Nearly five decades ago, Dave Crawford was literally in the trenches for Arizona-based Sundt Construction. His career eventually led him to the executive level, leading the firm’s national and international operations and becoming CEO in 2010.
Through his tenure in the executive suite—he retired earlier this year—he led the construction community in pioneering legislation for alternative delivery methods and was engaged in some of his firm’s most notable accomplishments.
For example, Sundt was awarded Associated General Contractors’ national safety awards in 2005 and 2016. Award-winning projects include the John M. Roll U.S. Courthouse in Yuma, Ariz., and the Health Sciences Education Building at the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in Phoenix.
In 2013, Crawford was named Construction Financial Management Association Executive of the Year, and in 2014, he was elected to the National Academy of Construction.
“When he walks through a room, people want to talk to him. People look up to him for all the right reasons,” says Jim Dinan, president and CEO of Phoenix-based Bel-Aire Mechanical.
One of the reasons for Crawford’s appeal to owners and construction colleagues, however, is not just for what he accomplished as an executive with the firm, but his vast understanding of what it takes to build great projects.
Crawford’s career at Sundt began in 1968, when he was a freshman at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Early in his career, he spent years as part of construction crews before leading them.
“Dave is a civil engineer, but what sets him apart is that he came up through the field and really understands hands-on construction,” Dinan says. “He understands the sub-trades and that garners him a tremendous amount of respect from myself and the subcontracting community. He’s passionate at what he does. I’m sorry to see him retire, and I believe he leaves Sundt in a great position.”
Crawford, too, puts credence in the idea that being in the trenches early in a construction career can pay long-term dividends.
“I got to earn a bit of money, and I got to work in the field for all four years [of college]. It was a wonderful internship,” Crawford says. “You learn just how much your crews can do.”
Over the decades, he served as a project engineer, superintendent, project manager, project director, division manager, operations manager, president, COO and finally, CEO.
But just as it was in his days on a work crew, Crawford emphasizes that teams, not individuals, create successful outcomes.
“It’s never about one person,” he says. “You need a lot of good people to have a successful project.”
Although successful general contractors like Crawford and Sundt have had the foresight to adopt creative team models for crews and executives, when it came to delivery, traditional design-bid-build stymied such approaches, Crawford says.
As a result, Sundt tacked away from public work and embraced the design-build mentality when it was still in its infancy with private owners, he says.
“Alternative-delivery enables you to create a circular table, and everybody contributes to the success of the project,” Crawford says.
When public owners such as the Arizona Board of Regents and the Arizona Dept. of Transportation wanted Sundt to reengage on public projects, he suggested teaming up to legislate alternative-delivery methods.
“They came to us and said, ‘What will make this work better? We don’t like what we are doing,’” Crawford says.
After the 1996 Federal Acquisition Reform Act opened the door for states to use alternative project delivery, Arizona adopted pilot legislation from 1996 to 1999. In April 2000, the Arizona Legislature passed House Bill 2340, opening several alternative-delivery methods to be applied to a wide variety of projects and blazing a trail which other states would soon follow.
“You are going to get a better building, road or water treatment plant with alt-building methods,” Crawford says. “I think the industry is better for it, and the taxpayer is better for it.”
Cultivating a Business Family
Sundt may be one of the top 100 general contracting firms in the U.S., but it is still a family in more ways than one, Crawford says.
“At some companies, you can’t have a relative in the company. We’ve had success with it,” he says.
He also says being concerned with burdens placed on families and putting people in the right positions to be successful are just as important. Then, once they are given a responsibility, the company should provide them the latitude to find out how they can do it best.
“It’s always about the people in our business,” he says.
One of Crawford’s many mentees, current Sundt CEO Mike Hoover, says Crawford is one of those people who made a difference.
“Dave symbolizes all that is great about our business, and his legacy will stand for generations to come,” Hoover says.
While Crawford’s time as a full-time operative for Sundt may be over, he remains active in the industry and among the many community organizations he has supported over the years, including Greater Phoenix Leadership, CEOs Against Cancer, the Real Arizona Coalition, YMCA of Phoenix and Expect More Arizona.
Whatever he chooses to accomplish in this next stage, Crawford will excel, says Rick Radobenko Sr., CEO of Sprayfoam Southwest (dba Roofing Southwest).
Radobenko, who has known Crawford for 20 years, says, “He’s a wonderful finisher; he gets things done.”