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Houston’s Uniqueness – Pass It On

The following article originally appeared in the December newsletter to clients of FMI Corporation.  Reprinted with permission.

The city of Houston received very favorable national profiling in the immediate aftermath of Harvey. The nation watched as diverse citizens melded together to become one force – humanitarian Houstonians, “their brother’s keeper.” Everyone dealt with each other with elevated appreciation, respect and pride, which fueled the Astros baseball team to their World Series win.

Harvey catalyzed and focused this spirit for a few special weeks, but these qualities of appreciation, respect, and pride have underpinned the commercial construction industry in Houston for well over 100 years. Houston contractors, both general and specialty, along with the supplier and service firms, have preferred to do business with one another as they have built the support facilities for Houston’s four dynamic industries: energy, medical, NASA, and the port of Houston. The local industry participants have developed the capacity to build any type of project. They have been perpetual learning organizations, so they can continue to build innovative structures demanded by the global organizations based in Houston. Owners and developers recognize that they get world-class competitive value. Rarely has it been necessary to go outside of Houston’s deep and competent pool.

Consequently, these local parties work with each other frequently, and, over the years, people have built deep relationships, many of them true friendships. This has created a defined and palpable culture among the parties to the construction process in the Houston area. FMI defines culture as, “who we are and how we behave.” The Houston commercial building community would respond, “We are a group of industry participants who play our roles with world-class competencies. We behave with candor, courtesy and civility.” Every firm has pride in its people, its processes, and the projects. Each also has pride in its building partners. This mutual pride promotes highly ethical standards; people treat each other as respectful partners and friends.

The validation of this respectful culture is best seen in examples of companies, headquartered in other cities, that open offices here. If they honor this local culture and play by the “rules of the local game,” they thrive and prosper. There are many examples. Conversely, there are firms that came in with arrogant and superior attitudes, treating local firms as subservient and stupid, dealing with people rudely and demeaning them. Most, gratefully, have been one-job wonders. They have been sent packing with wounded hubris and lighter wallets.

This culture gives Houston a uniqueness, a positive differentiator. This construction market appears to be an oasis of civility, of character-based behavior among participants. It provides optimism and hope in the sea of pettiness visible everywhere. The key now is to preserve it as the baby boomers who model It retire and a new generation takes the leadership oars. Leaders, who will pass the baton, need to make certain their successors have a demonstrated history of honoring this local code and a commitment to maintain and strengthen it moving forward. It is the best legacy they can leave!