A Golden Gator shares wisdom earned through glory and defeat
Life is good for Gary Condron (BBC ’76).
But that’s not an accident or simple luck. A dozen years after earning his UF bachelor’s degree, he took a chance and started The Conlan Company. In the 30 years since, that once small contracting business has grown to be one of the Southeast’s biggest construction firms, with offices in Jacksonville, Atlanta and Dallas.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been bumps in the road. Resilience, though, has been the calling card for the newest member of the university’s prestigious Academy of Golden Gators, which honors alumni and friends for their service and philanthropy.
A diehard Gators fan, Condron has stayed grounded in career and life, and players and coaches have served up valuable lessons and reminders. Here are some of those lessons:
1. Keep your promises
An unexpected September loss to Ole Miss in 2008 shocked The Gator Nation and tarnished high expectations for that football season. Quarterback Tim Tebow’s response: “You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season.” The Gators didn’t lose again and beat Oklahoma to win the national championship.
I keep my promise to myself every day. My promise to myself is that I’m going to give everything I have to my faith, my family and my company. In addition, I expect to have fun doing so.
2. Never doubt yourself
The Gators men’s basketball team entered the 2005-06 season unranked, with “experts” declaring it a rebuilding year. Instead — led by sophomores Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah and Taureen Green — the Gators won the Final Four Tournament, a 73-57 victory over UCLA.
Twelve years into my business career, and at the age of 32, I found myself at a crossroads. I was a senior vice president with a large family-owned general contractor in Atlanta. It became obvious to me that long-term growth would be limited and not commensurate with the contributions I felt I could make to the company. I had a choice to make: I could find another large commercial general contractor to go to work for, or I could start my own company.
I was young and had very limited financial resources, but what I did have was confidence in my ability to start and build a reputable general contracting company. That was the path I chose.
3. Always do your best
In 1997, the Gators played their first-ever softball game, an 8-0 win against Stetson, and ended that season as the SEC Tournament runner-up. We’ve never looked back. In the years since, the Gators have been regulars in the NCAA World Series and were back-to-back national champions in 2014 and ’15, behind pitchers Hannah Rogers and Lauren Haeger.
Nothing is guaranteed in the commercial general contracting industry. We compete every day for new projects, as well as for quality management personnel. This business requires my “A” game every day. I expect the best of me and give my best.
4. When you fall, get up
The women on the Gators gymnastics team have won a collective 22 individual national championships. Yet, every one of those gymnasts, at some point along the way, stumbled and tumbled. And each time — after every single embarrassing and painful spill — she got up, refusing to give up on her goal, and continued her quest to excellence.
In 1974, I was a preferred walk-on for the UF baseball team. During the fall, I made the roster and had secured a spot in the pitching rotation. At the end of the fall season, I tore the rotator cuff in my pitching arm. My baseball career was over. I was so disappointed, but focused on my building construction degree and my business career.
5. Work hard, even when no one’s watching
Batting practice can be tedious. But those hours in a cage can make all the difference. During a span of 215 games in 2004-2007, the Gators’ Matt LaPorta hammered 74 homeruns, the ninth most in NCAA history, and in his senior year he batted a remarkable .402. Milestones that wouldn’t have happened without hard work outside the spotlight.
I own my business; I’m not accountable to anyone but myself. I expect each of our managers to give our company 100 percent, and I expect the same from myself — every day — when nobody’s watching.
6. Don’t just take the easy way out
In golf, integrity is everything. Golfers count their own strokes and penalize themselves, win or lose, no matter how slight the mishap. Even with that strict personal code of ethics, 60 Gators (49 men and 11 women) have earned All-American honors.
The general contracting business is second only to the restaurant business in percentage of business failures. This is a very competitive and difficult business and there is no easy way out. To succeed, honesty and integrity must be at the heart of a business.
7. Be humble
After the Gators volleyball team made its 28th appearance in the NCAA Tournament last year, some fans took a ho-hum approach. Coach Mary Wise’s Gators are a lock to make the tournament each season, they assume. Though the volleyball team is one of the best in the NCAA right now, that won’t always be. Enjoy the ride, with humility and pride.
To come from my background and have built a general contracting company that is Top 100 in the country, as ranked by Engineering News Record, and the No. 1 builder of light industrial building product in the entire country is very humbling. To have the tremendous management team that we have built, and to see the tenure we have with our employees, is even more humbling. I am very fortunate, and I never take that good fortune for granted.
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