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Rob Burton

Hoar Construction
November 18, 2017

Rob Burton

CEO Hoar Construction

Rob Burton is President and CEO of Hoar Construction. A native of Alabama, he attended Auburn and then worked his way through many positions at the company. Hoar Construction is consistently among the top of ENR’s top Contractors in the US. In our conversation today we talk about Rob’s dream hunting gun, developing a leadership training program, and the #1 thing to do to move into upper management. We hope you enjoy the conversation.

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Rob Burton: A man called from the office and said, ''Can you come home and work on a bid team, we got a better project in Mississippi?'' I said, ''No, sir, I'm sorry I can't. You know, this girl invited me to go snow skiing and she's really good looking, I'm going snow skiing.'' He said, ''Oh, okay. I get it.'' And he hung up and then 1, 10 minutes later the phone rang again, it was my father and he said, ''What are you talking about?'' I said, ''Well, this girl invited me to go snow skiing.'' He said, ''Tell her no, you gotta to come and bid the job.'' I said, ''Oh, okay.''

Eric: Welcome to Conversations Around the Corner, where we talk to construction executives about who they are and how they got there, inspiring the next generation of construction leaders. My name is Eric.
Matt: And I'm Matt. Our guest today is Rob Burton, president and CEO of Hoar construction, a native of Alabama. He attended Auburn, and then worked his way through many positions at the company. Hoar construction is consistently among the top of ENRs of top contractors in the U.S. In our conversation today, we talk about Rob's dream hunting gun, developing a leadership training program and the number one thing to do to move into upper management. We hope you enjoy the conversation.
Rob Burton: I do have a farm and I enjoy, you know, the outdoors. And my father at his retirement purchased a piece of property that we've enjoyed a lot. But I'm a city boy who wished I was in the country.
Eric: Where is your farm? Is it down there in Alabama?
Rob Burton: Yeah, it's here in Alabama. It's about out in the country about an hour outside of town, borders a national forest. We just enjoy everything outdoors: hunting, fishing, hiking, canoeing, relaxing.
Eric: Yeah. So do you use it mainly for recreation or do you actually farm it as well?
Rob Burton: Well, no, it's mainly recreation. We do manage and farm pine trees and that kind of thing but no other crops.
Eric: What's your main hunting activity down on that farm?
Rob Burton: I love quail hunting. So I've got some bird dogs and, you know, I really enjoy watching the dogs work. And for a long time I was really into horses, I'm getting a little old for that. But I still have a couple of horses that I enjoy petting.
Matt: Yeah, I have a dog as well that I pheasant hunt with. We've never done any quail, but pheasant hunting is just kind of our main activity. The last couple of years we've just, out in western states here in South Dakota, we've had such terrible weather that the pheasant population has been so down that the pheasant hunting has been terrible the last couple of years.
Rob Burton: I've heard that. I haven't been out there in a long time. I used to go with a group of friends to Montana every September and we would hunt Hungarian Partridge and sharp-tailed grouse. Just walking outside and enjoying a beautiful day is fun, whether you find birds or not really.
Matt: Yeah, definitely it's more enjoyable when it's your own dog that you're hunting with.
Rob Burton: Isn't that true? I mean, just to see those dogs and how much they want to please you in their ability to single out, you know, that one bird you're looking for out of all the other wildlife out there is pretty amazing.
Eric: Did you train your dogs yourself or did you send them away to have them trained?
Rob Burton: We sent them off. I have had one dog that I would say I influenced some… But to say I trained a dog is a stretch.
Matt: Yes, right, it's true. So do you have a couple kids? Is that right?
Rob Burton: I have four children from 32 to, I think about 24. Two boys, two girls, four grandchildren.
Matt: All right. Do your kids hunt with you or do you get your grandchildren out there with you yet?
Rob Burton: Yeah. They're too young for that. They're…all the grandchildren are under three years old. But yeah, my children all enjoy the outdoors. Not everyone cares about hunting, but everybody enjoys the outdoors, they're either hiking or fishing or white-water rafting, just anything outside. And then the boys like to hunt more. But it's getting to be the same thing, you know, everybody's busy with young children.
Eric: Yeah. Yeah. When you were young, you started working construction at Hoar when you were 13. You remember that first job and what were you doing?
Rob Burton: You know, my father took me out to the eastern part of the city on a project where they were going to add on to a hotel, it was Motel Birmingham and the project is still out there, I think about it every time I drive by. I'm not positive that I was even technically on Hoar's payroll at that time because that might have been illegal.
Matt: Yeah, free labor.
Eric: Yeah, right.
