Volume 38, Issue 7, July 2003
Hale, Hale, Hale
Don Haley Shares
his Outlook on the Contract Glazing Business
by Ellen Giard Chilcoat
He was not what I had had in mind. I had imagined he’d be a stately businessman of sorts. I’d imagined he’d wear a three-piece suit and sip coffee during our chat. I thought, perhaps, he’d epitomize the contract glazing industry’s Ted Turner.
I was wrong.
The afternoon I met Don Haley, chief executive officer for the contract glazing company Haley-Greer of Dallas, he wore a neat, black-and-white jogging suit, and instead of coffee he sipped a J&B and water. He looked as though he could have been a country-western singing sensation, relaxing on a tour bus. He was laid-back and well at ease—a likeable kind of guy.
Haley-Greer, which has been in operation since 1979, today has about 250 employees and annual sales of $30 million to $50 million. Since its beginning more than 20 years ago Haley-Greer has achieved landmark status, leaving its mark on major projects, such as Houston’s Enron building.
Our meeting took place in February when we were both in Las Vegas for GANA’s Building Envelope Contractors Conference. The culmination of that afternoon follows.
Q. When and why did you end up working in the glass industry?
A. In about 1950 I had just gotten out of school and was thinking of getting married, and I needed a job. A friend of my family worked for Binswanger Glass Co., and the company needed draftsmen. I had studied architecture in school, so I took the first job I could get in drafting and it happened to be with a glass company.
Q. And after you left Binswanger you went to Oak Cliff?
A. Yes. I went there in 1955, and they hired me as a sales person.
Q. What was it that made you decide to go from Binswanger to Oak Cliff?
A. Money. They offered me $300 a month and I wasn’t making but maybe $200 a month [at Binswanger], plus, I could work the overtime. The job at Oak Cliff was a guaranteed dollar. And, I could get commissions at Oak Cliff, so immediately I started making $400, $500 a month. So it was money.
Q. At what point was Haley-Greer launched?
A. 1979. I’d worked for Oak Cliffs for about 25 years and had really planned to stay there all my life, but the fellow who owned the company died and he left it to two of my fellow workers. Greer had been a customer of ours—a fellow I had done a lot of work with in Houston.
Q. And that was Jim Greer?
A. Jim Greer, right. And we got acquainted working about along the time Texas Instruments (TI) first started. He had an architect friend in Corpus Christi who did all of TI’s work. And I had Soulé Steel Co. for the Northern part of Texas (or Oak Cliffs Glass did) … his architect friend started drawing all TI work and started putting Soulé windows on them ... so we got the job. And then over the years that relationship got stronger and stronger and I helped him in other things. Then, there came a time when he came to me and said, “Why don’t we just go ahead and start a company? You come in as partner with me and you run the company.” So, he was the financial end of it. He brought me in as a friend to run the company and that’s how it all started out.
Q. Someone said to me, “Don and his organization are unique because they’ve seen the best and worst times of this industry, and they’re still here to be able to say so.” What’s been the best and what’s been the worst?
A. The best is now. We’ve gone through a period of time that’s very unique. Over the 52 years that I’ve been in this business we rode the waves. You’ve had the up and down times that the economy has dictated. But this was unique in that it lasted for a while. The worst times preceded that. When things really started going bad in Texas, which was the mid 1980s, in order to keep all of our people we opened up a shop in Washington [D.C.] We hired a salesman, and he went to the Washington area, sold two or three jobs … we had per diem money for him to go up there and handle those jobs, but there were enough jobs that we said, “hey, why don’t we just open up an office there?” So, I split up our company and sent half the people there and half stayed in Dallas. I guess that was the saddest day of my life when I sent all those people to Washington. But, it looked like that was what we needed to do. We did a lot of business up there, but it wasn’t profitable business. After awhile we smartened up and got out with just our skin. It was a good experience for us, but a costly one.
Q. Speaking of projects, some in which you were involved in the early 1980s, 2 Hillcrest Green and 1 Glenn Lakes, for example, used a lot of lockstrip gasket glazing, which led eventually to using high-tech structural silicone glazing. What lead to that evolution?
A. I think gasket glazing was quick. It was economical. And it worked well as long as we were using monolithic glass. The key [was] changing from monolithic glass to insulating glass. When we started getting the glass that needed to be in the IGUs, and it was more effective, then we started working with different systems and that phased out gaskets. So it was kind of a natural thing. We still use some gaskets, but not very much anymore. It’s got to be in a monolithic setting to be cost effective.
