Charleston Management Conference

Written by  Gary Scharrer and Kristen Smith

fountain 2

Nearly 300 AGC members, family and state officials made the annual Management Conference another memory-maker: fortifying personal relationships, learning about Texas politics and industry issues, and absorbing Charleston, South Carolina’s southern charm and early American history.

The (June 10-13) conference was a destination playground for all attendees and again amplified the event as a family retreat with a “kid-friendly” atmosphere.

The kickoff event featured AGC’s name in lights, on the marquis of the Riviera Theater. Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, the theater opened in 1939 and is a breathtaking example of the Art Deco style. Children had their own private “screening room,” where they watched a movie and played.

The following morning launched the first of two business sessions, giving AGC members an up-close opportunity to hear from state officials, national leaders and Texas legislators about dominating issues. Recreational activities included community tours, golfing, fishing, boat excursions on the harbor, a trip to Fort Sumter – site of the first shelling that ignited the Civil War – and plenty of shopping in the heart of Downtown Charleston, which also offered multiple historic markers.

“What an amazing town, rich with history, southern charm and great food!” marveled AGC Immediate Past President Seth Schulgen (Williams Brothers Construction). “You can’t help but take a step back in time when you travel the streets of Charleston. Whether it is a tour of Fort Sumter, a carriage ride through town, or a dinner event on a historic plantation, the whole setting exudes history--our history. And no matter what side of the old Mason-Dixon line you call home, the history of our ancestors and this great country is still fresh and alive in Charleston.”

Seth and wife, Hillary, chose Charleston for the annual Management Conference.

house sheep

The spouse tour consisted of a “town and country” tour of Charleston. Here,The spouse tour consisted of a “town and country” tour of Charleston. Here,the “country” portion of the tour was held at Middleton Place, home toAmerica’s oldest landscaped gardens. The home was built in 1755 and wasthe birthplace of a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

“Hillary and I cannot say thank you enough to Jennifer Woodard and all of the AGC staff for making this conference one for the record books. The events, the venues, the hospitality and the food were all first class,” he said, adding that AGC members also deserve kudos for participating.

“It is hard to be away from your companies for that many days, so please know that we appreciate you taking the time to come and share a piece of Charleston with us,” Schulgen said.

The Charleston-hosted Management Conference was the first one for AGC of Texas Board Member Ivan Svec (Cherry Demolition).

riviera

The Riviera Theater welcomes guests to the AGC of Texas ManagementThe Riviera Theater welcomes guests to the AGC of Texas ManagementConference at the Opening Night Reception Sunday night (June 10).

“I was aware that the Management Conference existed. When you come to it, you realize how important it is to spend time with everybody in AGC and listen to all the different moderated sessions that allow you to focus in on industry challenges and what’s going good – not just what’s going bad. It’s been an eye-opener,” Svec said. “It’s a value for most general contractors and associates to attend. It brings great value to your company.”

Svec appreciated the informal gatherings and meals with industry colleagues and also the political and public policy briefings from Capitol insiders.

“We all try to keep up as best we can, but the reality is we don’t hear everything that is going on unless you are in Austin and attend the local functions,” he said. “So, you count on everybody coming together in one room and getting more details of what’s going on - things you won’t hear from your offices in Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas. It helps to bring it all together in one spot and you get to hear it all in half day sessions. It’s really good.”

For Svec, spending time with colleagues in both formal business sessions and in informal outings and receptions “brings a team unity to everybody that we’re all one. We’re all in it together. We’re all looking for the same thing as a group to help grow our businesses to be successful.”

A scheduling conflict kept his wife, Gaylinn, from attending the conference. He planned to give her a full report and let her know: “She missed out on a good time and a lot of fun.”

But bringing his family to a future AGC Management Conference is likely.

“It would be a great value for them to get to know other families of members and get to see the great locations and different locations, which makes it a vacation type for families. It brings a perspective and a balance between work and family. You get a little bit of both,” Svec said.

And that’s exactly why Jim and Debi Burkett keep attending the Management Conferences.

They’ve been participating since their first conference in Puerto Rico about 40 years ago.

“When my wife and I were younger, it was a chance to take a short vacation - many times the only one we would take that year,” Burkett said. “As time moved on, it was and is a bonus to be able to meet again with the many friends we’ve made through the years.”