Rob Burton: But he did drop me off and my job was to cut up sod. The area we were building or adding to was out in a beautiful lawn that was out back and then had this wonderful lawn of thick grass. And so they sent a machine out there to cut up that sod. And my job was to take an axe and chop the sod into the appropriate lengths and then stack it on a pallet. That's what I did it all summer. You know, it was definitely difficult work.
Eric: So you meet a lot of characters on job sites. Do you have any that were memorable from your childhood or you were struck by the fact that all these are adult men on a job site?
Rob Burton: Yeah, you know, there are quite a lot of that. I worked all of my young career and summers and even Christmas and on a couple of times through spring break, so it was a little bit like growing up on a farm where, you know, you just were expected to work. So yeah, you meet some characters. I'm not sure I can tell you the stories about those people. I know that one time I was working on a project in Hoover and they called me white spot because I was the only Caucasian on the project. And so they teased me a lot and eventually they, you know, we all became good friends and I really enjoyed the people. So again, some of the stories were a little too racy for what you want to do, for what you're trying to accomplish here.
Matt: How do you think that environment being a young kid on a job site formed your view of work and career and your job at Hoar?
Rob Burton: Oh, it had a big impact. And I do wish I could tell you some of those stories about the men that I worked with were, you know, they were a bit crazy, it was a different culture, you know, there were some men on the job that tried to see what they could get away with and how much they could not work, and then those other men that really cared and wanted to work and wanted to do a good job and cared deeply about doing quality work. And I've always known that what I'd say around here is, you know, the rubber meets the road out there in the field. And that's our business, that's where we make money and that's really important. I eventually commissioned, you know, much later when I was president and I commissioned an artist to paint these men that I remember working with. And it's not exactly them, but if you come into our lobby, there's a big bold painting of men at work in the field, and they're, you know, they're obviously looking for information, they're not productive at the moment, you know, where there was a big man with a sledgehammer over his shoulder waiting to go do something and another few men are looking at drawings. And that's what I wanted to remind everybody when they come in the lobby is, you know, we work for them not the other way around there. We can't get anything done if we're not providing the information and the ability and the equipment and the process to allow them to go do what they do.
Eric: Right. Right. Obviously, working and growing up was a big part of your life. You said you kind of always did it. You're always expected to work. Did you put your kids through the same type of work program when they were grown up?
Rob Burton: Not really, no. I would have if I could have, but, you know, the culture has changed a lot. My children were in sports and they loved their sports. In this day and time, coaches have kind of gone overboard and start taking up all their summers with, you know, summer workouts and things like that. So it's a little crazy. I had one coach where I said, ''You know, look I really want my son to have a job. And he said, ''Well, he's working for me this summer.'' ''That's not the same thing at all. And, you know, you don't pay and I want to be able to work so change the schedule.'' And he said, ''I'm not changing the schedule and it doesn't matter whether your son works or not, it matters if he works for me.'' The culture of the country in sports has gone a little overboard.
Eric: Yeah, yeah. I resonate with that a little bit. I have an 8-year-old who's in traveling soccer, and it's amazing what they're doing at 8 years old already. They love it and it's hard work. It's just a different type of hard work.
Rob Burton: The bottom line is the cultures are different and generations are different and all of my children have grown up to have a good work ethic and they do a good job and it doesn't have to be the same way. Well, they've learned that all of this is important.
Eric: So from your childhood work, what do you think the best job was and the worst job that you had?
Rob Burton: You know, I worked in a factory while I was in college. It was a company called Diversified Products that made a lot of sports equipment. And that's the only job I ever quit. I stood on the assembly line, and took whites off the assembly line and put them in a box. And that's all I did all day long and then so repetitive and so I was bored stiff. I just couldn't stand it. I enjoyed the change and the variety of what goes on in construction. So most of my jobs were in one way or another out in the field in construction or associated with construction. I did have to undo a lot of sanitary lines. That was quite unpleasant.
Matt: How old were you then.
Rob Burton: I was probably 18.
Eric: Oh, man. It sounds like your dad threw you right into some of these jobs that weren't necessarily the easiest. Did he actually control some of the jobs that you were taking or was that kind of another manager?
Rob Burton: No, I never worked directly for my father, not until way on in my career. It was an opportunity provided, you know, to have the job and I was expected to go work, so I could either go work there, you know, I didn't find some other place, but I was gonna work. He wasn't gonna let me sit around. The fact that he was involved in the company was good enough, I just needed to go do it. No, I was thoroughly removed from what he was doing.
Eric: Around the house do you remember your dad talking about the business around the dinner table and did you ever pick up the some of the knowledge of business in the construction world from that?
