News

Gary Conrad: Building HBC One Relationship at a Time

11/20/2014

After more than 30 years as a leading principal at HBC, Gary Conrad is retiring. His tireless efforts to build the company's visibility and reputation in the market significantly contributed to what HBC is today, a leader in Southern California's tenant improvement construction industry. We sat down with Gary to chat about his role in the beginning of the company, significant moments in its growth, and how he looks to the future. 


HBC: Going back to the beginning, when you joined HBC, what was your main role?
Gary Conrad
: Connecting and reaching out to people. Cold calls. I had a little sheet that I used to log who I called, what I was calling about. And I would read and see what was going on. I was really focused on L.A.

HBC
: You were the person who was going out and meeting everybody?
GC: Breakfast, lunch and dinner. With anybody, any time, any place.

HBC
: How did that evolve through time?
GC: In the beginning, I really didn't know anybody. I found out what organizations I should belong to. I got involved in those and went and just introduced myself and sat down with strangers and talked. As time passed, I got to know everybody.

HBC
: What was your background before coming into this role?
GC
: Journalism.

HBC
: Really?
GC
: I was in radio and TV with Armed Forces radio. I had a TV show and a radio show. Then I was with the newspaper. I traveled throughout South America covering feature stories.

HBC
: Wow. GC: Then I was into advertising. I was going to be Rock Hudson and move to New York and marry Doris Day! That was my dream. That was what I thought I would do. The problem is then came the Vietnam War, and you couldn't get a job for anything. That's when I moved to California and worked for the John S. Griffith Company. They owned large retail shopping centers, and I worked my way up to General Manager of the Glendale Galleria Regional Shopping Center. That was probably one of the highlights of my life because it was a very high profile project. I opened the Galleria and managed it, and I was in the newspaper all the time. It was so much fun.

HBC
: How did you come to HBC?
GC
: I had been at the Galleria for a few years when Mike invited me to join HBC. I came on board to help him and Paul build the company.

HBC
: So, jump ahead again. After you started making the connections in the building industry, do you feel like there were any major milestones or transitions for HBC that put them in a different place than where they began?
GC
: I think probably the biggest transition was when we did Brillstein and Grey Entertainment. That took us to a whole new level because we were building standard guys before that. The Brillstein and Grey project was high-end, and it was published in Interior Design Magazine. It won all sorts of awards, and it showed a lot of people who we were.

HBC
: Were the relationships a little different after that? Do you think more people started to approach you?
GC
: Yeah, I think they definitely did. Everyone wants to be with a winner!

HBC
: Where did it go from there? GC: We started getting published, and design firms that wouldn't even look at us started looking at us. It really built from there.

HBC
: Do you think that your early relationships were more with the clients or more with the design firms?
GC
: Mainly design firms. Design firms and project managers. I put a lot of time in with project managers because, if they didn't like you, you weren't going to get on the list.

HBC
: Do you think that's still the case today?
GC
: Absolutely. Back then, the design firms didn't want to work with anyone if they hadn't done big projects. Now, in this economy, they don't want to work with anyone they haven't worked with before. And in many cases they will tell us who they want as a superintendent and who they want as a project manager.

HBC
: So, the demand is more specific?
GC
: In this world now, people are very nervous about their jobs. They don't want to have any screw-ups to the point that it would reflect badly on them - and that's for both the designer and the client. So, it's about relationships and trust. They have to trust that we're going to take care of them. One thing I'm really very proud of is that we have never, to my knowledge, failed to get a project completed on time. That proves a huge track record. Bringing a project in on budget and on time - what more could you ask?

HBC
: What role do you see the broker playing?
GC
: It's important that they know you and like you. They have to feel confident in you. There are brokers that will bring us in on a deal or introduce us to the client. And of course, when I first started in Downtown, no one knew who we were, so I had to get us known. There was another contractor that had established relationships with all of the senior brokers already. I had to start with the new brokers. But everything has evolved. Those new brokers are all senior guys now - guys who I would now call “power brokers.”

HBC
: HBC is family owned, and family is still very much a part of the company, right?
GC
: I think that's probably one of the highlights of the company. We're a family.

HBC
: How have you seen the growth of the company change things?
GC
: In the beginning, I always tried at the parties to meet all the wives or the husbands or the significant others. It's harder to do that now. We used to have the parties in our living rooms! But it's the natural growth of the company. We want it to continue to grow over time. And I believe we have the best staff of any contractor around.

HBC
: When did the people and talent become so important to HBC?
GC
: I think it was from the very beginning. Paul wanted the talent. He said, “I don't want the cheapest person. I want the most talented person.” And our people have a following. Our project managers have a tremendous following, and people are very loyal. It goes back to relationships.

HBC: You have seen a lot in your time in the industry. Given that experience, what would you say about what's coming next?
GC
: I don't know, because you can never know. No matter what the trend is, no matter what's happening in the industry, the relationship is the thing that will always get you through.

HBC
: What's on your list of “what's next” personally?
GC: I don't have anything specific. I can honestly say that I have done everything I ever wanted to do. I've been fortunate to travel and see things many people don't get to see. I've lived a very full life, and I have had a very good time.