August 6, 2020
Editor's Note: This post was updated on Sept.15, 2020.
"The only thing to expect is the unexpected" has become the go-to line. Life looks different today than it did six months ago, much less 30 years ago when DPR Construction was founded. But celebrating an anniversary on the heels of a global inflection point is fitting for a company that has aimed to disrupt the industry since its inception.
“Looking back on what DPR has weathered is helping us move forward to achieve our mission of being a most admired company,” said George Pfeffer, member of DPR’s Management Committee. “If you focus on taking care of people and developing a strong organization to support them, you can continue to deliver great results.”
Starting a construction company in the fluctuating market of 1990 might've been buoyed by the pure confidence of founders Doug Woods, Peter Nosler and Ron Davidowski (the D, P and R), but navigating multiple ups and downs since can be chalked up to more than tenacity; something is working here. The last three decades have taught DPR more than a few lessons that continue to shape its business, culture and people.
Doing Things Differently
“When we started DPR, we wanted to be a customer-focused organization," said Woods. "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.”
DPR's first decade in business, what it now calls the “Decade of Development” (1990-2000), focused on building an entrepreneurial and innovative culture and empowering employees. It paid off with great success and accolades. DPR harnessed the rising semiconductor industry that was powering 1990s globalization to quickly establish itself as a competitive contractor. Its first semiconductor fabrication facility was awarded in 1994; a $43 million wafer fabrication project for Rockwell International completed in just six months. By the end of the decade, DPR had upwards of $2 billion in revenue and was quickly expanding operations across the country.
The next two decades marked a critical shift in DPR's approach to winning work and taking care of people. The dot.com bust and financial crisis bookending the 2000s necessitated strategic evaluations for taking on new work; spurred greater understanding of DPR's core customer markets; and underlined the importance of supporting the community. There were some hard pills to swallow: revenue shrinkage, office closures and the great recession among them. In reacting to the factors outside of its control, the company learned that a culture of discipline was needed to support its entrepreneurial spirit.
From 2010-2019, DPR shifted its aim from market dominance to positioning itself as a transformative entity in an industry traditionally slow to change. Part of that evolution was internal: instituting leadership transitions and hiring and development practices to provide leadership opportunities for more people. The organization also transformed to a collective "team of teams" approach, resulting in integrated regional business units to help identify and scale areas of excellence.
A Fully Integrated Business
No fewer than four inflection points later, DPR has a bench of experience to draw on as it enters the next 10 years, what it aptly calls its “Decade of Strategic Growth” on its way to Mission 2030. Now ranked among the top general contractors by ENR, and with about 8,000 employees worldwide, DPR has some scale to throw behind its efforts to optimize, innovate and change the world.
“Revenue and size are outcomes, or lagging indicators, of the strategic actions we take,” said Pfeffer. “As we move into our decade of strategic growth, we remain focused on hiring, inspiring, developing and growing the best people, operational excellence and delivering great results every time.”
Increasing alignment within its team of teams has translated to more predictable outcomes for DPR customers and partners. Looking at the integrated project lifecycle end-to-end is leading to an evolution of better workflows. Workflows enabled by technology and data bear out efficiencies in execution through virtual design and construction, increased prefabrication, and the capability to self-perform work.
Taking Care of People
"If you let people do the right things,and do what they're good at,good things will happen,” said Davidowski.
DPR prioritizes a well-rounded, supportive employee experience to enable the delivery of predictable outcomes across its enterprise. It’s a sentiment expressed in the company’s two central beliefs: Respect for the individual and change the world.
“Respect for the individual means that we trust and care about each other and our customers, and how we interact with others,” said Jody Quinton, member of DPR’s Management Committee. "Changing the world boils down to believing that what we do and how we do it truly matters, and that we’re always inspired to make a difference.”
These beliefs create alignment and foster a willingness to keep pushing forward. As the economic and social landscapes continue to evolve, DPR, like many companies, is looking deeper into Global Social Responsibility and its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) practices. These are rooted in the idea that when employees are engaged, seen and heard, they’re more productive. In a company that runs on teamwork, diversity fuels understanding and communication, thereby strengthening trust in each other.
Although far from complete, DPR’s DEI journey thus far has included recasting partnership agreements to reflect diversity best practices, hiring new leadership to increase diversity in its supply chain, expanding its college recruitment portfolio, and breaking bias training.
“Having a work force that matches the customers we build for and the communities where we build is about social responsibility, but it’s also about getting results,” said Mark Whitson of DPR’s Management Committee. “Having a diverse group of people who feel included and can bring their whole selves to work changes the way we build. Having a diverse set of opinions and a diverse set of backgrounds allows us to make better decisions and explore new ways of doing things.”
Building Raving Fans
Where construction has been mostly focused on the transaction of getting work done at a good price, DPR’s dedication to collaboration both inside and outside its organization might feel against the grain. But that’s why it works.
“From day one we were really determined that every client we had would be a raving fan,” said Nosler. “Not just in the sense that we did a good job, and that they liked us, but also that they would tell their spouses and their neighbors, ‘Hey, we have this fantastic company that helped us build this wonderful project.’ That’s what we want."
DPR’s model highlights something inherent to the industry: Construction is a people business. By providing a cultural foundation focused on people, aligned by common goals and a commitment to operational excellence, DPR creates an environment that encourages people to be their best selves. Diversifying its business lines and workforce has brought new perspectives and approaches.The efficiencies and innovations gained as a result of a highly collaborative workflow lead to more predictable outcomes on projects. Put that all together, and the result is a blueprint for transforming the industry and delivering great results, every time.
“Everything we do adds up to two simple things: build great projects that create raving fans,” said Mike Humphrey of DPR’s Management Committee.