Rob Burton: Yeah, there's no question. I don't know how to explain that. But, you know, it was a very small company and the dinner table discussions were often about the business. My mother loved the business and she was very, very supportive of my father and they had an outstanding relationship and they talked about those things every night almost. And I would say to my father, you know, "Spend time with us and hug us and kiss us and say our prayers, put us to bed," and then if I ever got up at night and, you know, went to get a water or something, he'd be at the dining room table over a set of plans estimating a project. So, you know, it was always around.
Eric: So when did most of the growth of the company happen if you had to pick like a decade?
Rob Burton: I haven't given that a lot of thought. The company is, you know, over 75 years old. It was founded in 1940. You know, that's a long time, eight decades, so. Everybody who, you know, there's probably been five to seven different presidents in the company, and I'd say all of us have had our impact at different times.
Eric: So going back to your dad a little bit, what do you think if you could, I know it's kind of hard to say to pick one, but what do you think the best lesson you ever learned from him was that really influences who you are today?
Rob Burton: Well, he was such a good father and eventually such a good friend and there's no way I could just say that there's one which is the most important thing I learned from him. But since this is a business topic that we're talking about, he obviously taught me the work and that work is a noble thing, it's a good thing, it's an important part of life, it's something you should enjoy. He and my grandfather both had said that, you know, you should find a job that you truly enjoy, and you should enjoy it so much that you would do it whether you were paid or not. Obviously, early on when you're working on sanitary lines that's not it, but, you know, I eventually learned that I truly did like all of the different complications of our industry. And I have been lucky enough to say I loved it and hated it. And I usually said when you go home at night you, should be able to say, ''I can't believe they paid me, I'd have done it for free.'' Most of the time I really have felt that way. I really loved it.
Eric: Comparing knowledge gained from life experience like work versus knowledge gained from schooling, how would you rate your schooling in preparation for career and job versus all the life preparation?
Rob Burton: I am a huge proponent of on the job training and, you know, learning in the industry. I was never a good student and one of the biggest fights I had with my father was that I didn't wanna go to college at all. I wanted to stay in the field, I wanted... He had put me out there and I'd learned and I'd liked it. And so, I just begged him to let me stay out there and work my way up. I could be a carpenter and then a foreman and then a superintendent and eventually could come back into the office and make a difference. And I was absolutely right. I could have done it that way and it still can be done that way. But going to college and any other high school education, you know, what you're doing is you're learning how to learn. It's not so much that you're learning what you're gonna do the rest of your life.
Eric: You went to Auburn for college. How did you decide to go there?
Rob Burton: That's the only school dad said he'd play for.
Eric: Well, that's one way to do it.
Rob Burton: That's pretty much it. As I said I didn't really wanna go to college. My college dreams were around playing football. I really would love to have played football. For many reasons I'm fortunate that didn't work out and I ended up with a couple of knee operations and, you know, all that did was make me even more sour about going to college, son. So since I couldn't play football, why go.
Matt: So did you play football in high school?
Rob Burton: Oh, yeah, a little bit.
Eric: Are you an Auburn football fan? Is that a big part of your life?
Rob Burton: No. Not anymore. I love playing, but I'm just not a good spectator. I've always felt like, why would you go watch someone else do something when you could go do something yourself? I'm just not a good spectator. I enjoy the social life around it sometimes and I could go out and walk by my bird dogs or I could go sit in the 100,000 people and watch a game.
Eric: Yeah. Right. So from college, what do you think your favorite subject was that you took at Auburn?
Rob Burton: No, it's funny when I was in school and, again, because I had such a great opportunity to be mentored and to work. I would work on a sewage treatment plant, for example, and I was a part of the team doing the layout. So we're doing the surveying and then I would go back to Auburn and take a survey in class. And it was very frustrating because they would do it differently. You know, there was one story where I got a bad grade. I got an F on a project because I had done it the way I saw it actually done in the field. And the man marked up my survey and showed me how wrong I was. And I said, ''Well, I just worked on a project with the largest engineering company in the country, Lockwood Greene and they drew it this way.'' And he just said, ''I don't care what they do. This is the way it's done.'' And so, I had to do the project all over again. You know, instead of getting an F he allowed me to redo my project, so we had an argument.
At the end of the day, you know, the same thing happened. I came home over Christmas break and I worked in the office and I estimated a project, and they needed my help. This is a funnier story. A man called from the office and said, ''Can you come home and work on a bid team, we got a better project in Mississippi. I said, ''No, sir, I'm sorry I can't. You know, this girl invited me to go snow skiing and she's really good looking. I'm going to snow skiing.'' He said, 'Oh, okay I get it.'' And he hung up. One, 10 minutes later the phone rang again. It was my father and he said, ''What are you talking about?'' ''Well, this girl invited me to go snow skiing.'' He said, ''Tell her no, you got to come home and bid the job.'' Okay, so I went home and we bid the job, we came in second and I went back to Auburn and took an estimating class. You know, it was always frustrating. Which came first, the chicken or the egg.
