A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Immigrant Construction Workers – A Proud Industry Heritage

The following article originally appeared in the November newsletter to clients of Kiley Advisors, LLC.  Reprinted with permission.

Recently, I participated in a panel discussion for the Houston AGC Construction Leadership Council (CLC), the future stars of our industry.  The three panelists were Howard Tellepsen, Stan Marek, and Charlie Nelson – three legendary figures in the Houston construction community.  My privileged job was to interview them, using questions provided by the CLC members.

They shared their experience and their insights into success and leadership; you could not pick three better models of “best in class.”  Howard and Stan, as company owners [of Tellepsen and MAREK], represent outstanding examples of leading extremely successful companies while giving their time, talent and treasure to the industry and to the community, in amazing amounts.  Charlie, a senior vice-president with Gilbane Building Company, is an iconic and revered field leader.  These three men share common traits: humility, authenticity and deep faith.  They have built their company’s cultures and their lives on strongly-held values.  The CLC group was moved by their comments, along with the genuine caring, and passionate commitment evident in all these successful men.

These three men have something else in common: Their companies all have their roots and strong foundations from men who immigrated to the United States to create a better life for their families.  All the originators were carpenters: Tom Tellepsen from Norway; Joseph Marek from Czechoslovakia, and Tom Gilbane from Ireland.  Each seeded their heirs and their companies with values – faith, family, hard work, service to others – which provided a strong foundation, one that has given these organizations continuity and prosperity in both abundant and scarce markets for multiple generations, and will do so moving forward.

There are many other examples in our midst too.  Warren Bellows came from Canada; Edmond Fretz, Bob’s grandfather and founder of Fretz Construction, was from Alsace-Lorraine; The Longos and the Cangelosis came from Italy.  All started multigenerational, highly respected companies.

Our construction industry has always needed legal access to immigrants, never more so than today.  We all need to rally behind the efforts to obtain some legal status for those here now and those we need to bring tomorrow.  Immigrants make outstanding citizens, in most cases, and build organizations that prosper, continuously create jobs and make our industry stand very tall. 

It is a proud heritage!

Let’s be proud of each other!