Throughout his nearly 40 years at the forefront of the construction industry while at McCarthy Building Cos., Bo Calbert maintained a strong record of achievement. As project manager or division president, and in both public and private spheres of influence, Calbert managed to keep revenue growing.
Under his leadership from 2000 to 2016, McCarthy Building Cos.’ Southwest division reported a fourfold revenue jump to $600 million from $150 million, according to Justin Kelton, president of McCarthy Southwest. But Kelton and others in the industry say Calbert’s efforts in the community and his advocacy for alternative-delivery methods in the Southwest are a core part of his legacy.
“He always wants to make the industry better,” Kelton says. “He is always out front taking the charge.”
Calbert says he was inspired by his family.
“Every time I was with them, my grandparents said, ‘Your word is your bond.’ You have to have integrity,” Calbert says.
A career built on performance
McCarthy CEO Mike Bolen and Calbert worked together for decades. Bolen gives credit to Calbert for making the firm what it is today, citing his role in moving the company to an employee stock ownership model as well as in finding new market niches.
“He was always the tinkerer,” Bolen says. “He was always promoted at a younger age than anybody else.”
Bolen and Calbert say a turning point in Calbert’s career occurred when, at the age of 29, he was tasked with leading what was, at the time, McCarthy’s largest-ever project—Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. Calbert says early work for a now defunct McCarthy subsidiary gained the attention of then-CEO Mike McCarthy and President Roger Burnet. After Calbert delivered the hospital on time and at a high profit level, his reputation was established.
“It was a tough time in our company and to have Mike McCarthy have the confidence in a guy who wasn’t a hospital builder when they needed to execute was significant,” Calbert says. “I always thrive when I have a lot of responsibility. I always make choices based on what is best for the company, because then it was best for our people and also best for the customer.”
After making his mark on the medical center, Calbert spent the next decade working on some of the most daunting projects the company landed. Many times, that meant learning not only how to succeed, but how to reach a higher level of success than had been achieved previously.
“I had a lot of firsts,” Calbert recalls. “Nobody taught me how to build a megaproject. I was always my own planner, and I planned my own schedule. I always thought it was a failure if we had to redo our schedule. We had some challenges we had to work through, but everybody worked great together as a team.”
People with skills
In 2000, Calbert was tasked with leading the Southwest division, a move that, at first, he was hesitant to take. But “the tinkerer,” as Bolen calls Calbert, found the way to establish McCarthy as a top contractor in the Southwest.
“When Mike [McCarthy] and Roger [Burnet] asked me to come out here, I didn’t want to because it was such a small marketplace and it was such a small office,” Calbert says. “I didn’t know if there was going to be a chance to do something special.”
By 2008, revenue was nearly six times greater than when he had taken the reins. The builder’s expansion came from new markets that Calbert is largely credited with sowing, including education. When the recession hit with full force, Calbert tacked the Southwest division to water and solar projects, a move that has been emulated company-wide.
“The Southwest has become the incubator for that, certainly for the last 20 or so years,” Bolen says.
Kelton credits Calbert for his vision, but also for a management style that allowed that vision to be successfully implemented.
“Bo is a firm guy,” he says. “He is always asking the tough questions, but he knew the right time to put his arm around you or pick you up and dust you off. He did it for me for 15 years. He was very good at sitting back and not letting his ego get in the way.”
Ready for the future
Calbert says finding talented folks driven to succeed is the key to establishing a legacy.
“There is nothing more powerful than a young person with ambition that has talent,” he says. “That is the most powerful tool you have. If they screw it up, they will try as hard as they can to fix it. I haven’t been too disappointed that many times.”
He remains a member of the McCarthy board of directors and is active with philanthropic work. He says he knows the firm is in good hands because of the dedication and training field workers and executives alike are now receiving early in their careers.
“We’ve come so far, and now we have all of these tools and training programs. It’s time for the next generation to take this and run with it,” he says.
Beyond technological innovation in the industry, the biggest factor to industry progress is to facilitate contributions from women, he says.
“We are taking a huge focus to promote more women in our company,” he says. “Last year, even though women are only 15 to 20% of graduating construction professionals, they were getting close to 50% of our offers. They were so much better that they were rising to the top of our vetting process.”