The Penultimate Letter

Doug Bellamy / June 2016

What follows is the 23rd letter in a series of 24 letters supposedly written by an owner (Jack Owployer) in response to a general superintendent’s (Joe Gensup) request for something more than the typical job description. Though the company had provided a generic job description, what the superintendent needed and received was much more personal and heartfelt when compared to the sterile notion of do’s and don’ts so commonly emphasized throughout our industry.

Dear Joe:

For the 23rd time I’m asking for your undivided attention. Listen up! After reading this, expect one final letter and, at least for the time being, I will go dark. And yes, I’m leaving you to ponder two full years of letters and years of interaction into which I passionately poured out my heart and soul, not to mention advise based on nearly a half century of experience.
    
My intention? Simple! Determination to position you as well as possible for the road ahead. Consider this a passing of the baton as we transition into the never-ending drywall marathon. To put it more fondly: Me, doing my best for you and the business we have both come to love. So then, are you up for it? If not, get with it! Let’s do this together, just like we always have.
    
Getting back to business and continuing with my allegory concerning Mount Rushmore, my hope is that going forward, whenever you hear the words “Mount Rushmore” or see those presidential faces etched into the granite of the black hills, you will be reminded of the relevance they portray, the example to those of us who build, erect, install the interior and leave behind nothing less than a completely finished habitat—for humanity. Yes, we are the people, those of us responsible for project after project in the seemingly endless collage and vast array of edifice after edifice that make up our careers.
    
As I personally look back I see more than 60,000 residences, not to mention numerous commercial projects. I’m proud to say most of them were completed on time, with carefully preserved profit. Oh, yes, we lost some money at times—serious money. But when it comes to the big picture, we did just fine. How will you do now that you are on your own? That remains to be seen, doesn’t it?
    
It is said that when it comes to construction, everything costs more and takes longer than originally anticipated. Overall, we, my compadres and colleagues, you were one, were the exception. So then, Joe, that is history and business keeps begging the relentless question, “What have you done for me lately?” and the following statement: “You are only as good your last job.”
    
Let me take it a step further. What is your intention going forward, once I’m out of the picture? Will you be able to claim a similar epitaph? What will be carved on your drywall tombstone?
    
When it comes to delay and dollars, Mount Rushmore was not the exception. The project took nearly three times longer than planned and cost more than double the original budget. All too typical when it comes to the nearly constant common denominator of project and project being late and over budget in the construction world.
    
Nevertheless, consider the scope of Rushmore: the undertaking, its uniqueness, its vison, the removal of more than 800 tons of granite, the unavoidable stops and starts of the project for reason after reason, the remarkable detail of finished product and the results of a nearly timeless project, resulting in the remarkable exactness of each likeness, resulting in the largest sculpture ever, one that scientists predict will be distinguishable despite the ravages of mother nature for the next 100,000 years. I’m going to have to give the project an A. Maybe even an A-plus.
    
Yes, it was subject to delay after delay, discouragement about the endeavor that some found laughable. Weather at times was 20 below zero. The lack of funds and problems necessitated radical changes in the original design and blowing up months of work. Employee turnover, unskilled labor. Years and years of struggle, followed by the death of Gutzon Borglum and the necessity of Lincoln Borglum stepping in to finish his father’s much loved and final project. To say Rushmore was noteworthy is an understatement.
    
Having said that, I’m going to ask you again, and it won’t be the last time. Are you erecting a monument, or are you content to simply live with a rock? Joe? I’m talking to you.
    
We contractors could learn a thing or two from Gutzon Borglum. The controversial artist with piercing eyes and the determination of an emphatic visionary, turned sculptor who turned a rock—better yet, a mountainside—into a monument that we’re still talking about and millions visit every year.
    
I’ve got plenty more allegorical last words for you when it comes to Rushmore, and only one more letter to do it! I better get busy.

—Jack

Doug Bellamy is former president of Innovative Drywall Systems Inc. dba Alta Drywall, Escondido, Calif. He is available for consultation, business management seminars and training. Visit him on LinkedIn or contact him at doug@altadrywall.com.