Published on December 15th, 2017 | by UC&D Magazine0
THE BIG 5-0
As Big-D Construction celebrates its 50th Anniversary in 2017, its leaders and longtime employees turn their thoughts to founder Dee Livingood, fondly recalling his impact on their lives and the giant of a man he was in his industry and community.
Dee Livingood was a giant of a man – both in physical stature and in the legacy he left behind in Utah’s construction industry and the community he called home in the Ogden/Weber County area.
Livingood, who died June 3, 1995 at age 57 of cancer, was just 30 years old when he sold his blue Volkswagen for $1,000 to start Big-D Construction on Nov. 2, 1967 in Ogden. He established a simple, yet firm, set of well-worn principles on how to conduct business: honesty; integrity; hard work; your word is your bond; there is no difference between what you say and what you do.
Deals were often made on nothing more than a handshake agreement, including a landmark ‘million-dollar deal’ with Cream O’Weber in 1974 to build a new freezer addition for its Ogden manufacturing facility. Legend has it that Livingood met with company officials, worked up a price, and shook hands on it.
Once the gravity of the million-dollar price tag sunk in, he suggested that perhaps they put something in writing.
In Big-D’s Corporate Headquarters in Salt Lake City there is a conference room on the top floor next to some executive offices that pays homage to Livingood and his many achievements. There are various photos, plaques, framed newspaper and magazine articles, awards, and other mementos from a life well lived.
Beyond abiding by the previously mentioned core principles, Livingood built a powerful team of construction professionals near the end of his first decade in business, bringing on board Rob Moore and Dale Satterthwaite in 1976 as the company’s first Business Development Manager and Estimator, respectively. Livingood’s son, Jack, started working in the field as a 19-year-old in 1979, and moved into an office role by 1982. Livingood called this group his ‘Young Lions’ for their ambition – and their collective ability to bring in work and deliver projects on time and on budget.
The firm grew quickly during the end of the 70s and specialized in constructing preengineered metal buildings and other like industrial-type projects, earning national recognition within four years as Butler Manufacturing’s ‘Builder of the Year’.
The firm continued its consistent growth during the 80s, but in 1988 Livingood began experiencing heartrelated health issues, and decided to step down from his full-time role at Big-D and immerse himself in community service activities, particularly in the Ogden-Weber area. Livingood shared his time and resources with numerous groups: OgdenWeber Chamber of Commerce (he served as President and is on the ‘Wall of Fame’); Associated Builders and Contractors of Utah (Lifetime Achievement Award); U.S. Military Affairs; McKay-Dee Hospital; Children’s Treehouse; others.
Jack, who was just 28 at the time, seamlessly slid into his father’s role as President, and the train kept gathering steam. By then the company had revenues around $40 million, and its ambitious core of still relatively young leaders looked at the future with big aspirations. Livingood would still offer his counsel and wisdom when he saw fit to give it, but for the most part he just looked on, somewhat in awe even, at how big the company was becoming.
“In some ways we took Dee to his limits,” Jack said of his father. “He had a lot of faith in us. I think he’d be proud that his legacy has carried on and that we pay so much attention to his culture.”
Today, Big-D is one of the Top 100 general contractors in the U.S. (No. 1 in Utah), ranking No. 76 (up 13 spots) in ENR’s list of 2017 Top 400 General Contractors with revenues of $1.36 billion from 2016. Moore expects 2017 revenues to eclipse $1.5 billion by the time the year comes to an end.
That number in and of itself, Moore admits, would probably make Livingood a little nervous if he were alive today.
“As we started to grow and land bigger jobs, Dee would come in and say to me, ‘Are you sure you got this?’ Moore smiled. “Dee built relationships early with clients and Dale and I would make them blossom. We’re still so competitive that we make each other better.”
Big-D Construction currently has 1,300 employees working in eight offices nationwide: Salt Lake City, Ogden, Lindon, Park City (Big-D Signature); Pleasanton, Calif.; Tempe, Ariz.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Jackson, Wyo. (Big-D Signature). Big-D bought Martin-Harris Construction of Las Vegas in November 2014, and acquired Johnson Carlier of Phoenix in October 2017.
REMEMBERING ‘BIG DEE’
Chief Executive Officer
Moore had gotten to know Livingood from doing steel erection work on some of Big-D’s projects from 1973-75, when one day the big, burly man out of the blue invited the shaggy-haired, 20-something year old to dinner.
“I remember working on site in Logan in 20-below degree weather putting a roof on a building and Dee called and said he needed some help in the office,” Moore recalled. “Today, we’d call it Business Development. Back then I was doing cold calls, going through the phone book calling owners and asking if they needed a new building.”
