Every so often, I look up people from my past on the internet, to see what has happened to them. I especially like to look up previous employers who were assholes, to see if they are dead yet. Hopefully, they had a tragic ending.
A company owner named Dwayne died about six months ago, and I was happy about it. He messed up my life, and many other people’s lives. Here is the condensed version, of a true story.
In the 1970s, a flamboyant and fun-loving man named Keith, started an underground utility construction company on the coast in Florida. Florida was growing like crazy at this time, many people from the Northeastern United States were retiring and moving to Florida. There were many new housing developments, new shopping centers, new schools, and new road construction.
It was a good time to start an underground utility construction company in Florida, even if you didn’t know what you were doing, it was the 1970s. A time or two, Keith’s construction company installed a long section of gravity sewer, sloped in the wrong direction. The county inspectors complimented him on the work, except for it was sloped in the wrong direction, and it would have to be re-done. The city and county personnel all liked Keith.
Keith had enough money, and he was making enough money, to buy a peninsula of land that stuck out into a marsh. He bought elephants, lions, tigers, monkeys, and other exotic animals. I repeat, he bought elephants, lions, tigers, and monkeys. Keith, his wife, and his children would feed and take care of all the animals that they kept on the property where they lived. From time to time, his neighbors would telephone the construction company office to let them know that the elephants had gotten out again.
Keith’s underground utility construction company was doing well. The company construction office was a ranch style house, with an in-ground swimming pool, fresh water spring, banana trees, orange trees, and grapefruit trees, on about ten acres of land. Keith’s wife’s brother, Dwayne, was not doing well financially. Dwayne was a crane operator in Canada, with a wife and two children. Sometimes, Dwayne, his wife, and their two children, would have to share an apartment with another married couple and their two children.
Generously, Keith invited Dwayne to move to Florida, and be a foreman at his underground utility construction company. Dwayne’s wife and children were happy to move to Florida and have a new life with Keith and his family. Keith, his wife, and his children were very friendly, social, and entertaining with Dwayne, his wife, and his children.
Dwayne did his job as construction foreman, but from the very beginning he was resentful of Keith. Dwayne did not like the way that Keith spent money, had fun, was friendly to everyone, had friends, and was well liked. Dwayne was the exact opposite of Keith. However, it was Keith’s personality and likability that got the construction company much of its work.
After some years, Keith made Dwayne a partner in the construction company. Dwayne hated Keith more and more each year. After about ten years, Dwayne saw an opportunity to take the construction company away from Keith. Keith had seen an opportunity to buy land in a different state, which he thought was going to be a good investment. Dwayne realized that Keith had invested all his cash elsewhere. Dwayne caused a fight, and then he demanded that because of their differences, either Keith would have to buy him out, or Dwayne would buy Keith out. Dwayne knew that Keith would be unable to buy him out at that moment. Keith had started many ventures and businesses, and was unafraid of starting another construction company, so he agreed to let Dwayne buy him out of the construction company that he had started.
This began the ruining of many people’s lives. Due to economic conditions at that time in Florida, and due to Keith’s circumstances at that moment, Keith was unable to make money, and he had to sell his family home, property, and all of his exotic animals. Keith, his wife, and his children, went from having a wonderful life, to having to give up everything in their life and move to a different state where Keith had bought land as an investment. Within a few years, Keith’s wife divorced him, and she took their children back to Florida. She became a divorced woman, with much less for her two children, in comparison to what they used to have.
At the underground utility construction company, the employees went from having a benevolent, fun, likable employer, to having a mean, tyranical, paranoid employer. In order for the construction company to stay in business, a very experienced and well liked man, with an underground utility construction contractor’s license, was hired to become General Manager. His name was David, he was about fifty years old, and he had about twenty five years experience in underground utility construction.
Due to special circumstances that I don’t want to explain right now, the company went from making about 5% net profit on construction projects, like all underground utility construction companies in the United States, to making over 50% net profit. Dwayne’s daughter quit her job, to come to work for the construction company, once they started to make an incredible amount of money.
Soon, Dwayne had a new home built, with an in-ground swimming pool attached to the house, in a new upper middle class neighborhood. He bought a very large, very fast, twin engine plane, and he hired a full time pilot.
Dwayne became paranoid that the General Manager, David, was somehow cheating him, in many different ways. But the truth was, that Dwayne hated David, because he was friendly, well liked, and he reminded Dwayne of Keith. Dwayne fired David after a little over a year, which was a shock to David, David’s wife. David had a hard time finding a job after that.
I was only 27 years old, when I was hired by Dwayne to be an estimator and project coordinator. In a way, I was taking the place of the General Manager, David, who had just been fired, though I didn’t really understand this at the time.
In the job interview, Dwayne explained to me some of the ways that he felt that he was being cheated. In the first few days of work, Dwayne took me around showing me the ways in which he believed he was being cheated. Dwayne believed that David, the previous General Manager, had provided operator and equipment assistance to other contractors on construction projects, probably in exchange for pay offs directly to him. Dwayne believed that David had deliberately underbid work, so that he could receive pay offs directly to him. I did not believe this.
Dwayne warned me that I would be propositioned with every kind of bribe, gift, payment, women, prostitutes, and then later be blackmailed. He drove me by the hotel on the beach to show me where this all took place. At the end of this story, I describe that it was my refusal to be bribed that cost me my job.
In my opinion, I think that I learned this type of underground utility construction pretty well, fairly quickly. I never once missed something on the plan sets. I never once missed seeing something on the pre-bid site visits, which I had to do by myself. I never once made a mistake on an estimate, or a contract.
