Industry Legends

Published on March 21st, 2016 | by UC&D Magazine


Fire in His Belly

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Since 1976, Rob Moore has spurred Big-D from a small, Ogden-based firm, to one of the largest general contractors in the U.S., with 9 national offices and annual revenues expected to hit the $1 billion mark in 2016.

Rob Moore’s meteoric ascension from small town ranch hand to President/ COO of one of Utah’s top volume generating general contractors can be attributed to a number of factors, but primarily due to his ultra-competitive nature and desire to be at the top of his profession.

As son Cory stated, “He always had this innate passion and drive – he calls it a ‘fire in his belly’. He’s always had it. His motto is ‘work hard, play hard, and never, ever give up.”

“He was always a very competitive, very aggressive person,” added Dale Satterthwaite, long-time Big-D Senior Vice President who started with the firm a year before Moore and was one of founder Dee Livingood’s three ‘young lions’ (along with Dee’s son, Jack) who really drove the firm to new, greater heights starting in the 80’s. “Rob didn’t like to lose when he was on a sales call and had a natural passion for the work. He’s definitely polished up a lot since then – as we all do as we go through life.”

“Even in his 20’s he had this tremendous drive to succeed and make his mark in this industry,” recalled Big-D CEO Jack Livingood. “It didn’t take long for my father to take him under his wing. He won some of our bigger projects early on; he helped take us from a mom and pop construction company into something more than that.”

The Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Utah recognized Moore’s influence on the construction industry by awarding him with the Eric W. Ryberg award – the association’s ‘lifetime achievement award’ – January 23 during the AGC’s 94th annual convention.

“He’s always had the best interests of the construction industry in mind and wanting to move it forward and make it better,” said Satterthwaite. “That award is well-deserved.”

“Rob brings passion to the construction industry like few others,” said Rich Thorn, President/CEO of the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Utah, of which Moore served as Chairman in 2014. “Rob brings his “A” game to the office, jobsite or wherever he happens to be. He’s a great mentor and a consummate professional.”

Pretty heady stuff for a guy who grew up on a quarter horse ranch in the mountains of tiny Henefer, Utah, and who desired nothing more than an opportunity to work hard and prove himself.

Learning to Fly

Moore’s upbringing as the fourth of five children on the family ranch, and also working for his father’s small excavation company, taught him “there are no free things in life. I grew up in an environment where you earn your way every day. A lot of folks who come from a rural environment from my generation…we grew up working hard.”

That hard work included running a bulldozer by age 14, fixing equipment, building fences and mucking horse stalls. At 15, Moore began spending entire summers bucking hay for Deseret Land & Livestock in the small Utah towns of Woodruff and Randolph, making $10/day working, as he recalled, “from sun up to sun down – I didn’t know the difference.”

After graduating from high school, Moore got a job working for Utah Systems Builders as an erector of pre-manufactured steel buildings and quickly moved up from project laborer to superintendent, ultimately catching the eye of Big-D founder Dee Livingood, who called Moore in January ’76 with an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“I was 22 years old, had hair down to my shoulders, and was working in Logan on the Logan Rec Center and it was 20 degrees below zero,” said Moore. “Dee said his firm wanted to do more pre-engineered work and asked me if I’d come in and help him in the office.”

The firm quickly secured a franchise to sell Butler Manufacturing pre-engineered building systems and Moore was cut loose to start selling, literally making cold calls to firms in Ogden and North Davis Country who worked in industrial and manufacturing markets.

By 1980, Moore said Big-D was one of the top sales organizations in the country for Butler and helped propel the firm into bigger and better future opportunities within that sector, which remains one of the firm’s key markets to date. Moore’s first sale was a 2,400 SF pre-engineered building for G.S. Harris Co., a stone manufacturing company in Ogden that is still in operation today. Moore would help clients envision, design and build their projects, while typically trying to avoid the general bid market.

“Dee brought Dale into the office as an estimator and we started to see more success,” said Moore. “We weren’t bidding projects – we were pitching projects and putting projects together for clients. I enjoyed meeting people, telling clients we can get it done for them, making a promise and delivering on that promise. We really enjoy design-build. That’s important to Big-D and it’s how we built many long-time relationships.”

