EllisDon took another step on its mission towards cultural renewal recently as CEO Geoff Smith hosted a fireside chat with David Moody, the pioneering Black founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Moody Construction Company.
Smith referred to the shock and surprise he felt upon hearing that nooses were found at EllisDon jobsites last year, noting company leadership was shaken out of its complacency.
“We want to hear from you,” he said to Black employees watching the Nov. 12 fireside chat both in person and live-streaming.
“We’re all anxious to see, how do we go forward.”
Moody has achieved his successes by overcoming the racist hurdles of the deep south and personal trials that included mental illness stemming from childhood sexual assault.
Chicago-born, his wife is from Canada. She has been his supporter and help-mate through a career that has included industry honours and major project awards including an Olympic stadium project where he was responsible for a jobsite with 1,600 workers.
Moody started in architecture but soon found himself attracted to the dynamic nature of construction and by 1988 he was in business for himself as a contractor in Atlanta. It was an environment that for a long time had been a closed circle, with white owners and contractors working together and Blacks shut out of city work.
All he wanted, Moody said, was a chance to succeed. He was convinced that by working hard he would prosper.
His business took off and by 1994 he was voted Atlanta Chamber of Commerce entrepreneur of the year. He went to the White House and got the attention of basketball great Michael Jordan, who wanted to invest in his firm — but Moody turned him down.
“I needed to know, what can I do on my own? Because if I took his money, I would always wonder, was it me or just him?”
The struggles of Black men and women in construction are not from some past era, Moody said. He noted he was the first Black president of the Associated General Contractors for the state of Georgia. It’s a sad state of affairs, he said, that such barriers were not broken a long time ago.
They’ve got to know you got their back, that you really want them to be successful,
— David Moody
Moody Construction Company
“For some of your Black employees, if they don’t see Black faces in senior levels, they don’t think they have a chance,” Moody said, noting not many want to be a Jackie Robinson.
And not everyone celebrates those advances. He has a daughter who is in construction and he tells her it is going to be twice as hard for her as it was for him.
“I have a friend, she’s female, she just became president of a very large construction company in Atlanta,” said Moody. “I told her, ‘there are going to be people who are not going to be happy you got the job.’ ”
Even when they reach the top, he said, there will be whispers that the hire was affirmative action.
“You can’t let people take your joy.”
During the question-and-answer session, Smith addressed a similar question, sent to him from a female employee at EllisDon who had just been promoted. How does Moody encourage women and Blacks who want to move forward, Smith wondered.
“Is it about having somebody’s back? Is it about continuing to communicate? How do we give people the confidence to step forward? Or do we push them?” Smith asked.
“They’ve got to know you got their back, that you really want them to be successful,” Moody responded. “And you got to talk to them, let them know, ‘Hey, I know this is scary, but we’ve got your back, just do your job. You tell us what you need from us.’
“Nobody wants to ever feel like I’m only here so you can check a box.”
Just as in Canada, the U.S. is staring at a major labour force shortage. There will be numerous opportunities for Black workers and Moody said it is important that they not just accept labourer jobs but train for more skilled work and leadership opportunities as well.
“You’ve just got to create opportunities for everybody to win,” he said. “What I mean by that, you don’t take a minority sub who’s never done (a job) over $300,000 and say, ‘I want you to do this $3-million job.’ They’re going to fail.
“But if you say, ‘look, we’ve got a $3-million package,’ and you go to your majority electrical guy and say, ‘look, we want you to team up with somebody small and give them some of this work and make sure they grow,’ we all grow together.”
In 1992 Moody finally told his wife about the sexual abuse he had suffered as a child but it was only recently that he sought the therapy he needed.
“As you go through this journey in life, you’re going to have so many twists and turns. But if you’ve got strong faith, if you have good people around you, if you have a company that really supports and believes in mental health and those things, there is nothing you can’t overcome.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.