Jim St. George
This is my last letter as president of Associated General Contractors of Alaska. In November, I’ll be stepping down and Rod Rodriguez of Coldfoot Environmental will take my place. It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a year since I sat down to write the first of these letters. Actually, I probably would’ve forgotten — not just the anniversary, but also that I had to write the letter — if I weren’t surrounded by people at AGC who have dutifully reminded me. Like — “Say, Jim, you know it’s nearly the end of the month. How’s that letter coming along, anyway?”
One of the people here who’s been especially diligent about keeping me on schedule as a writer is John MacKinnon, AGC Alaska’s executive director. John is also stepping down at the end of the year, too, after more than 10 years in the position. John has been an amazing asset to AGC, and it will be hard to see him go. He’s been the type of director that every organization looks for — hardworking, organized, diplomatic. He leads by example. AGC members will understand how important those qualities are because they either employ that person or want to hire them.
After all, what is an organization but its people? Without quality people, any company or nonprofit isn’t much more than a name. Every employer or manager knows what makes a good employee: They take pride in their work. They measure twice. They show up on time, and, once in a while, they stay late. They behave the same way when you’re around as they do when you’re out. They’re polite and respectful to clients. They’re a delegate, representing you and your organization the way you’d want to be represented. They’re willing to learn, but if you’re lucky, they’re also a lot better than you at some things. They have talents that you don’t, maybe can see things you don’t. Part of the job of an employer is to know when to step in and help and when to just get out of the way and let their employee do the job they were hired to do.
Of course, finding this person is easier said than done. Hiring and keeping good people is one of the biggest challenges we contractors face. We all know the difficulty of sifting through piles of resumes, conducting interviews and then agonizing over whether you’ve got the right person. You find out quick enough. We all have stories of the employee who thought they knew better than the boss and ended up screwing things up. Those events somehow always turn into stories — and it turns out that often the hero of those stories is another employee, the one who can be trusted to turn up and fix things and to make what needed to happen, happen.
The very best employees will grow with a company. Many of the people I hired over the years didn’t start out knowing everything they needed to do the job. That’s not what I was looking for. Instead, I looked for people who seemed to have that something — drive, or go-getter-ness, or whatever you want to call it — just that quality that makes someone able to see a job and see their part in it. I looked for people who wanted to learn and improve. As they say, teachers are always hoping that their students will surpass them.
As director, John has had a hand in many such relationships at AGC. I talked with him recently about his strategy here, and he said that his goal has always been to do what’s best for the industry as a whole. That’s a lot tougher than it sounds. It’s meant understanding and keeping track of what some 600 member-companies are thinking and, at times, balancing between various groups — union and non-union companies, for instance. I think the current state of AGC speaks to how successful he’s been at that. Even as the construction industry here in Alaska has, as a whole, shrunk dramatically over the past three or four years, AGC’s membership has held steady. Amid all of the state’s economic and political back-and-forth, the organization has steered a steady course with John at the helm.
It’s hard to see someone like that go. But if there’s any consolation, it’s that we’ve found a person who we both feel confident is up to the task of filling his shoes. Her name is Alicia Siira. We received dozens of applications for the position and interviewed multiple candidates. Those of us involved in the process were all very impressed by Alicia. Born and raised in Alaska, she has a background in communications and public relations. She’s coming from a similar position at the Alaska Miners Association, which means she’ll be ready to hit the ground running. We’re confident that in hiring Alicia we’re setting up AGC for the best possible route forward.
And that’s how you want to feel, whether you’re sending an employee out on a weeklong project or turning over the wheel of the entire company to someone new. You find people who you think are up to the task and then you get out of the way and let them do the job they were hired to do.