2016 Laureate

Greg Boehling

The words integrity, conscience and character have always been central to the life of Greg Boehling. From his upbringing in Virginia through his career that took him to Texas, South Carolina, Illinois and Alabama to his ownership of T E C Industrial Maintenance and Construction in Kingsport, Tennessee, those concepts have guided his life's course.

            Born to Dick and Burnham Boehling in Richmond, Va., Greg was the third of six children, the first four of whom – Rich, Christie, Greg and Beth – arrived in three-and-a-half year's time. Little brothers Jim and Frank followed. Greg's father worked for Reynolds Metals in Richmond. Burnham was a homemaker. Both parents took their responsibility seriously teaching strong values to their children.

            "My parents chose to invest in sending their kids to parochial school," Greg remembers. "So we all went to St. Edwards." From there, Greg moved up to Benedictine College Prep, a military, all-male Catholic high school.

            While attending schools that taught both academics and solid life principles, Greg also found he had a hunger for competition. He was a lineman on Benedictine's football squad. "Our mentality was that we were the ugly guys whose job it was to make the quarterbacks and running backs famous," Greg says. "They got all the glory and we got all the mud. But that's the mentality of a lineman."   

Greg considered several universities before attending North Carolina State to study Nuclear Engineering. It was during his time there that he got his first job in his chosen career. He caught on with Carolina Power and Light, supporting the nuclear licensing group. It was during this time he realized that the insides of atoms might not hold the key to his future. "The industry was shrinking. Few nuclear power plants were being built but I loved the science of it". So, Greg graduated in the field and took a job as a construction engineer with Fluor Corporation at the Comanche Peak Nuclear plant in Texas.

Greg began working at the plant for a construction manager who had a novel idea about how to best utilize Greg's talents. "He said, ‘I've always wanted to take a kid straight out of college who doesn't even know what he doesn't know, put you in the field with craftsmen and have you watch what they do." The company was having productivity issues, and the construction manager saw Greg as someone who could bring fresh eyes to the problem.

After a couple of months in the field, Greg reported back. Teams were blowing through inspection hold points, and then having to tear out uninspected work and redo it. Upon hearing Greg's report, the construction manager smiled and said, ‘Good work. Now go build a training class.' Greg had diagnosed the problem. All he had left to do was fix it.

It was at Comanche Peak that Greg first learned the value of networking. One of the corporate higher-ups at Fluor, Shep Wagner, visited the facility. "Everybody was like, ‘Oh gosh, Shep is coming. He's going to fire a bunch of people,'" Greg remembers. The job of giving Wagner the project rundown fell to Greg. "I had been taught to be scared to death of him," Greg says, "So I was."

But during Greg's presentation, Wagner saw Greg's last name on his hardhat and said, "I dated a girl named Boehling in Richmond, Virginia once. She lived on Hanover Avenue." Greg replied, "That was my dad's house, sir. You dated my aunt." From then on, Greg's colleagues teased him about his "Uncle Shep." But when that job was ending, Greg was tapped by Fluor for a marketing position in Greenville, South Carolina.

It proved a fortuitous move, because it was in Greenville that Greg met the woman who would become his wife, Dana. They met, appropriately, at a sporting event. A group of their mutual friends invited each of them to a Greenville Braves game where they found they both played tennis. Their first date happened on the court. "She beat me in the first set," Greg remembers. "She thinks she beat me in the second set. I don't remember being beaten."

Greg's career kept him moving. After a brief stint in Chicago, he moved on to Birmingham, Alabama to take a position in the maintenance services group with Rust Engineering. Dana followed Greg there. "She decided she wanted to find out if this was going to work or not," Greg says. "After she did that, I thought, ‘Hmm. She seems to be pretty committed to this.' We got engaged while in Birmingham and married in Greensboro, the area where she was from. That was in 1994. We're in our 22nd year now and still love each other as we did then."

            It was during his time in Birmingham that Greg got to know another individual who would play a key role in his development, Bob Jordan. The two had both been at Fluor at the same time, but had only been passing acquaintances. But when Bob arrived at Rust, Greg let him know he'd wanted to work for him in the engineering and construction side of the business. Bob replied simply, "I can make that happen." He did.  It was there that he became responsible for calling on a company called Eastman Chemical.

