victory!
It’s life; it is what it is…
Composed by: Steven R. Copeland 12/27/12