He particularly enjoys the opportunity to “discuss industry issues during the social events with my peers and members in the Legislature as well as the commentators giving us insight about state and national affairs.”

discuss state issues

Moderator Karen Johnson Rove and Texas House members John Kuempel,Moderator Karen Johnson Rove and Texas House members John Kuempel,R-Seguin, Ken King, R-Canadian, Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, Drew Darby,R-San Angelo and Karl Rove (filling in for Sen. John Whitmire who had a legislative hearing) discuss state issues and the on-going race for Texas Houselegislative hearing) discuss state issues and the on-going race for Texas HouseSpeaker during a Management Conference panel discussion.

The AGC Management Conference always provided a summer highlight for Tommy and Marsha Williams while Tommy served in the Texas Legislature. They last attended in 2013 while he was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He missed the past four conferences after resigning from the Senate to become a vice chancellor at Texas A&M University.

But they returned to Charleston this year. Williams is now the senior advisor for Gov. Greg Abbott. He highlighted budget and transportation issues for AGC members from his prominent perch inside the governor’s office.

“I get an opportunity on a personal level to get to know people in the industry that supports infrastructure in this state,” he said. “They are committed to improving the lives of every Texan and so this gives me the opportunity to relate to them on a personal level and they with me. I can hear their issues and understand their problems and hopefully try to address those for the people of Texas who we all work for,” Williams said.

Speaking from his experience both as a veteran legislator and senior gubernatorial staff member, Williams emphasized the importance of participating in these informal management conferences. They provide an opportunity to exchange ideas and information free from deadline pressures.

“Once the session opens there’s almost no time for anything,” Williams said. “We don’t really do anything during the session except try to accomplish solutions that we ferreted out during the interim.

“This is an important time of the year because we are meeting with folks, talking about ideas and legislation, meeting with our colleagues, and then when we get to the session, its open throttle and we try to accomplish things,” he said. “And there’s really no time to talk about new ideas. It’s time to implement ideas that we talked about.”

Ladies going to party

On the way to the Plantation Party: Hillary Schulgen suggested the ladiesOn the way to the Plantation Party: Hillary Schulgen suggested the ladieswear their party hats to the “Taste of Charleston” dinner, held at LowndesGrove along the banks of the Ashley River. Here, Leanne Skinner, CheriAlderman, Anne Weisman, Carol Siddons and Patty Stroud stop in front of theBelmond Fountain prior to boarding the bus to the plantation.

Williams, like others, noted the family atmosphere that increases the value of the annual conferences.

“I know these folks by names. I know their wives, their children. We watched them grow up,” he said. “We know their struggles. We’ve been with them in the peaks and in the valleys, and so it’s been a terrific opportunity to maintain those relationships. Almost anything in life depends upon relationships. It’s important to understand each other.”

One of the Texas House leaders, Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, attended his 13th straight AGC Management Conference.

“This is a family. Truly it’s a family, and we heard that last night (during a dinner with AGC leaders and legislators). We all collectively gather together once a year. We are able to reestablish those ties and find out about their children and grandchildren and what they’re doing. We can help them in times of health issues or whatever, and they in turn help us in our times of need.

jugglers

The Pebley boys (Gavin and Harris, Foremost Paving) stand very still duringThe Pebley boys (Gavin and Harris, Foremost Paving) stand very still duringone of the multiple programs organized for children during the AGCManagement Conference in Charleston, South Carolina.

“You’re trying to know people in a fundamental personal level to be able to recreate with them or play golf or fish – or simply sit on a porch and visit. All those are critical to understanding who people are,” Darby said.

The veteran legislator emphasized the value of building relationships that create a better understanding of people, issues and problems. Established relationships make it easier to solve problems, he said.

“As in life, who you know and what they know is important to how you formulate your own policies and so by coming to these events we are able to build those relationships, understand their operations, their needs and the needs of the roadbuilding economy, what it means for our state in terms of connectivity and safety,” Darby said. “By meeting with groups like AGC, we understand their industry. It also allows us time to be with our colleagues - fellow state reps and senators. We get to know them on a personal level so that we can understand their districts and their needs. We can rely upon those relationships during stress cycles in the legislative process to find good policies that will move the state forward – not only in transportation but in other areas.”

Outside of the business sessions were an array of activities and dinners designed to give attendees a taste of local flavor, while at the same time forging relationships between families and colleagues.