Eric: Yeah, right. Did you have any professors at Auburn that really influenced your work life now?
Rob Burton: Oh, you know, there was a business law professor that I enjoyed. His name was Mike Shannon. He owned a construction company. He hired me and let me work for him on a homebuilding crew. And I was also in his class, and he was practical and you're able to talk real-life business situations versus all the other professors who cared more about theory.
Matt: Yeah. You sound like a proponent of maybe more young people skipping or this idea of them going to college is a must and them skipping college to learn trades. Talk a little bit about that. Do you think that's a reasonable thing for our society to re-embrace?
Rob Burton: Absolutely. Now, you know, a college education it's hard to argue with, so I don't wanna say that I'm against college, that's not right, but not everybody is made for college. And what's a shame is that I think we over-promote that to the point where some people are frustrated and they would be like me, they just don't enjoy it, they don't wanna be in school for four years. Like me I was probably so ADD, it was hard to concentrate long enough to sit in school. So you can get a high school diploma and go to work in the construction industry and make a great career, make a lot of money and have an excellent life. You know, it's like being on a football team. You have lots of competition and you have lots of camaraderie, you have lots of teamwork, you accomplish important goals together and you do that through your skills, you know, where each one's different from the other. One's a carpenter, one's a concrete finisher, you know, one's a surveyor, but they all work together to make it happen. It's really a beautiful thing. And I can tell you that I've got two daughters who have Master's degrees and they come out of school and make $30,000 a year if they're lucky right out of college. I can have people who went to, you know, high school that work with us and they're making 150,000 now. So it's unfair that people have lost their interest in the trades.
Eric: It's a common theme with the people we've talked to doing these interviews at this exact same point and they always bring it up. And I think, you know, if there's one thing that that psych could be…it could change somebody's life. You know, somebody who's on the fringe of deciding to go to college and then they do realize that they can have this career, a different career path than what their high school prof is telling them that they should do. It's kind of an interesting way to change people's lives.
Rob Burton: Oh, if somebody truly has the opportunity to go to college, it's hard to say that's a bad idea. The issue becomes, can they get in, can they succeed there or can they afford to go or will they graduate with, you know, some degree that they don't necessarily like or want and they've got a lot of student debt. And that's not necessarily a great way to start your career. And, you know, to say, ''Well, I've got a diploma, but I've got a $100,000 in debt.'' So I think the high schools need to learn to understand each student and what's best for each student's situation and realize there really are a lot of careers out there that don't require a college education.
Eric: Do you find a shortage of skilled trades, labor for skilled trades because everyone goes to college, do you think you see that?
Rob Burton: Absolutely, the industry has changed dramatically and it's going to be, you know, worse and worse. I don't think we wanna get into a lot of political discussions with that. You've got immigration laws that are of interest, you know, and then you have trade schools that used to be involved, you know, so much more. You know, even in high school there were trade schools and things that were taught in the high schools. And then the overall theory that college is so important, and we got to get everybody that education and it's just not for everybody. And then there's the willingness to get out and do the hard work versus I can have a job somewhere in an air-conditioned environment versus being outside in the elements. Many people just look at that. Personally, I'd rather be outside.
Eric: Yeah. So knowing some of that stuff, where do you guys go to recruit people? Do you go to high schools and look for people coming straight out of high school? Do you go to college job fairs? Do you look to labor organizations? What do you guys do?
Rob Burton: Well, it's all of the above. Of course, you depend a lot on your trade partners, the different companies you contract with, but you also, you know, do all of the above. At the end of the day it usually ends up being in a personal network. You know, our people know somebody who knows somebody and we're constantly trying to recruit people that way.
Eric: I read somewhere that you guys have a pretty in-depth training program there at Hoar. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Rob Burton: Well, we're trying to make it even more in-depth. Like everything, it's a process that you have to keep improving. We want to have a world class training programs, it's the way we define it and we're still doing a lot of study around that now. You know, it involves mentoring and it involves, you know, repeated classes about technical issues. You know, most of it is for, you know, in the field it becomes more mentoring of who you're working with and how you absolutely, you know, are learning from that coach on the job, that superintendent is telling you what to do every day. But in the office and, you know, we're always training around contracting and legal and insurance and people skills and we try to have something probably every other week at least once a month in these offices and we share them across the country through video conference and recording.
