At Haydon Building Corp, employees are guided by a company culture forged by the importance of family — a driving force that has been instrumental in building and growing the Phoenix-based general contractor as it celebrates three decades in Arizona.
The Haydon culture is the foundation on which the firm builds relationships with its employees, clients and industry partners. It’s a legacy that started with Gary Haydon and will continue on as his daughter, Katie Haydon Perry, steps up to take the torch.
“It’s hard to express how proud I am of our company’s anniversary,” says Katie Haydon Perry, the firm’s executive vice president and partner. “Haydon Building Corp is a family business that started here in Phoenix and is still going strong. The foothold we’ve had in this market is amazing. As my dad celebrates the first 30 years, I embrace the next 30.”
The right man at the right time
Construction companies are typically started by leaders who understand how projects are built and knows that he or she can do it better than anyone else.
Gary Haydon is that leader.
Born in Arkansas and raised in Arizona, Haydon, the son of a ranch hand, developed discipline and grit while growing up. “My dad is not a sit-on-the-couch-and-watch-movies kind of guy,” Perry says. “His strong work ethic was instilled when he was young. As an only son, he was expected to do a lot more than anyone else, which gave him his drive.”
In his early days, Haydon held jobs as an iron worker and heavy equipment operator. After graduating, from college, he worked as a superintendent and project manager, gaining experience and knowledge along the way.
Eventually, he landed at SDB Contracting Services and reconnected with longtime friend Dominic Spagnuolo, who had watched Haydon raise his daughter as a single dad. It was this commitment to family that drew Spagnuolo to Haydon. The two developed a strong mentor/father figure relationship and remain close to this day.
In 1991, Spagnuolo started a building division of SDB and selected Haydon to run it. Spagnuolo saw something in his friend — a capability to lead the company in doing things it had never done before. In 1998, SDB’s building division became its own company, which was renamed Haydon Building Corp.
The following years brought incredible growth as the market in Arizona boomed and alternative delivery methods such as construction manager-at-risk and design-build — both of which the firm quickly became a trailblazer in — became the new norm for public work, as opposed to low bid. Haydon Building Corp set itself apart from other contractors by adopting early-on a partnering approach with owners and industry associates to deliver the best value on its projects.
“We saw this as an opportunity to take our culture of family and partnering and leverage it to improve how we all come together to build the best projects. People build projects, which means there’s teamwork, accountability and problem-solving involved,” Haydon says. “All of these elements define Haydon Building Corp.”
Haydon 2.0: A cultural reboot in 2017
Haydon’s determination, grit and entrepreneurial savvy set the framework for how his employees approach work and achieve success.
By 2017, the personality of the company had shifted as it acquired more employees and larger projects, and as the economy changed and technology advanced. It was time for the firm to evolve.
One of the largest challenges was typical: Divisions had become silos and needed to be engaged in different ways. Perry created an organizational development department within the human resources umbrella, the sole focus of which was maintaining company culture.
This new culture was inspired by insurance executive David J. Friedman’s 2011 book, “Fundamentally Different,” which examines the critical role culture plays in organizational success.
This new way of thinking and behaving resulted in 31 fundamental behaviors that are practiced by all Haydon Building Corp employees.
“They’re the cornerstone of who we are. We open meetings with our behaviors and provide mentoring and coaching tools based on them, as well,” Perry explains. “These behaviors clearly define our expectations and enforce our commitment to delivering the best service to our clients and industry partners.”
The fundamental behaviors also extend to the firm’s recruiting efforts. Haydon Building Corp has a five-step hiring process that uncovers not only a potential employee’s technical experience but also his or her personality and behavioral characteristics. It allows the company to learn more about the person and better determine how he or she will fit into the organization.
“At Haydon Building Corp, there’s an excellent balance of being able to build lasting relationships with our clients and being an advocate for their construction needs,” Perry says. “I feel rewarded at the end of every day being able to work as a team to find solutions.”
Transition at the top
As with all businesses, change is inevitable. In 2018, Haydon began making plans to transition his firm to the next generation. It was important that his legacy of perseverance and tenacity be carried on to a new team of leaders. While it was only natural that Haydon would look to his daughter to lead the company, there was still a piece missing.
Enter Matt Carpenter. The Arizona State University graduate had been with Haydon Building Corp for nearly 20 years in various capacities, and he possessed a unique perspective when it came to operations and estimating.
“So, I put those two together,” Haydon recalls. “They are the perfect combination of passion and skills that I knew would take Haydon Building Corp to the next level.”
As part of the executive changeover, Carpenter was promoted to chief operating officer and senior vice president.
“One of the things I pride myself on is providing leadership to people in the next generation coming up,” Carpenter says. “That’s the exciting part of my role — imparting guidance as we grow.”
Embracing the future
“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Haydon says. “It’s hard for me to imagine that it’s been 30 years. It’s exciting to think about transitioning the company to the next generation and seeing what they will do with it.”
Perry echoes her father’s words. “I believe in what my dad has accomplished, and I am committed to taking the company to the next level,” she says.
She points out that her father has surrounded himself with people who are as driven as he is. This includes his partners at Haydon Building Corp: Fritz Behrhorst, vice president of pre-construction; Les Keeble, vice president of risk management; and Mark Eklund, vice president of heavy civil.
“They are three of the smartest people I’ve met, and we are incredibly grateful that they were part of the team that built our foundation,” Perry says.
Haydon Building Corp has had its share of market ups and downs, including the Great Recession and the recent COVID-19 pandemic. According to Perry, surviving tough times defines a company’s resilience.
“In the face of adversity, you can choose to be bitter, or you can choose to be better. And the adversity that we faced in 2020 was COVID-19,” she says. “With continuous changes, we choose to be better. The company we are today is different than the company we were 30 years ago, five years ago, even one year ago.
“As we embrace the future, we do so with respect and gratitude for our clients, industry partners and employees who helped Haydon Building Corp get to where it is today,” she continues. “Our success is their success. In the end, we have the same belief: Always be humble, hungry and smart.”