Moore said he would meet with a prospective client, sit down and do a rough sketch on a piece of paper/napkin of what the owner wanted, take it back to the office and get to work. To illustrate his point, Moore grabs a piece of paper and quickly scratches out the framework of a building.
“Everything we did was design-build,”
he said. “We didn’t hard bid anything back then. Design-build is this new thing – I’ve been doing it since I started with Dee. I’d take this (sketch) and develop it, put a number to it. We were doing a simple type of construction, but we did a ton of it. That really propelled us into the manufacturing segment of work. You could see it catapulting us, and all of sudden our competition was looking around and saying ‘What are these guys doing?’ We provided a solution to our customers and were sought out because of it.”
They day-to-day routine for Moore has obviously changed considerably in his nearly 42 years at the company (he started January 16, 1976). What hasn’t changed is his desire to keep pushing the envelope on all facets of the business.
“We are big-time goal setters,” he said. “We have goals for our individual regional offices and overall company and we work hard at hitting those goals. We’re just so stinking competitive with each other, in a good way, in a fun and rewarding way. We keep score of all the deals we bring in the door and we publish the scores so there is feedback. Every one of our managers knows exactly what is required of them. They can look in the mirror to know if they’re winning. I don’t have to tell them.”
Moore said he’s excited for 2018 and expects the firm to remain a major player in each of the markets it covers.
“We could be happy being the same size and making a nice return, but we’re not okay with that,” he said. “We want to open a new office every three years. Why? We have a vision. We wanted to be a billion dollar company by 2020 and we did that last year. We want to provide growth and opportunity for our employees.”
Senior Vice President
Satterwaite’s father Cecil worked for Livingood before retiring in ’72 and Dale started on with the firm a few years later, becoming Livingood’s full-time estimator in 1976. He remembers Livingood’s sharp construction acumen and his ability to spot talent in people.
“He was just a great, personable guy, a friend,” he said. “It was very easy to work for a guy like that. He wasn’t pretentious at all; he didn’t put on any fronts. What you saw was what he was – very genuine is the word I’d use.
““Dee was a very good judge of character. He could see the character in a person faster and more genuine that the rest of us. He could see our potential. Neither of us (Rob and Dale) were educated, we didn’t come out of school with an education. What we did learn over the years with Dee was kind of by the seat of our pants. But he was a great mentor and teacher.”
Satterthwaite is retiring at the end of this year. He said he’s beyond proud at where Big-D Construction is today.
“To think of what the company has become over these years since he started it, it’s amazing what we’ve done,” he added. “I say ‘we’ because it’s been a team effort, completely. There are very few companies with an upper management that is as different as ours, but we mesh together well and make each other stronger. And to stay on good terms with each other…we were able to recognize each other’s strengths and compensate for each other’s weaknesses.”
Jack was just eight years old when his father started Big-D Construction, but his family’s construction roots actually extend even deeper than that, as maternal grandfather Jack Hilton was an owner of Hilton-Carr Construction, which closed in 1967. Ironically enough, Livingood actually purchased some old equipment from his father-in-law, who helped his son-in-law during those first couple of years get the company off the ground.
“My grandfather not only mentored my father in business to help him get started, but he also connected him with some old friends and helped him get some jobs,” said Jack. “My dad told me when he started the business, he had only a couple thousand dollars. He was definitely not a wealthy guy, but my father had a lot of ambition.
“He was really unique in that he had some really innovative ideas of how to do business back then,” Jack said. “He wanted to focus on long-term relationships with customers doing negotiated work. Back in the 60s every job was a design-bidbuild scenario. He started doing customer service-type work. He had deep-seeded values in respecting people, respecting customers. He also thought employees deserved as much respect as the customer, which was a wild idea in the 60s, and he laid down some values that set a foundation for him to grow.”
Jack said is was unique that Dee hired such young, relatively inexperienced individuals to help him grow the firm, but he had an ability to see people for their
strengths, and would treat everyone he encountered with the same level of respect.
“Dee was a huge people person and he loved people’s stories and believed in people. He was not motivated by money – he was motivated by people. He treated people exactly the same, whether it was his friend Tom Monson (LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson), who he knew from sitting on a board with him, or Jim Howe, a guy who was cleaning our office at night. If you watched him have an interaction with his friend Jim Howe and his friend Tom Monson, he’d behave exactly the same way. He was amazing that way.”
President, Mountain West Region
McNabb came to work at Big-D 29 years ago in December 1988, and as current President of Big-D’s Mountain West Region he meets with a lot of different long-time clients in various states. He says that Livingood’s name still consistently pops up in conversations.
