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Construction mogul extends reach beyond industry

Sundt Constuction CEO?Doug Pruitt, an advocate for the industry, says getting involved in construction issues is just part of his job. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Sundt Constuction CEO?Doug Pruitt, an advocate for the industry, says getting involved in construction issues is just part of his job. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Family is the only thing that really pulls J. Doug Pruitt away from running a 120-year-old construction company. He freely admits his “vacations” are often off-time jaunts during business trips. His tireless demeanor has earned him much respect and even greater influence in and outside of the construction industry.

“He is just the kind of guy that the community needs to pay attention to,” says U.S. Attorney for Arizona

Dennis Burke, who has known Pruitt for 7 years. “He is a great spokesperson for the construction industry, but his influence extends far beyond that. He’s a lot like E.F. Hutton, from those commercials. When he speaks, people listen.”

Pruitt, CEO of Sundt Construction, says he is obligated as an industry leader to promote pro-construction industry concepts he feels strongly about — a trait that other industry leaders recognize in him.

“You can talk with Doug about any subject matter relating to state policy, and he will have the pulse on those matters,” says David Martin, president of the Arizona Chapter of Associated General Contractors. “He cares deeply about the prosperity of this state, as his involvement indicates.”

Martin met Pruitt about 11 years ago when the two found themselves on opposite sides of the original light rail proposal. The contractors were against the idea and Pruitt was for it. The early vote went against the light rail, but the plan was far from dead.

“Doug’s line to me was: ‘It’s better to be inside the tent discussing issues rather than being on the outside always throwing stones,’” Martin recalls. “It was a true life lesson that’ll go with me to the grave.”

Pruitt convinced Martin and then-Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza to meet and chat about the project. Pruitt and Rimsza convinced Martin and the Contractors Association that the light rail would be a good thing for the Valley.

“I had pretty good corporate parenting by the Sundts. They believed you had to be activists; you had more of a responsibility as managers, not just to run a business, but to get involved as your industry and get involved in your community and make it better. That was critical to them and to us,” Pruitt says. “It’s our job.”

As the overall economy has taken a dive and the construction industry has been particularly hard hit in Arizona, Pruitt says diversification has been the key to keeping Sundt going strong; the firm reported ending 2009 with nearly $1 billion in business nationwide.

Right now, Sundt has projects ongoing in nine states, from Texas to Washington state. The projects include everything from shopping malls, financial institutions and school facilities to parking structures, military houses and water treatment plants.

While Pruitt is driven to make his company successful, he says it is as important for the employee-owned company to be philanthropic. Since the late 1990s, the Sundt Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, has raised millions for charities by offering employee payroll deductions.

“We have 1,500 of us that own the company,” Pruitt says. “And we have an ongoing responsibility as a business to participate in the community and give back.”

Pruitt, 64, has given his time to several organizations, including the American Council for Construction Education, the Arizona Builders Alliance and the National Academy of Construction. He is a past president of the Del E. Webb School of Construction at ASU, and was given the Spirit of Philanthropy Award in 2009, among other honors.

Pruitt joined Sundt Construction in 1966 and moved steadily up through the ranks, to assume the CEO and chairmanship positions in 1998. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix, and is a graduate of the Arizona State University Management Institute and the Stanford Executive Development Program.

His business philosophies revolve around convincing employees and associates to perform to their highest caliber.

“It’s about inspiring people to go beyond the expected,” he says. “And I believe that we all have a responsibility to serve the community, as well as our customers.”

Pruitt says he thinks the state and the construction industry are now climbing out of recession, but the recovery will continue to be frustratingly slow.  “There is not a lot of work going on, and there probably won’t be in the foreseeable future,” he says. “The market is slow, but we think it’s beginning to solidify some.”

It is that honest, direct assessment that continues to earn Pruitt the respect of those with whom he works.

“Doug is a plain-spoken Oklahoma construction guy, and that’s what makes him so valuable,” says political consultant Chuck Coughlin, who has worked with Pruitt on public policy issues during the past nine years. “He doesn’t mince words, he’s very direct, and he’s always about getting the job done. He’s also very inquisitive, but he doesn’t always presume to have all the answers. Like a good leader, he listens and then acts.”

Away from the office, Pruitt is focused on his family.

He can generally be found dining with them or taking in a sporting activity with his children and grandchildren.

“Yesterday I had four grandkids and a son and a daughter and the wives and husbands all over, and we watched football and had pizza. It works real well,” he said.

He does take the occasional short vacation — typically an offshoot of a working jaunt — with his wife of 42 years, Becky. The two have owned a cabin in Wisconsin for more than a decade.

“I’m not a guy who goes hunting or fishing, or on extended golf trips,” he says. “Most of what I do outside of work revolves around my family.”

But the question remains: Is he a workaholic?

“I have been accused of that,” he says. “Work has been my hobby, to some degree. It is my vocation and my avocation.”

“People have asked how I do all this,” he says, referring to his business interests, his family dedication, and his participation in numerous groups and organizations. “Being involved in all that I am energizes me.”

It also requires a large amount of personal devotion.

“I am a disciplined person. I have worked for the same company and been married to the same lady for years,” he says. “I’ve even been going to the same barber for 40 years.”

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