01/19/21

The Foundation of Osburn

The Foundation of Osburn

Dave Osburn, CEO at Osburn

 

I’m not one of those guys who had a childhood dream of starting my own company. I was just raised to respect people. My dad was in the Air Force. My parents were good people who believed in the Golden Rule: “treat others as you would like to be treated.” My family believed that the way you influence the world is through how you treat each other. Decades later, this would be the foundation that our Guiding Principles would be built on.  

 

After high school, I toured the campus of Texas A&M with my brother, who was getting his Master’s Degree there at the time. During our tour, he pointed out the Architecture building. My dad always had projects going around the house, so I had been around construction my whole life. It interested me, so I attended A&M and got my Building Construction degree, now known as a Construction Science degree. When I graduated in January 1981, I was hired by the biggest General Contractor in Houston at the time, Tribble & Stephens. They predominantly did retail work, and self-performed concrete. I worked my way up the ranks with them over the next 10 years, moving from Field Engineer to Superintendent to Project Manager. As the economy softened, the company had to chase projects across the country, instead of just our region. I traveled from projects in south Texas to Pennsylvania.

Ten years into my career, I was married with two kids. I began to look at the Project Managers and Superintendents around me. I had known so many guys that traveled throughout their entire career. They had missed most of their kids lives: not being there for soccer games and proms. They missed out on doing life with their children. I began to think that if there is some way to avoid missing family life, and still make a living, I wanted to do that. 

 

One day, a Civil Engineer colleague said that they were looking for more companies that did concrete work. There was a demand for firms that could pour retaining walls and driveway extensions.  When I mentioned that I was disappointed that I had to travel to my next project, he suggested that I start my own concrete company. A light went off in my head. It was a crazy idea, but an idea worth pursuing. The combination of my understanding of concrete, paired with the desire to be around my kids, propelled me to start Osburn Contractors. 


I left Tribble & Stephens, and started Osburn Contractors on March 2, 1992 after taking a loan from my father-in-law. My third child was born the next week. 

 

This March we will have been in operation for 29 years. We do $260 M worth of work and have 1,500 employees. I sometimes look back and wonder how I got here. There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with it. I’m very thankful. 

 

Watching my colleagues at Tribble & Stephens convinced me that the company doesn’t need to be the most important thing in someone’s life. I tell that to our guys at Osburn now. The most important thing in their life needs to be themselves: their well-being, their marriage, their family. That comes first. We have a group of people who understand that’s number one. 

 

Even with a clear focus, it hasn’t always been easy. There have been so many instances in my career and in my life when things have been challenging. I’ve lived through ups and downs, including the Coronavirus’ impact on our business. I know that because we have gotten through difficult times before, we will get through the next one. You just have to keep moving and put one foot in front of the other.  In terms of leading through difficult times like these, I’m a deep believer that the Lord will get us through. I have an overflowing amount of faith that things will be fine. I try to convey that level of confidence to my team and the people in this company. We’re all in it together. We will figure it out. If we are doing the right thing, and treating people appropriately, we are going to be okay. That’s how I lead.

 

When we were a small company, everyone knew what was important to each other. As we grew, it became important to share our values with new employees and people who didn’t know me personally. That’s when we defined our Guiding Principles: we wanted to reinforce and share our values with each other. I think our Guiding Principles are just how we conduct ourselves. I like to think they are how I live my life: starting with respecting others, a quality I learned from my parents. 

 

The Guiding Principle I have used consistently to manage the company throughout our 28 years is “Find A Better Way”. There are always parts of a business that can improve. It takes a lot of perseverance. Business and life are the same: try new things. Michael Jordan said, “I failed over and over and over again in my life, and that’s why I succeed.” If it fails, you try something different. Always find a better way. 

 

One philosophy that has never failed us is to hire capable, quality people. I am so pleased with the people that we have.  It’s all about people. We are in a people business; we just happen to do concrete. Any business I know of is only as good as the people you have working there. I don’t think of myself as the CEO: I’m just another employee. There’s a lot yet to come in terms of our impact on people’s lives. We want to make each other better, and make the world around us better. I think that all starts with the way we treat each other.