Q. How is the industry different today than when you first began?
A. One of the things that’s different is that we’ve become a major player. And that’s important. That’s important in negotiations, in development of design build and our theme as an industry. It makes us one of the keys to the development of [a] project. If they can’t get the skin on and they can’t get it done in time then they can’t do the whole job. The whole job is going to be affected. So [they bring us] in and they say, what can you do in order to make this happen … and if we use that properly, with the design architects, the architects the owners and what have you, then we’re dealing with million- dollar jobs and several million dollar jobs as opposed to that $2,000 job or $3,000 job that I was doing at first.
Instead of being a company that’s really struggling to achieve $3 million or $4 million worth of business a year we’ve become a company that’s doing many millions of dollars a year.
Q. Do you have a favorite project?
A. It’s hard to pick out just one, but the Enron building in Houston that we did had so many things involved in it. One, it was the largest job that we ever did. It went about $32+ million. It had so many design challenges. The way we handled them and the job itself and the overall team that was put together to do that job was just very satisfying. We had good management from the office and in the field.
It’s like any chain, you can’t have a weak link. If you’ve got good in-house supervision, management and then good suppliers that get the engineering done and get the materials to you … if you’ve got that and you work toward that—you’ll get that engineering done and you’ll get the materials on the job. The whole scenario lends itself to making the job a success.
Q. You had mentioned you once had an office in Washington, D.C. With the exception of that, it’s my understanding that you really haven’t ventured outside of Texas to do a job.
A. From that [office in D.C.] we did a lot of jobs outside of Texas in the 1980s until about 1990. But, in the last ten, 12 years I think we’ve done maybe two jobs outside of Texas. That’s our market and we understand the labor, we understand the territory and we make money. So we’ve been successful in staying in Texas and plan to stay there.
Q. Do you view Haley-Greer as being progressive?
A. No. We’re behind. We’re always behind … we’re not progressive. Not really. I mean, four-sided silicone—I wouldn’t do four-sided for years and years; I wouldn’t do two-sided silicone. Because, I just didn’t know if it would work. And I sat around and let somebody else do it, and they did it and did it and it didn’t work. Some of them fell out and they found out you had to do something to the aluminum. You couldn’t put four-sided silicone on to raw aluminum. You had to come back in and you had to put a finish on it. And so, back when several jobs went bad and we found that out, after 15 years or so, I said OK, we’ll do one. We’ll do it and we’ll go very slowly with something like that.
Q. What about taking risks?
A. We were probably one of the first large companies to do large work as non-union. At that time, in our area anyway, you had to have several companies to build a large high-rise building. And Haley-Greer started [out in business] running. We had finances to build major jobs when we started. And we had the experience to do so. But we had to make a decision as to whether we’d be union or non-union, and we felt like we could do it with an open shop. So we set our company up that way. We proved that you could do it that way; we developed our people to learn how to be curtainwall erectors, not just glaziers or ironworkers … we hire a lot of union people now. I think that was probably the most innovative thing we’ve done that enabled us to step out.
Q. Another example of taking a risk?
A. The Enron job. We negotiated the job with the owners and the developer. It was one of those projects that you had to get on early. We had to be there before they got the general contractor because of the size, and our supplier on that, Baker Metal Products, was working with us in the design development with the architect and the developer, owners and so forth. And so we began with the agreement that we were going to go ahead and get started and they were going to assign the contract to whomever they decided to build this building with. Well, they decided to build it with a company [with which] we weren’t sure we could negotiate. When we got into contract language and negotiations and scheduling we had a problem because the contractor with which we were dealing had a pretty hard-nose reputation and I was very concerned about contract language on a job this large and us going into that and payment, schedules, retainage and so forth. All these things became a very large concern to the point that I almost just turned it down and walked away from it because it looked like the risk was too great. But, to say for that contractor, they did a wonderful job. They paid us just like they said they would. It was a great team and the job was very successful for all of us. It all worked out, but I think we all worked hard to make it work out. People have told me since, “I can’t believe you had that relationship with that company.”
Q. Competition can be pretty intense, but you had a good relationship with one of your biggest competitors—Bill Swango with Olden and Co. Tell me about that relationship.
A. I’ve known Bill since I was at Binswanger … Bill and I kind of grew up together. We’re about the same age. Bill did a good job. I think he was one of the best in business. Bill was a credit to our industry and I really admired him as a competitor. I didn’t worry a lot about him. I could probably beat him because I probably didn’t do as well as he did; he was a perfectionist, [and] he worked hard at what he did. But he had good customers and you just couldn’t crack that. And so you go and develop your own customers.
Q. Why is it so important to have a professional relationship with competitors?
A. We’re all in the same business. We’re hoping, always, that our competitor is working as hard as we are to do it well. Because if they do it well and spend the kind of resources that we would in order to make it do well, then they’ll be good, legitimate competition in all jobs.