The Book of Proverbs is the book that we read in the leadership council. It is not required of every employee. What I say to them and I teach that class is, you know, I think what's important is that the Book of Proverbs was written thousands of years ago, and if you read it cover to cover, you start realizing that what was written thousands of years ago applies very clearly today to how you treat other people. That's what we're, you know, what we've said all along is it's a people business mentoring connectivity and all these kinds of things are important. So if treating people properly is important, if integrity is important, if work ethic is important, if saving money and spending less than you make is important, if modeling good behavior is important and being wise and, you know, having, you know, good thought is important, if counseling is important, if discipline or self-control is important, well, why not read the Book of Proverbs, it's all in there. Every bit of it is in there over and over again. A really wise man, you know, once said, "Wise men seek wise counsel," what does that mean? Why would you go off and act on your own trying to be a hero when you're surrounded with people who have experience. Go get the experience? Talk it out, think it through, come to the best plan and then move on. Why would you ignore that?
Eric: Yeah, it's well said. Sometimes it's hard to put training programs together when the best type of training is hands on mentorship type training. Have you guys tried to, like, formalize that in any way shape or form or tried to document that type of training program and that's a difficult way to do it?
Rob Burton: Yes, we have. I would say, again, we need to improve it. But we have a document and mentoring program and when someone comes in the office they're supposed to be given a relationship and a mentor who they can talk to, and sometimes it's across network and sometimes the person doesn't necessarily even know what's happening, you know. ''Here's your mentor, Valo Bob.'' It's more about we connect them with people in their job all across the country where they can say, ''How do I solve this problem?" And they feel comfortable picking up the phone and calling Bob. So we have done a really good job of connecting people, that is mentoring. You know, when you have someone that you are comfortable enough to say, "I'm not sure, what do I do?" Or, "How do I advance my career." And we speak about that. We have a very disciplined orientation process. When people come to work, they go through an orientation. We start from day one asking them to participate and take the lead in their learning process.
Eric: Mentorship is very dependent on the relationship between the two people. Have you ever had situations where two people just don't click and you've had to switch through their mentors?
Rob Burton: Oh yeah, that happens all the time.
Eric: Does it?
Rob Burton: Yeah. I'll tell you a great story that I'm overstepping my bounds a little bit to tell this but I think I'll get some grace from the person I'm talking about. But we believe in mentoring so much. There's a program called ''Cristo Rey.'' It's a Catholic program, a Catholic school that focuses on getting their high school students in the job field, and it's Holy Family Cristo Rey. And we had a young man who came into the office very shy, very quiet, maybe felt like he didn't fit in here. And one of our Vice-Presidents noticed that and said, ''You know, this isn't gonna work unless you have a mentor. You know, you can't just put them in the office and then hope they learn something. Somebody's gotta help him.''
So he took it on himself and began to mentor this young man. And the next thing you know, I mean, they have a deep relationship. And he worked with him through high school then he ends up actually helping him go to college and get a degree. And the young man goes to college and now works for Hoar. And he's got a bright future because somebody took an interest in him. You're right, it absolutely is hard to be a good mentor.
Eric: So tell us about some of your mentors at Hoar. Who do you think influenced you the most moving up the company?
Rob Burton: Well, we've already talked about my father and he had the opportunity to do that so often, and what I love so much about him is he wanted to be with me. He gave me a lot of time and it didn't matter what it was, but he really always made me feel loved because he wanted to be with me. You know, that was a wonderful thing that you can't compare or can't compete with. But in the office, you know, there were men who at first I had either disagreed with their style or maybe we didn't click very well, but over time you just start learning to respect what they're doing and how they do it and how I wanted to learn from them. Bobby Keith being an example of that. Our styles were different. He was a very demanding, kind of in-your-face pushy person, you know, get things done with a sense of urgency right now. He was quick to want to tell you how to do it and that didn't sit well with me. But what I learned is Bobby taught me that there's always a better way to do things and you better stop and think about it or you'll just keep doing what you've always done. And, you know, a sense of urgency in the construction industry is vital. And everything is about time and money and scheduling deadlines and anything you can get done now is a whole lot better than getting it done later. So those kind of lessons come hard sometimes. And so, my, you know, maybe is pushing you in an uncomfortable way or demanding more of you or expecting more of you, that's actually a compliment because I think you can do it. Well, at the moment you might be irritated, you look back later and go, ''You know, what if he hadn't done that, I wouldn't be where I am today.''
Eric: Yeah. So growing up with your dad in the company obviously family businesses there are a lot of great things that come along with them. We're in a family business, but there are also some struggles that come along. Did you ever have any major struggles or conflict between you and your dad?
Rob Burton: We had to get the rules straight early. One of the things that is a funny story was, you know, as families do, I had two older sisters and families often fight. And it wasn't uncommon that one of us to be irritated with the other, but one of my sisters had done something I was terribly irritated with and I had run by my father's home at lunch to pick something up. So I'm right out of college. My dad is on the phone with my sister and I guess they had been discussing what a bad person I had been.
