Consensus-builder Doug Woods, the D in DPR Construction, died on May 19 at age 70. The cause was pancreatic cancer, according to a longtime colleague. Considered an enlightened leader, Woods was named a 2012 ENR Newsmaker for fostering collaboration, innovation and technology in construction.
In 1990, Woods, Peter Nosler and Ron Davidowski co-founded the full-service contractor, using their first initials for the name—a move then considered unorthodox.
“Doug was a visionary,” says Davidowski, currently on DPR’s board of directors and its secretary-treasurer. “He wanted to do things differently and to push the envelope,” he adds.
First Pure Contractor Job
DPR’s first pure contractor job was a $4.5-million, six-month tenant improvement project for Argo Systems in Sunnyvale, Calif. Its largest project is a $1.2-billion data center, for a client that remains confidential.
In 2020, DPR had revenues of nearly $6.5 billion. This year, the firm ranks No. 10 on ENR’s Top 400 Contractors list. From 11 employees in 1990, DPR, headquartered in Redwood City, Calif., has grown to a staff of 6,500 in 30 offices worldwide.
In his ENR Newsmaker profile, Woods stated his grand ambition. "We don't want to just change construction,” he said. “We want to change the world."
An example of Woods' innovative spirit is DPR’s involvement in integrated project delivery—a contracting system under which the owner, designer and contractor share risk and reward. In 2007, when DPR entered into a commitment agreement with Sutter Health for a $320-million hospital in Castro Valley, Calif., there had never before been an IPD contract with 11 signatories. But DPR dove full tilt into the unusual delivery system.
In great part thanks to Woods, DPR shunned titles, organizational charts—and neckties. Instead, the firm focused on roles and shared leadership. Still, at the time of his death, Woods, who was no longer involved in the day-to-day management of DPR, was CEO. He was also a member of DPR’s board of directors.
Woods' protégé, George Pfeffer, is now president and CEO. He also is a member of DPR’s management committee and board of directors.
D, P and R Had Worked Together for a Decade
The DPR founders met while working for general contractor Rudolph and Sletten. They had worked together for a decade when they decided to form their own company, after learning that the family-owned firm was going to hand the baton to its next generation, not to deserving employees.
That experience helped inform DPR’s leadership and ownership transition philosophies, which centered on rewarding high-performing contributors, not relatives. “Doug was a big driver” behind finding people motivated to do good and letting them grow, says Peter Salvati, a 30-year member of DPR’s management team, who followed the founding trio from Rudolph and Sletten. “He was very authentic and had a can-do attitude,” adds Salvati.
“Doug never seemed to accept the status quo,” says Tom Sorley, who retired last December as chairman and CEO of subcontractor Rosendin Electric. “A lot of the things DPR did, we mimicked at Rosendin.
“The thing I really appreciated about Doug was his focus on people,” adds Sorley. “He tried to create a collaborative environment for subcontractors, customers and his DPR colleagues.”
Toward that, DPR has a 19-page code of conduct for its staff, which it freely shares with others. DPR says it developed the code “to help guide employees through the many rules and regulations of today’s complex business environment.”
Its main tenets are:
• Conduct all business with the highest standards of honesty and fairness.
• Follow the letter and spirit of the law and uphold all contractual agreements.
• Maintain a culture where doing the right thing is not only professed but also prized and practiced by all employees.
• Avoid conflicts of interest and circumstances that may lead to even the appearance of a conflict.
• Create a safe workplace and uphold a commitment to environmental responsibility.
• Exercise common sense and good judgment.
Son of an Engineer
The son of an engineer, Woods grew up in California in homes he helped to build. He majored in history at the University of California, Los Angeles. His interest led to his vision of improving construction. “He studied the past and learned from it,” says Davidowski.
Hugh Rice, senior chairman, retired, of FMI Corp., describes Woods, who was the guts of DPR's construction business, as a man of few words. “When Doug spoke, everybody listened because he was a serious sort, spoke with authority and didn’t mince words,” says Rice. “He was extremely well respected.”
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