Windburned face, calloused hands and a smile that breaks out guardedly. George Givens looks the part of a no-nonsense construction superintendent. It’s when you spend time with him you understand there’s more. There is a Zen-like intuition, a diplomatic reserve, and a straight-shooting approach to life that owners and contractors grow to appreciate.
Having just finished building the Thomas S. Perakos Arts and Community Center at The Gunnery in Washington, with O&G Project Manager Stuart Wiley, he is returning to Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, this time with Wiley, to begin his second extensive building renovation there. They’ll be enlarging and modernizing the “Main building” which is Porter’s historic, brick-and-column signature structure fronting Main Street. The contract requires it all be done in ten months. Learning the schedule he must meet, and how the scope of work had even grown some since he’d reviewed the available drawings, Givens’ reply was vintage understatement: “Wow.”
Believing that he can build anything, and build it faster and better, is his trademark. “I can set the pace better than anyone,” he says, matter- of-factly. That’s how, employed by a smaller contractor, he was made a superintendent at age 23. And although he was trained as a carpenter, over the next twenty-plus years the company encouraged him to operate equipment, excavate, frame, plumb, trim and pour concrete “with a very good level of quality.” He knows how things should be built, which isn’t the same as claiming to know everything. While many superintendents are rightly satisfied driving manpower – that’s their job – Givens still wants to know more. “George doesn’t want to be stagnant,” Wiley has learned. “He pushes himself to ask and understand the science or the process behind something that’s new to him.”
Givens the man is constructed on an old-school foundation. He grew up an Army brat. Born in Kentucky, raised in Texas and Germany, his early immersion in “a life of military rank and file” defined his character and modeled the discipline he brings to work. He recalls it as “a good solid structure.” That same character and discipline transformed him from a green arm wrestler everyone wanted to take on in the late ‘70s, into the U.S. middle-weight arm wrestling champion wrestlers avoided, reigning for eight consecutive years. On the job, today, his character and discipline translate into accountability, managing a project like it’s his own investment, communicating honestly, sacrificing personal time when a project requires it, and not walking away until a job is 100 percent done.
Consider this. Almost immediately after O&G set up at Miss Porter’s in 2015 to renovate an historic gristmill into their new admissions offices, a significant issue with the site’s zoning compliance arose. It threatened not just to delay the work but just as critically it threatened to discolor the working relationship between Miss Porter’s and the O&G-led team. Superintendent Givens was right on it, and once the issue was on its way to resolution, he scheduled a sit-down with Michael Bergin, the school’s CFO/COO. “I wanted him to know exactly what went wrong. I wanted him to know that he didn’t have to doubt that I’m giving him 110 percent. That fifteen-minute meeting with Mr. Bergin changed everything.” The two became friends.
Trust is something you gain and are not handed, he understands. “It’s a very bad feeling that anyone would think less of me.” Building for Givens is nuts and bolts but it’s also relationship and it’s a very personal thing.