Anyway, he kind of wags his finger at me and says, ''Come over here.'' And I walk over there and he says, ''You need to get on the phone and apologize to your sister.'' And I just turned and walked away. So I went down and got my stuff to walk back through. He's still on the phone. He says,'' Get over here.'' And he said, ''You need to get on the phone and apologize to your sister.'' And I said, ''I'm not sorry and I'm not I'm not apologizing, I'm going back to work.'' And he said, ''You get on the phone and apologize, or you're fired.'' And I said, ''Well, good, I'm fired.'' And I walked out. The next day I didn't go to work and he called me at home and said, ''Where are you?'' And I said, ''I'm looking for a job.'' And he said, ''What are you talking about?'' And I said, ''I've got an interview down in Mobile, Alabama and I'm going to look for a job.'' And he said, ''Get in here.'' I said, ''I'm not doing that.'' And he said, ''Please come in here and talk to me.''
And I went in there and we sat down over his desk and he said, ''What are you doing?'' I said, ''I'm not gonna live this way, you know, whether I'm right or whether I'm wrong, I'm not going to live in an environment where, you know, I have my life dictated to me over work.'' And he said, ''You're right. I'm sorry, we can't let the lines cross.'' And I said that, ''Work is work and family is family.'' And he said, ''You're right. I'm sorry.'' Then I said, ''All right, never mind. Forget it.'' And then we never had another problem.
Matt: Yeah. Those are tricky things that you have to iron out. And I think the longer you let it go without ironing that stuff out, the harder it becomes to get on the same page.
Rob Burton: Well, one of the fundamentals in life is being able to say I'm sorry and move on, right?
Eric: That's true.
Rob Burton: But we have a lot of families in our company that have worked together for a long time, brothers, husbands, wives. I mean there are a lot of family teams in this company, and I think they all figure out over time that we don't need to go home and talk about work and we don't need to come to the office and talk about what's bugging us at home.
Matt: Yep. We have a segment where we give you a topic and then you tell us whether you think the topic is overrated or underrated. Overrated or underrated, Charles Barkley is a social commentator.
Rob Burton: That's unfair. Overrated.
Eric: Overrated. Let's see, overrated, underrated, completing the Robert Trent Jones Trail.
Rob Burton: I think that's good. I think that's good. I think it's a well rated thing that people should try.
Matt: Have you played them all?
Rob Burton: No, I've played several. And there's quite a few of them that are absolutely beautiful. And some are average, but if you love golf, I mean, again, it's about getting outdoors in a beautiful environment with friends. How can you top that?
Eric: Yeah, that's true. Do you play golf on a regular basis?
Rob Burton: Not anymore. I do like golf and what I'm missing is the camaraderie, and as I said, then what a great way to do that.
Matt: Overrated or underrated, ''The Birmingham Barons.''
Rob Burton: They're underrated. That's a good program with good ownership. It is a fun experience. You know, baseball is not always about winning and losing in championships, it's just kind of an American pastime to go out and enjoy the park.
Matt: Did you go to games when Michael Jordan played there?
Rob Burton: Actually, I did. That was fun.
Matt: There're White Sox affiliate. So they're always bringing up news whenever guys are down there for a rehab center, whenever there's an upcoming prospect so we keep in touch with the "Birmingham Barons'' up here, too.
Rob Burton: Good.
Eric: That was a painful couple of years when we watched Michael Jordan play baseball. I mean we missed him on the balls.
Matt: What's your favorite restaurant in Birmingham?
Rob Burton: Hot and Hot Fish Club.
Eric: What kind of food is that?
Rob Burton: Oh, I don't know how to describe that. You know, it's an American Fair, he tries to take locals Southern style and put it into an elegant fair that is interesting and presented, you know, sort of an eclectic way. He's an excellent chef, he does a good job.
Eric: We will jump back to some questions about your work life a little bit. And if someone wants to get into an upper management position, what over achievements should they spend their time on? So what types of things do you think are really important for someone to focus on or learn to be in an upper management position?
Rob Burton: Reading, I think there's so much to learn. We're talking about our industry and, you know, the construction industry is full of highly technical issues. And what's interesting is the way we promote somebody who has excelled at a particular job which may have a singular focus like a superintendent or a project manager, but they've spent a lot of time being really good at that particular role that the next role has got accounting and legal and insurance and finance and managing people. So how do you plan and implement, motivate and manage a whole team of people to do what you used to do? You know, that's a different skill that isn't taught in college and is often taught wrong in the business. So you can read everything from just management books to Harvard business reviews what I did. I feel like I got an MBA from Harvard. I read every single magazine that came out. I tried to figure out a way to apply it. So you have to never stop learning and all of that takes extra effort after work. You know, you do your normal job and then you have to go learn how to do the job you want next.
