WHAT LESSONS HAVE WE LEARNED OVER THE LAST 112 YEARS?
Posted by Bruce W. Woolpert on Mar 18, 2015
When an organization extends over more than one hundred years, many opportunities arise to reflect on the achievement. I am often asked, “So what lessons are there from the last 112 years for you and Graniterock People?” It’s a good question.
My response has been to credit our founder, Arthur R. Wilson, with establishing a very solid foundation for the Company. He guided the Company from its founding on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1900, until his death in 1929. Although Wilson never wrote about his “management approach,” his actions spoke “louder than words.” His actions embodied three primary beliefs or values:
1. Respect the Customer. Graniterock’s earliest construction contracts provided the owner with a guarantee of quality construction materials and workmanship. Even in sparsely populated California at the time, Wilson knew that reputation would be important to a Company’s longevity. Many of the buildings and roads that Graniterock built are still in use today. An example is the eight-story office building at Second and Mission Streets in San Francisco, which once housed the headquarters of Wells Fargo Express (the stagecoach people) and the California Supreme Court. Today, Wilson’s approach is embodied in our “Short Pay Guarantee” and the “Yes, we will” standard of customer care. Graniterock customers are encouraged to “pay an invoice short” if they are dissatisfied with any product or service provided by the Company. Customers should pay us only what we’ve earned.
2. Expect and Move Forward Innovations in Materials and Construction. When Wilson first opened the A. R. Wilson Quarry, rock could be made in only two sizes: 6”-and-larger and 6”-and-smaller. With each technological innovation, Wilson would increase capacity (reducing the amount of hand labor) and develop new aggregate product sizes. He knew that you couldn’t construct a good road with a layer of 6” rock. Later, Graniterock opened the first hot mix asphalt plant and central mix concrete plant in California in order to transform those smaller rock sizes into a finished construction material. To Wilson, rock wasn’t something ordinary or uninteresting. With ingenuity, it could be transformed into products that would serve society and commerce better. Wilson also assembled the first “concrete paving train” to build Highway 129; the moving caravan mixed and placed concrete in a single pass. Today, Graniterock continues to innovate with new mix design approaches to support the weight of fully loaded Boeing 747-400 and Airbus 380 aircraft, new formulations of concrete sands which pump and finish better than ever, and by creating state-of-the-art technology in every aspect of our business.
3. Respect People as Friends and Family. Wilson lived in accordance with the assumption that other people are worthy and good, and people are happiest when they stand on their own two feet. He strongly supported and encouraged people’s hopes and dreams, but rejected business approaches which encouraged psychological dependency. He let children in Aromas borrow his horse, Dynamite, from the Quarry but the expectation was that the horse would be well treated. When Graniterock People faced personal emergencies, he’d help with financial or other support but would not dictate “what other people should or should not do.” Today, Graniterock operates as a single team of people; everyone is responsible for his or her work as well as improving the way work is done. Company support comes in the form of educational support and training opportunities but it is up to individuals to decide which training is needed or would be helpful.
When Wilson founded Graniterock, he anticipated that the business would last fifty years (longer than the average life expectancy in those years) and gave future generations much latitude in the directions the business might go. While Wilson also believed in service to the community and other significant values, the three areas above are probably why Graniterock didn’t cease doing business in its early years. In the first three decades, Wilson’s company endured such major events as the collapse of the main crushing plant in the 1906 Earthquake (soon after it had been constructed) or the long, arduous Great Depression.
At 112 years old in February, Graniterock still has many of its original relationships intact. The Union Pacific Railroad (the successor to the Southern Pacific and Wilson’s first customer) is still a customer today as are some noteworthy building contractors who have done business with us for fifty or more years.
History is a powerful teacher and, during the last several months, Graniterock People and I have been doing more of that learning than usual. The lessons of the past teach us to work hard, expect to work harder and smarter, and always respect customers and encourage technological advancement for something as “ordinary as rock.” I have complete confidence that today’s Graniterock Team, comprised of both men and women, possess the talents needed to ensure Graniterock’s success through its second century.
Back to all Blogs