To truly understand the DPR culture is to know the history. The people behind the name. The passion for better serving customers and building complex projects with a strong sense of purpose and value. The desire to continuously be the best and drive an industry forward, doing what others believe simply cannot be done.
The DPR story begins in July of 1990. Doug Woods, Peter Nosler and Ron Davidowski, the D, the P and the R, made one of the best business decisions of their lives and started their own company. Armed with $750,000 of pooled resources and a steadfast determination, the three construction veterans set out to do something different in an industry traditionally resistant to change.
“At the time, most people thought of construction as more like a manufacturing type business,” said Peter. “It’s not; it’s a service business.”
“When we started DPR, we wanted to be a customer-focused organization,” said Doug. “We’re not a hard bid general contractor; we’re a negotiating general contractor that takes care of our customers. To do that, we need great people, who are happy and willing to work hard. That’s one of the things that started us, making us different from the very beginning.”
“Our distinct purpose of building great things and the core values we dialed in on [integrity, enjoyment, uniqueness, ever forward] emulate the way we like to work and we like to live and transcend into the way we do business, again doing something different in an industry that has not always had a reputation for integrity and doing things right the first time,” said Ron.
Then and Now - Building Great Things
DPR started its first year with a total of 11 professionals. In addition to “D, P and R,” the original crew included Sandy Grayson, Michele Leiva, Eric Lamb, Peter Salvati, Jim Washburn, Mark Bartley, Brad Des Jardin and Jim Dolen—seven of whom are still with the company today. Much like the hundreds of projects DPR has completed over the years, the company has grown at a breakneck pace, with regional offices established in nearly every major technology center in the U.S. that serve customers throughout the nation. DPR also reached the $1 billion mark in less than 10 years since its founding. Since 1997, it has continued to rank in the top 50 general contractors in the country. In 2013, it reached $2.5 billion.
When asked what he considered to be the most successful moment at DPR, Doug answered, “We’ve had a lot of great successes, but I can’t think of one defining moment, because we’re not done yet. As the company continues to move forward, new opportunities constantly arise. One way we measure success, however, is by not letting employees down and keeping people within the company challenged and moving up.”
DPR exists to build great things with integrity, enjoyment, uniqueness, ever forward, and the right people have been, and always will be, the foundation of DPR.
“There are many spectacular stories of individuals, who after coming to work here found out their true capabilities,” said Peter. “Several people have gone from pounding nails on a jobsite to becoming integral members of the management team. This represents success, as one underlying concept from the very beginning was to build an entrepreneurial organization, where people can continuously grow.”
First Customers - Building Great Long-Standing Relationships
DPR’s first pure contractor job was a $4.5 million, six-month tenant improvement project for Argo Systems in Sunnyvale, CA, where DPR was selected from among four or five other competitors.
“I remember sitting at my desk when we got the call,” said Peter. “We had been doing some consulting work, estimating, early on, but our first real customer in terms of being a builder was Argo. Those were difficult times. We were just learning to live with one another, and when there’s no money coming through the door, it’s pretty stressful.” All three consider the Argo project, which included core build-out of the elevator and bathroom areas, lobby finish, and electrical and HVAC systems for the shell, to be one of the company’s first major milestones.
“Shortly after we started the company, a recession hit, and the work just seemed to disappear overnight,” said Doug. “Before the Argo job, I would wake up at night in a cold sweat wondering how we were going to pay people, but more than that, people had trusted Peter, Ron and me, so I just kept thinking, ‘we gotta come through.’ If we can just keep this going for five years, we can make it.”
In 1994, DPR landed a $43 million wafer fabrication project in Los Angeles for Rockwell International. The six-month, fast-track project represented the type of work the three founders had pictured for the company. “We wanted to be in technical construction,” said Ron. “We did not want to be a commodity but establish a niche to distinguish ourselves from other contractors.” The Rockwell project included building 17,500 sq. ft. of Class 1 cleanrooms, upgrading the existing central plant, installing specialty and bulk gas systems, and constructing a new bulk chemical building. DPR delivered the project ahead of schedule with fully functional cleanrooms in just four and a half months.
“Before Rockwell, DPR had never done a job that significant,” said Doug. “I think we were awarded the project because the client thought we sounded like the most fun to work with, and we were crazy enough to say ‘yeah, we could do it’ in the timeframe they wanted. We shoveled as fast and as hard as we could.”
The Rockwell job launched DPR into the next level of building technical facilities. Today, DPR is one of the nation’s leading general contractors and ranks among the top general contractors in the nation in its five core markets of advanced technology, healthcare, higher education, life sciences and corporate office. In addition, in 2013, DPR acquired Atlanta-based Hardin Construction, adding more than 200 builders throughout the Southeast and Texas.
Vision - Building a Truly Great Construction Company
A significant point in the history of DPR was a meeting in the spring of 1992 with Jim Collins, who was a Stanford professor at the time and now is a management consultant and best-selling author of “Built to Last” and “Good to Great.” Collins helped to identify and articulate the purpose and core values that continue to drive the company today.
“We defined our purpose and established our first company mission during that meeting,” said Peter. Doug added that, “To say we wanted to become a truly great construction company by the year 2000 was like a three-year-old saying that I want to graduate from college by the time I’m 10. We do set high goals, but with the people we have in place, we know we can reach every one of them.”
Ron felt positive that they could build a truly great company due to the network that each one of them had built and the individual skill sets they had developed. “In the very beginning, we were just three senior guys in one organization with a passion for building,” said Ron.
The “three senior guys” have learned a lot from each other over the years. Both Doug and Ron said that they have learned patience from Peter—how to slow down and listen and allow others to resolve issues on their own. Doug and Peter have learned how to have fun from Ron, along with the importance of building and maintaining relationships, which were particularly instrumental in the early days of DPR.
“It was Ron’s relationships with the bank and insurers that really got us through the initial phase, providing us with the financial base and bonding capacity we needed to compete against larger contractors,” said Peter.
From Doug comes the “audacious vision.” According to Peter and Ron, Doug is the one with the “believe it and it will happen” attitude, and Doug demands more from himself than anyone.
“You have to be the best at whatever you do,” said Doug. “Anything less than that is not good enough.”
In addition to Doug, Peter and Ron, DPR began its first year of operation (1990) with eight other professionals. The DPR “veterans” share some of their experiences:
Most Memorable Moments
“One late Friday evening, Doug, Peter, and Ron, joined me and Di, on the floor, assembling and stuffing envelopes with bid information to subcontractors.” — Sandy Grayson
“The award of the Argo job (DPR’s first competitive job) and receiving two separate regional Entrepreneur of the Year awards in 1994 and 1997.” — Eric Lamb
“When we reached $1 billion in revenue.” — Jim Dolen
“The last 10 years have been filled with countless moments that are all memorable — the White Oak job, the superior safety performance achieved on the job, when we added up our financials and hit a billion. Every day brings a new adventure.” — Peter Salvati
“I like working with the people DPR attracts. DPR wants people to unleash themselves from the restrictions that may have been instilled in them by other companies.” — Jim Washburn
“The people. In some ways it is like having an extended family. Being here from the beginning, there is a sense of pride that I have contributed to something that will last.” — Michele Leiva
“The people, the flexibility and the ability to try new things.” — Sandy Grayson