Q. What do you think is the biggest industry challenge?
A. I’ve thought a lot about that lately, because there are a lot of them. Probably the toughest thing we’ve got to face in our industry right now, as subcontractors … [is] that general contractors and architects have so many tools available to them now, with computers, that they have people who don’t really understand the business. They can sit there with the CAD and draw pretty pictures, but they draw them upside down. People who don’t have the years of experience in business are the people trying to direct the business. Our problem is that we have to take a larger role in that management. We have to put more money into our price to take care of more management on our end in order to make sure they have the lines in the right place—not just for us, but for the precast guys and the steel guys.
We have to do that, because if it’s not done, we don’t make money on the job. The architect has given us thick set of plans, but he hasn’t gone through all the details. I think that’s our biggest challenge—that we don’t have old-type people who have been in this business for years and years and years who know how to build a building. You’ve got a lot of people we’re bringing in young who don’t seem to have the training they need for the position that they’re holding and that makes it hard.
Q. One group that’s working really hard to educate the industry is GANA’s BEC division.
And I know that many consider you and Leo Karas to be the fathers of this division and this conference. How do you feel about what’s happening within the organization?
A. They’re working hard. And, by the way, Leo Karas is the guy who’s done this, not me. Leo joined this operation when no one else was involved in it and Leo started directing things that we needed in this business, and I told Leo I’d help him. I think that what [the division is doing] is good. I had some guys ask me a couple of years ago, what’s the direction of this thing, why are they having it? All it looks like is a social gathering. And it’s very difficult, because you take the guys like Greg Carney who are working toward the program and working hard to get the right program and make it more than just filling a spot, a meeting, two days and who should we put here, here and here. We’re trying get a topic that’s current and that we need. And we’ve talked about the development of people being very important and I think this is trying to develop people. I’m proud of it.
Q. An announcement was just made concerning the future of Haley-Greer. Your daughter, Letitia Haley Barker, is taking over as president and Mark Hogan was promoted from vice president, project management to executive vice president. Is this a direction in which you always knew you’d go?
A. With companies like ours, small companies that have very limited leadership from the beginning, your company takes on your personality. We’ve tried to do this because some of our employees have come to us and said, “Well, what happens when you’re not here?” And I tried to work toward a plan that made good sense to me and for my family. And so this is something we’ve been working toward. I’m not leaving. I’m gonna be working here probably until I’m 100. But, if I was not to be here next year, tomorrow, whatever, we’ve got a plan and the company is going to continue on and our employees are going to be comfortable with it and I hope to get them comfortable with it while I’m still here.
|Letitia Haley Barker Assumes
Role as President of Haley-Greer
In recent months roles have changed at Dallas-based Haley-Greer. Company founder Don Haley announced in February that he was changing his title from president to chief executive officer and his daughter, Letitia Haley Barker, would be taking on the position of president. Prior to the promotion she served as the company’s vice president of administration, responsible for financial and administrative operations.
“It’s really been a learning experience,” she said referring to her new role. She has added the responsibilities of president to her prior position, so she is taking on the new tasks gradually. “We’re moving slowly to get everyone accustomed [to the change].”
Barker was involved with the initial start-up of the company, actually serving as Haley-Greer’s first employee, and worked there from 1979 to September 1980. She then relocated to Orlando to work in human resources and re-joined Haley-Greer in 1995.
For Barker, one of the nicest parts about working for Haley-Greer has been the opportunity to work with her father every day.
“I spent a lot of years away, not seeing my family [everyday],” she said. “Now, we [she and her father] enjoy the time we have. It’s allowed us to be closer. We understand each other more and we have not only a [father-daughter] relationship, but also an adult-friend relationship.”
Having learned much from her father, it’s pretty certain Barker will bring some of her father’s influence to her new role.
“The biggest thing that he taught me is that there are many ways of looking at and understanding a problem,” she said. “He taught me to look at all the reasons why something could happen … there’s always two sides,” she said.
Q. Someone told me that your work practices are very hands-on. Why is it so important to really be involved?
A. We’re all learning. And it took me 52 years to come to the place that I am at now. So many of our people are learning how we do business, and so you’re hands-on in that you’re kind of directing the way that you feel your business should be run. And we’ve got so many systems and so many methods, we try to all do it that same way. Not that we’re robots, but it’s a system and method that works. We try to get everybody on that page because if a guy has a heart attack or has to leave, someone needs to step in to take over the job. As long as we’re on the same system, we can do that easily. I kind of act as a traffic cop. Stop. Go. Yes. No. And often times it’s because where [they’re] going is where I’ve been, and it wasn’t successful and I don’t want [them] to go there. Let’s make sure we don’t make that mistake twice.
Q. If you hadn’t ended up in this career, what would you be?
A. All I can say is I enjoy the outdoors. I enjoy plants, trees, flowers. I can easily see myself being a nurseryman of some sorts. I like that; that’s fun. And those are things I enjoy as much as this work.
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