“I was in awe of his accessibility,” said McNabb. “Dee sat right by the front desk so when you walked into the office, there was the face of the organization. It’s safe to say that Dee was looked at as an icon in the industry, but to us as employees, as a father. Dee passed away in ’95 and I can still go places and people want to engage and discuss Dee. He’s been gone 22 years, but he’s still in the everyday conversation. It reminds me of Roberto Clemente. When you go to Pittsburgh, the biggest selling jersey is Roberto Clemente – he’s still ‘the man’. And it’s really that way with Dee.
McNabb said he believes Livingood would be proud of the firm’s success, not just for its lofty revenue numbers and the quality and diversity of its projects, but for the fact that business continues to be done in a manner that puts people first.
“We’re still a simple company with simple people – we haven’t drifted from our roots,” he said. “I have people we do work with across the U.S., and the biggest compliment to me is to hear them say, ‘You’ve grown into a giant of a company, but you’ve never lost the basis of your success, which is relationships’. That’s powerful stuff. The strength of our company is our people.”
Glauser started at Big-D in 1984 as a laborer at age 17, fresh out of high school. He didn’t have a lot of interaction with Big Dee “cause I had my head down working all the time,” he said. “What I remember of Dee is he was just like one of the guys. He dressed in Levis, boots, un-tucked buttonup shirt. He wasn’t a real intimidating guy – he just made you feel like you were part of the team.”
Glauser said he decided to “make my career here and a lot of that decision was due to his philosophy of doing business. ‘Your word is your bond, you do what you say’. His ethics really aligned with mine. That’s one of the biggest things that attracted me to Big-D Construction.
“We actually had some fun,” he added. “We’d work hard, but I remember back in the day – we don’t do this anymore – Dee would come in at the end of a week and fill a garbage can with cold beer and ice and we’d go out in the shop…he’d hang with the guys and show his appreciation by doing something that meant something to us. It made you feel proud to be a part of it.”
Quality Assurance Manager
Burton has been with Big-D for 33 years and recalled Livingood’s personal touch, an innate ability to treat people with genuine respect.
“Dee was a soft-hearted individual who cared about his employees,” he said. “He cared about the quality of the projects. I remember he’d always come out to the jobsites and let you know what’s going on, how things are going, and he let you know where you stood with the company. He was a man with integrity, an individual that loved everybody who worked for him. I enjoyed working for Dee and being able to go into his office; if I had a question he was always there to answer it. I can remember Dee on some of my first projects. He could write it on a napkin and tell you how to build it right there. I loved to see him out on the jobsite. A man with the softest heart I’ve ever seen.
“Dee knew every project that was being built and knew them from the start to the finish,” Burton continued. “I remember when I built a sink manufacturing company around 28th Street. It was one of my first projects as a superintendent alone, and I remember Dee always coming to the job and asking if there was anything he could do to help. I always loved that (interaction).”
Dearden joined Big-D construction in September 1983, hiring on as a carpenter and concrete laborer. He remembers Livingood as a kind, down-to-earth, man.
“Dee is not the guy in the tie – he’s the guy in the flannel shirt,” said Dearden. “That was Big Dee. He’d come onto a job and he’d have one of his pant legs on top of a boot, his shirttail out, and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. You didn’t know that he’d be the owner of the company. I actually had people try and run him off of some projects who hadn’t known him. He was a down-to-earth construction good ‘ol boy. Dee was very personable; without even working for him very long he knew who you were. Dee always surrounded himself with good people…he kept me too! Great man!”
Senior Project Manager
Heslop has been with Big-D Construction 29 years as of November. He said he had a friend who worked at the firm and hired on as a carpenter.
“He was just a genuinely nice guy,” said Heslop. “He gave us opportunities, he believed in us. We were on a growth spurt but we weren’t a large company. Culture wise it was a family atmosphere – it was small and everybody knew each other and we grew together.”
Heslop recalled an opportunity to work on a personal project for Dee and his wife, Lorraine. They had bought some property, Heslop recalled, in Central Ogden, and Lorraine wanted “a stream down the hillside from a pond. She had a vision and we’d work on it on the weekend. She made four or five changes (to a rock stream bed) until we got it right. It was fun. Dee stopped by and said, ‘whatever she’d like, take care of it – he had this big smile. He was always smiling.”
Johnson heard about the firm through an uncle who was a carpenter at Big-D, and he joined the firm in 1989 as an apprentice and quickly realized he’d found a company he could make a career with.
“I grew up in an area of Illinois where people bounced around from paycheck to paycheck and I was looking for a company that was stable and had a good work
ethic and they seemed to fit the mold. I got lucky enough to work under Larry McCubben on one of my first jobs and I knew how tight he was with Dee. It was great just seeing (Dee’s) demeanor and how laid back he was, the approach he took to get the job done, and the respect he had for people. These guys (company executives) have taken it, based on what Dee started up, and have just run with it. I’ve always considered this the best place to work.”