But Bob eventually moved on to Houston, where Greg, having already worked in Texas once, decided to stay where he was. "I'm a Southeast boy," Greg says. Greg ultimately took a position with Day & Zimmermann back in Greenville, South Carolina.

            Day & Zimmermann was doing a good deal of engineering work for Eastman in Kingsport at the time, and Greg was, in his own words, "constantly up here." Greg became enamored of the area, taking time off to go fly fishing when he could, and playing golf as often as possible. "We were engineering high voltage electrical projects that Tennessee Electric was constructing," Greg says, "so I ended up getting to know John Miller, who owned the company. Every so often he and Eastman's Jerry Repass would call and invite me to play with them at The Olde Farm. Naturally, I said, ‘Absolutely.'"

            The casual business relationship Greg and John started on the golf course became much more serious the day John called Greg in Greenville and asked if he might be interested in buying Tennessee Electric. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for Greg, but it did not come without risk.

Greg's wife had already moved from place to place to place, following Greg's career. "Dana went through all those moves with me and was a trooper about it," Greg remembers. "But I knew it was never easy. Her world got rocked whenever I moved. I had a good job. I had a nice career going. You have to weigh all these things and be real careful in making a decision to buy a company." Also by that time, the Boehlings had a seven-year-old and a five-year-old at home. Elizabeth had been born in 1999 and Ross had come along two years later.

            In the end, Greg decided the potential rewards outweighed the risk.  Six months later he and John were in final negotiations.

            Greg knew he would need capital, so he called his old friend Bob Jordan. "When you buy a company, you can't just go to the bank.  I needed a business partner to do the deal, so I called my former mentor Bob and asked if he would be willing to be my partner in this…we are. The partnership works because both Bob and I subscribe to the same values. It's no different than a marriage. It only works because you choose to make it work. You have to compromise, work together and communicate," says Greg.

            The company has grown from 150 employees to around 600. Rather than set growth goals at some percentage rate per year, T E C Industrial has been able to grow at a manageable pace by keeping to three constant guiding principles. The company must safely deliver quality services for its customers. It must keep its price points in a competitive range within the market. It must strive to maintain customer relationships.

            Specific strategies for growth have included expanding services based on customer demand, geographic footprint expansion and a disciplined approach to taking only certain contracts.

            The company's revenues had been based on electrical and instrumentation work, with growth coming by selling those services to more customers. But more and more customers started linking their electrical contracts with mechanical and piping work. So the company, which already had several executives with experience in those fields, expanded its focus.

            Just so, the opportunities for growth in the southeast haven't gone unnoticed by T E C Industrial. "Two years ago we opened an office in South Carolina. We needed an expanded footprint," says Greg.

            But that growth has consistently been informed by a disciplined approach. The company stays focused on serving only needs of customers in the process and industrial marketplace. That discipline is so consistent that the company did not take part in the construction of its own headquarters in Kingsport. T E C Industrial hired J. A.  Street & Associates to build that facility. "We knew we had to get it built, but our focus had to be on our customers," Greg says. "I didn't want us to need electricians for our own internal project at the same time our customers would need them. The Street folks did a great job for us."

            Greg hopes observers of the company will understand that its discipline reflects a willingness to stick to its guns in matters of integrity. "Something my dad used to say to us: ‘Whatever you do, remember, if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing right. Be responsible. Work hard. Operate with integrity.'"

            If the respected trade publication Engineering News Record is any indication, that approach is working. The publication's annual rankings of the Top 600 Specialty Contractors in the United States shows the company moving up. If one peels away to compare just the companies that do the overwhelming majority of their work in the industrial sector, T E C Industrial is in the Top 15 in the nation.

It's clearly a source of pride for Greg to say, "We've grown into this," but like the old offensive lineman he is, he diverts the credit to his team. "It's the people in the organization who have taken to what we've put in place and delivered on it. They're the ones who matter."

"At the end of the day, our best salesman is the customer who says, ‘You did really good work –safe, professional, good quality, you responded on time, and you got through problems the right way.'"

When one listens to Greg talk about his philosophy of business, the Golden Rule keeps coming to the fore. That too, is something his parents taught him to use as a guide in life. "Success in business doesn't define us," he says. "What defines us is our character. It's who we are and how we treat people."

 

 "I would love for my legacy to be that I was a person who had character and tried to hand that down, both as a dad and in my company," Greg says. "That's what's important to me."