Matt: Do you have a book or two that you've read in the last year that you would recommend?
Rob Burton: You know, within the last couple of years I haven't read a business book that I would recommend, but we do have a training program here that we call a leadership council that is a leadership development program that we think makes a big difference in that program. We have a combination of books. They're all required to read. So John Maxwell leadership books. The very first book that they have to read is The Book of Proverbs out of the Bible. And we teach that and we encourage lots of reading all around, you know, the 21 laws of leadership. We combine a lot of reading, a lot of classes, a lot, you know, a few lectures from travel. But we have a two-year program for about 8 or 10 people that earn the right to be in that program, and reading is a huge piece of it.
Eric: We noticed that you guys have a chaplain on staff, going back to the Book of Proverbs. How did that come about? When did that get started? Was that something you started or was that something your dad started or has that always been part of Hoar?
Rob Burton: No, that wasn't always a part of Hoar, it was something that I started and it's actually been done in a couple of different ways. There are a lot of things you run into that are unexpected. I've had people call me about their marriages, I've had people call me about their family issues and some unbelievable issues that I was not qualified to counsel them. And all I tried and I loved them and I cared and I did the best I could. I always knew I was over my head. I wasn't the right person for them to talk to and I always tried to get them to get the right help. Just giving our employees avenues to where they can get the help they need, everybody is human and everybody has problems in life and not everybody wants to, you know, let you know I have a problem. We try to provide a lot of different avenues where people can go and seek help.
We went through a program that was that I contracted chaplaincy all over the country. So every division and every job site had access to multiple chaplains. It's called Marketplace Chaplains and anybody can sign up with that group. You pay a fee and they'll connect with you all over the country with a network of chaplains. And that was what I thought worked the best. Truth is it's a very hard thing to do because people still, you know, their faith is personal and they, you know, they want to connect with who they want to connect with, it's not necessarily just because you got someone standing in the lobby.
Eric: Yeah. Yeah. Do you feel that gets utilized by your employees quite a bit?
Rob Burton: Not anymore. We found it was about a 50/50. We did surveys for many, many years about it trying to make sure that we did what the people wanted us to do, not just what I wanted to do. And so, we stopped that program because it was 50/50. That was, some people liked it and some people didn't, and we decided it was unfair to push it out there if there was enough people that just didn't use it or didn't want it. But we do provide avenues to where they can connect with other chaplaincies and I can connect through… We have a program called Ceridian and they can get online, they can quickly find the phone number and get free counseling if they need it.
Eric: With offices in different locations, how do you maintain a similar culture in those offices than you do in your home office?
Rob Burton: Well, we've worked really hard at that. And I think that's vital and I would say that's…not every company is good at that. Each office can end up being like a different company. So it starts with the way we hire people. Again, we have orientation and we explain how people, you know, should act at Hoar and that goes where you teach in great detail what we call our core values and then we preach that all the time. And so, we're starting with a base level of hiring people that we think think like us and want to be the kind of company we are and then we have leadership that has grown up. Most of the leaders of all of our divisions are, with one exception, have had 20-year careers here at Hoar. So that is important to the culture.
Eric: How did you go about developing your core values for Hoar?
Rob Burton: We spent about three days, kind of, locked away in a room with the executives at that time. It was in about 2000, I think maybe 2001. We all sat around with a moderator who, you know, and we just kept talking about what's important to us, and, you know, what did we want to be about. And we each wrote a news article. It was one of the exercises of, you know, 20 years from now what would you want people to write in a news article about our company. And so, we each wrote that article and then we each read them and then we each talked about what that meant. And what was interesting was we didn't focus on, you know, money or growth or profit. And we focused on, you know, who we wanna be and how we wanna act.
After that exercise we decided on four core values and then we decided we were not going to just have that as a sticker on the wall. So we spent about three months. Each of us wrote a definition to what that core value meant. So for example, something simple, the golden rule, everybody knows the golden rule, right? But now what does it really mean to you and to others and how do we treat people the way you want to be treated? Everybody might have a different answer to that. We dove deeply into the definitions of respecting others. And that worked really well for, so golden rule, family-oriented, relentless pursuit of improvement. You know these things all came out as our core value.
Matt: So we got a couple other just kind of like lifestyle rapid fire questions. What's your favorite shotgun?
Rob Burton: I don't own my favorite shotgun, it's too expensive.
Matt: Okay, so what's the dream shotgun and what's the favorite that you own?
Rob Burton: You know, there's all these great European handmade shotguns that would be, you know, wonderful to own and collect and scrape. It's like jewelry, I guess. You know, I shoot at over and under 14 Beretta.