Competing with the ‘Big Boys’; Expanding Presence Nationally

By 1988, Moore, Satterthwaite and the younger Livingood were more-or-less running the firm, as Dee had “semi-retired” according to Jack, partly due to health issues. With the three ‘young lions’ in the office and 15 more in the field, the firm was hardly on par revenue-wise with larger, more established general contractors, but it did start to land bigger jobs and gained confidence and experience with every met deadline and satisfied client.

Jack said Rob and his out-sized personality challenged other leaders within the firm to take personal accountability and maximize the potential of every Big-D employee. Dee passed away in June ‘95, but the firm was in solid hands and continuing to grow. The high-profile Scott M. Matheson Courts Complex – a $68.2 million, 420,000 SF building – was completed in 1998 and was a testament to how far the firm had come in two short decades.

“(Big-D’s growth) was a combination of (Rob’s) passion and drive with Dee’s big heart and vision that really helped the firm grow,” said Cory, a Senior Vice President with the firm. “There was a tipping point; Rob, Jack and Dale started doing things even beyond what Dee wanted to do.”

Moore credits Big-D’s many repeat clients for giving it opportunity after opportunity to prove itself on challenging, highly complicated projects. Many of these clients took Big-D out of state to build projects, which partly explains how the firm now boasts 1,000 employees in nine offices: four in Utah – Ogden, Salt Lake (headquarters), Lindon, and Park City – along with Las Vegas, Tempe (AZ), Pleasanton (CA), Jackson (WY) and Minneapolis (MN).

“(Repeat clients) certainly helped us in our growth,” said Moore. “Our customers would take us to certain geographical locations, but a lot of our growth was also based on having entrepreneurial employees. We’ve established a culture of making sure we take care of clients. I can’t touch everything; it goes back to the values Dee instilled within me, Dale, Jack, Forrest (McNabb)…that’s what keeps us at the forefront.”

“He’s one of those people who wants to do it all, but knows he can’t now,” added Cory. “He’s really turned into a coach to myself and everybody else. He’s calling plays, prepping the team for game day – that’s the best way to explain (his current role). He’s on the sideline making sure Big-D has the right processes and systems in place to allow employees to be the best they can.”

“Rob’s leadership goes far beyond the walls of Big-D,” said Chris DeHerrera, President/CEO of the Utah Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). “He has done much to elevate the superiority of construction deliverables not only in Utah and surrounding areas, but nationwide as well. The ‘culture of achievement’ embedded throughout Big-D is a testament to his role as President, his personal values and his vision for the well respected company he leads.”

Revenues from the past two years illustrate how the firm is growing nationally. According to UC&D’s 2015 Top Utah General Contractors survey, Big-D Construction reported total revenues of $808 million ($472 million generated from Utah-based offices) from 2014, which ranked second in Utah and was a 20% jump in revenues of $640 million ($409 million from Utah offices) from 2013. Moore wouldn’t disclose 2015 revenues, but he did say the firm is anticipating to hit the almost mythical $1 billion mark this year, which would place it among the nation’s top 60-70 firms (according to ENR’s Top 400 Contractors list from 2015).

While the industrial/manufacturing market remains a vital market and was Big-D’s largest in 2014 (the firm reported 42% of revenues came from that market), other top markets include civic/institutional (19%), higher education (18%) and office (8%). Moore said multi-family housing has also been a strong market the past couple of years in certain parts of the country and expects that to continue. Big-D has also gained traction with the LDS Church in recent years and has built temples in Twin Falls (ID), Ogden, and Brigham City, along with a current one in Philadelphia (PA).

Key projects over the years include the Swaner Eco Center (the first LEED Platinum project in Utah), the Salt Lake Public Library, the Natural History Museum of Utah, the NSA Building, and the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. Big-D is also part of a joint-venture with Atlanta-based Holder Construction Co. on the $1.8 billion Salt Lake City International Airport Terminal Redevelopment Program (TRP) project.

“We don’t deserve anything – we have to earn it,” Moore emphasized about the firm’s current growth and success. “We’re only a second generation company. We make a promise and deliver on that promise. Utah is unique – we are all aggressive competitors. We’re tough to beat…but we make each other better.”

Moore, who turns 63 in May, said he has no thought on the ‘R’ word – it’s a topic he simply can’t fathom and one he didn’t want to comment on.

Cory offered this: “I think (retirement) will be very gradual for him. I don’t think it will be a line in the sand. Right now he’s very involved in the day-to-day operations. He’s just not a guy to sit around – he always wants the ball.”

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