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The Consummate General Contractor

Don PepoonSeveral years ago I referred to my father as the consummate general contractor in a submission to Engineering News-Record. When he saw the article he initially thought I was making fun of him until my mother – the English Major – explained to him what “consummate” means. In case you are like my dad, it means “being of the highest or most extreme degree”.

Dad started his career in the early 1950s as a civil engineer working for Black & Veatch in Kansas City, MO. Today, Black & Veatch has over 8,000 employees but in those days the firm was small enough to know everyone working there. A few years later he moved to Paola, Kansas to work for a building contractor but quickly realized his employer was not exactly the most knowledgeable contractor, even in southeast Kansas!

But two gentlemen who owned a civil construction company in Paola were impressed enough with my father to help him launch a new building construction firm. They called the firm Triangle Builders because there were three partners but my dad was solely responsible for running the company on a day-to-day basis. In the 1970s he bought out his partners with plans to pass on his company to his three sons.

There are a lot of reasons why my dad deserves such high praise as a general contractor but the best story starts in Fort Scott, KS. In 1965 the National Park Service provided funding to the City of Fort Scott to rebuild its historic frontier fort. This fort was originally constructed around 1850 when Kansas was still a territory of the United States. In the late 1960s my dad submitted a bid for the first building to be reconstructed.

My father was a very precise estimator who left nothing to chance. If he recognized a risk he would figure out a way to quantify (i.e. price) the risk in his bid. And historic Fort Scott presented a lot of risks. Dad had never rebuilt anything historic before. The stone used in the construction had to be sourced locally and any exposed construction had to use the type of joinery available in the mid 1850s. Triangle Builders had built larger projects but perhaps nothing as complex as this reconstruction.

When the bids were opened Triangle Builders was the low bidder by a significant margin. The City of Fort Scott was so concerned about the bid disparity that they made an unprecedented offer: Triangle Builders could withdraw its bid with no ramifications. As many of you know, contractors typically must submit a 10% bid bond with their bids to guarantee they will not try to withdraw their bids. And this project likewise required a bid bond.

My dad went back and checked his estimate again to make sure there were no mistakes. Satisfied that his bid was solid, he signed a contract with the City of Fort Scott. Triangle Builders had an excellent superintendent on the project and my dad monitored the project closely from his end. When the project was over my dad realized he had made more profit than expected.

This is where the story should end. Triangle Builders took a risk by signing a contract that even the project’s owner thought was ill-advised. Certainly the City of Fort Scott would not have known how much profit my dad made on the project, and had Triangle Builders lost money on the project well, too bad. But here is what my dad did: he mailed a check to the City of Fort Scott for what he thought was the excess profit on the project.

When I was a kid I sometimes received used presents on Christmas because my parents had everything wrapped up in their construction company and the early years were a struggle. And here my dad is giving back money to the City of Fort Scott that rightfully belonged to him. But that was not the point and my dad felt better doing what he considered to be the right thing. I have been involved in the construction industry for 31 years and have never heard of any contractor voluntarily sharing profits with the owner.

Dad died on March 8, 2015. I told this story about him at the funeral. I was really struggling with my emotions that day but when I got to the part about my dad sending a check to the City of Fort Scott, everyone started laughing. Classic Don Pepoon! I felt much better after that but he will always be missed. We need more people like him in this world.