Matt: Okay. Very nice. I shoot at over under Silver Pigeon II Berretta.
Rob Burton: Most important is that you have a gun that fits, it doesn't matter at all. Every one of them will work if it fits and you like it.
Matt: So how many hours a night do you sleep?
Rob Burton: Well, I've learned my lesson, sleep is important. For years I thought it was overrated as you say. But, you know, I'm probably about six to eight hours now. You know, in my past I took pride in the fact that I could work all night long and all I needed was two or three hours.
Eric: Oh, man.
Matt: At what age did you do that till?
Rob Burton: Most of my life.
Matt: Is that right?
Rob Burton: Yeah, and it's probably the last five years that I really started realizing that that is not good for you.
Matt: Do you get a workout regime?
Rob Burton: Usually, I would try to go at lunch and that's difficult for me. But I have a trainer I met with and try to go three days a week and then on weekends we easily work a lot or on vacation maybe go on a hike.
Eric: I'm walking through the hunting field.
Rob Burton: Well, it's not always hunting, but even in the summer I'll take a walk in the national forest or I'll walk around the farm. I love getting out walking.
Matt: Do you have a favorite website that you check every morning?
Rob Burton: I wouldn't call it favorite, but I get my news from the ''New York Times'' and so every day I'll check the Times or the Journal and go through those.
Matt: Do you have a favorite quote that you have like in your office?
Rob Burton: Like I said, there's a lot of great quotes and proverbs, but they…one of the ones that I remember actually it was a friend of mine had it on his desk and it was a little plaque that said ''Poor results plus excuses do not equal good results.''
Matt: Got a favorite movie you would recommend in the past couple of years?
Rob Burton: I recently watched the series on Vietnam ''The Ken Burns series'' that's been on public. It's about a 10-hour commitment I think but very well done deep history lesson on what happened in Vietnam starting in 1850, very well done.
Matt: Yeah, he tends to make really good, really long stuff.
Rob Burton: Yeah, they're always long, but, you know, that's a long topic that deserved more. If people understood history, they might not have repeated the same mistakes.
Eric: Yeah.
Matt: Yeah. What's something that you think you believe that few others do? Like, I thought that is contrary to popular opinion.
Rob Burton: Well, I'm considered a conservative person, yet I'm not opposed to raising my taxes. I think what's interesting about that whole debate is just that we've had two wars and a great recession, and those are hard bullets and hard missiles and we lose sight on the fact that it's our country and I have to pay for it. I think we need some middle ground in America these days to where you find the right way to balance. And it's just so frustrating that people can't find middle ground and agree to compromise because there is an answer.
When the construction industry is a fantastic industry that is always fine, always changing, always interesting. You can build an office building out in the suburb, and you could build the exact same building next door literally, the exact same building and it will not be the same experience. It will be different, you'll have different problems, different issues, different team members. And it is just an ever-changing industry that is in desperate need of some revolution. It's still a very old fashion industry that in many ways is siloed and we like to say that it's a broken industry that needs repair and we want to be a part of the fix. We're having a lot of fun trying to revolutionize how buildings will get built in the future and we're thinking that through. So it's a great industry you can get into in many different angles, many different ways, and you can make a big difference while being in a part of a fun team. So I highly encourage people to be a part of it.
Eric: Yep.
Matt: There's a certain kind of building more exciting for you to build or is it just the teamwork and the process in general that is a fun and exciting?
Rob Burton: Our industry is kind of wrought with people who have big egos and wanna point to the big buildings I built, you know? So it's always fun for…and every single person in our industry who likes to drop by and say, ''Gee, look at that, we built that.'' So yeah, it's a lot of fun for us to say we built, you know, the Rock n Roller Coaster for Disney. Those kind of things are really cool and we do get involved with fun, emotional projects like Children's Hospital in Alabama where it's a beautiful building that changes the landscape, but it has a huge impact on the lives of children. You get to learn a lot about different industries, you get to be a part of, you know, but my father built a Coca-Cola bottling plant. And I remember being in the plant as a young man and seeing how glass was made. I thought that was really neat. So and we built an Airbus facility where they assemble commercial airplanes, the airliners. Well, it's fascinating to learn and to see how all that is done. The other day the process of building, and it's usually pretty similar.
Matt: Yeah. That's great. Thank you very much for your time.
Eric: Yeah, we really appreciate it.
Eric: Thanks for listening to Conversations Around the Corner produced by Wallprotex, the designer and manufacturer of wall protection products for health care, hospitality or any commercial building. Be sure to subscribe In iTunes or Stitcher and tune in next week where we will have another Conversation Around the Corner.