I was very serious and conscientious about my plan set reviews, site visits, calculations, estimates, contracts, files, and getting things sent out. However, I was very silly with the women in the office. Dwayne’s daughter, the accountant, the office manager, and I, would all joke around throughout the day.
The shop foreman, crew foreman, airplane pilot, yard manager, Dwayne’s daughter, accountant, office manager, and myself, we would all joke around sometimes in the afternoon before or after lunch, when Dwayne was not around. We were all very, very happy during those times. Like I said, the construction company office was in a ranch style house, with sliding glass doors that opened onto the in-ground swimming pool, that was surrounded by banana trees, orange trees, and grapefruit trees. There were company dogs and employee dogs running around outside playing, jumping up on the window ledge and looking in at me.
The group of us that I described above, were very happy in the afternoon when Dwayne was not around. Sometimes Dwayne’s wife, sister, or brother would stop by the construction company to visit, and it was very pleasant when Dwayne was not around.
However, when Dwayne would drive into the construction company yard in his Cadillac, everyone would quit joking around and all go back to their work area. It wasn’t that we weren’t allowed to take a break, it was that no one wanted to be around Dwayne. Dwayne would often be angry or irritated about something, that he imagined to be wrong. None of us were doing anything wrong, but Dwayne was sure that we were cheating him with various plots and schemes.
Dwayne’s daughter, who was Vice-President, had to do “job costing”, to find out how much money each construction project made after is was completed. All the payroll costs for everyone who worked on the project, all the company owned and rental equipment, all the material, all the office overhead costs, everything that went into that project was determined. For the past two years, the net profit on the work that the company was doing, was more than 50%. Yes, more than 50%, on projects worth millions.
On top of that, Dwayne would explain to me that I was going to write a Change Order each time a certain type of situation arose. I would have to determine, and provide documentation, for every single cost, for every person, vehicle, piece of equipment, and material, for every hour of every day, for a two week period. I compiled several of these Change Orders for $100,000 each, and each of these Change Orders were paid.
The underground utility construction company was making a tremendous amount of money. But Dwayne would go after each of the employees, accusing them of some wrong doing, or not doing their job. Accusing laborers, welders, equipment operators, mechanics, superintendents, estimators, and general managers of some type of deception and wrong doing.
In my case, I was thoroughly warned not to be tempted by any kind of bribe or offer, and to never allow myself to be persuaded in my estimates. When I had to leave the office to go look at plan sets elsewhere, or go look at job sites, sometimes Dwayne would telephone me and be very suspicious and questioning about where I was, like I was not working.
Many times, on a site visit, I would discover some site condition that would not allow the work to be completed by ordinary means, and many extra procedures would be required. The project owner was possibly not aware of these adverse site conditions, but the engineers who made the plan sets and the bid forms must not have been aware of these adverse site conditions.
Everyone involved in the project would be mad at me for pointing out the adverse site conditions that would require additional procedures, and wish that I just would have bid the project as shown on the plans, but this would have caused my company to lose a tremendous amount of money. Though every time I discovered something wrong with the project that made it not able to be completed as shown on the plans, saved my company a tremendous amount of money, Dwayne was not happy with me.
Finally, there was a $75 million underground utility construction project that was out for bid. There were twenty bidders on this project. Each of these twenty bidders needed to get a bid for part of the work, from the company that I worked for. One of these companies called me several times, and each time they called, they offered me something more to provide them with a lower estimate than any of the other companies, in order to help them be the lowest bidder on this $75 million project. I would not go to their office, and I just disregarded what they were trying to get me to do.
When I went to look at the work locations for this project, several of the work locations were through flowing rivers. These locations would require many extra procedures, that the engineers who made the plan sets and bid forms were unaware of. The one company that kept calling me to persuade me to give them a lower estimate than all of the other companies, was trying to tell me to disregard the extra procedures that would be required at the flowing rivers. The company was trying to tell me that the rivers would be dry during that phase of construction, or that the soil was clay, etcetera. If I disregarded the extra costs to deal with the flowing rivers in several locations, it could cause the company that I worked for to lose millions of dollars.
I explained to Dwayne everything that was going on, that the engineers who made the plan sets and bid forms had not called out or specified additional procedures in the work areas with the flowing rivers, and that we could not leave out the costs for these additional procedures. Dwayne advised that I needed to explain this in our estimate, and to send out the same estimate to all twenty bidders.
The company that had tried to influence me, was not the low bidder on this $75 million project. They were furious, and they partly blamed me, though all twenty bidders got the exact same estimate from our company. Our first priority, is to make money for our company, not go bankrupt by significantly underestimating the cost of the work that we agreed to do.
The company called Dwayne, and griped and complained about me. Dwayne figured that he would appease them by firing me. Dwayne wanted to fire me, but he was not disclosing why, because he did not want me retaliating against the company. I got into an argument with Dwayne, and I was yelling at him that he had told me to not be influenced by some company to underestimate the work. If I would have not accounted for the several work areas with flowing rivers in our estimate, it would have cost him millions of dollars. It was a really bad argument and a fight. His daughter went and stayed in the bathroom crying.
At this underground utility construction company owned by Dwayne, I never once missed something on a plan set, site visit, estimate, or contract. I never allowed anyone to influence me or bribe me. Dwayne was suspicious and accusing toward me and everyone else at his company. I really liked my job, the office, and the people there, except Dwayne. It was unfortunate that I had to go work some place else, because of Dwayne.
I liked Dwayne’s daughter and his wife, and they both liked me. Dwayne’s daughter was overweight, though she tried not to be. She had gastric bypass surgery, and she died about a year later. Dwayne’s wife divorced him, then she died a few years later. I heard from people that Dwayne had increasing dementia for years before his death six months ago. All the money that he made, he only managed to ruin many people’s lives.