The “Spouse Tour” is an event held during the first business session for the spouses and guests who do not attend the sessions. This year’s event—a “town and country” tour of two antebellum residences--sold out very early—much to the dismay of many long-time attendees who found themselves without a seat. Fortunately, all who showed up secured a ticket for the tours, which contained extraordinary civil war artifacts—such as a framed Presidential Pardon from The Reconstruction, among others—faithfully preserved and maintained by the descendants of this living history.

The tour also included a luncheon at the Middleton Place plantation, which included a proper southern spread of iced tea, fried chicken, biscuits, salad and pecan pie.

Traditionally, an entire day is set aside for optional activities for members to choose from, and this year featured several. Attendees could choose to participate in a golf tournament, tour Fort Sumter, or go on a Bay Fishing Excursion.

fish

Hillary Schulgen (Williams Brothers Construction) with daughter AislinHillary Schulgen (Williams Brothers Construction) with daughter Aislincaptured the “reel big fish” award during the bay fishing excursion, one ofseveral optional activities.

While the golf tournament was rained out in the final holes, all had their fun. Consensus among the Fort Sumter tourists was that it should have been longer—a testament to any museum tour.

Seth and Hillary Schulgen opted to take their children bay fishing. “Hands down, we had the best guide,” said Schulgen. “I was nervous about the trip because it was the first time for Hillary, Trey and Aislin to go bay fishing. I wanted them to not only catch fish, but more importantly to also find the fun in bay fishing. Thanks to our patient guide, the trip exceeded all of my expectations. Trey caught 3 redfish and 1 black drum. Sweet little Aislin caught one trout (on her first cast), one keeper redfish and two black drum. Hillary kicked all our butts though. Her one and only fish for the day was a BIG redfish. Daddy didn’t get to do much fishing for himself, but this fishing trip will be one that I’ll never forget.”

This year, Doug Pitcock (Williams Brothers Construction) also generously chartered two boats for all attendees to tour the Charleston Harbor. With a captain pointing out famous landmarks, porpoise and alligator sightings, cocktails, and a full basement for kids to run wild, the tour was a wealth of information and diversion.

Plenty of time is built into the program to allow for independent exploration—or “reviewing area infrastructure,” as it was once labeled.

“You couldn’t go wrong just simply wandering around this magnificent city,” recalls Hillary Schulgen. “You would easily stumble upon parks and historic houses you wouldn’t have seen staying on the main streets. There were so many beautiful homes throughout the Historic District in Charleston, and the best way to find them was to pick a street and just start walking.

girl on cannon

Felix Cuesta Martin (Webber), Ines and five year-old daughter Beatrit inspect aFelix Cuesta Martin (Webber), Ines and five year-old daughter Beatrit inspect acannon at Fort Sumter, a historic federal monument and site of the beginningof the Civil War. The tour, which included a boat ride to the Fort, was anoptional activity during the conference.

The Lowndes Grove Plantation, where the group gathered for Monday night’s “Taste of Charleston” feast was purported to have the best sunset in Charleston. Weather had different plans, though, and while the sunset was hard to view, the shade and cool breeze from the Ashley River provided an invigorating break from the heat.

Hillary Schulgen devised a fun idea: for the women to wear hats, making it a true Plantation Party. All guests also received a fan for their use during the event.

On the front lawn was a mini-carnival for children (and some of the adults, as well). Two bouncy houses, a glitter tattoo station, Hula Hoops, a giant, inflatable archery target, and a bubble station capable of producing 20-foot long bubbles kept everyone entertained for hours.

“I really appreciate how much effort went in to making activities for the older kids,” said Meg Lisenby of Pipe Wholesalers of Texas, a DBE supplier. “Usually there is childcare for the younger ones but nothing that an older kid would find fun. This really made them happy.” Lisenby attending the event with husband Kent and their children Alex, Ethan and Keaton.

The final night featured a wrap party dinner and dance, with an amazing band and a convivial air.

friday night at conf

AGC family members gather together to celebrate during the final nightAGC family members gather together to celebrate during the final nightof the Management Conference. Clockwise from left: Debbie Albert, AnneWeisman, Patty Stroud, Roger Albert, Jennifer Woodard, Sophie Smith, andHillary Schulgen.

“I can’t think of a better way to close out a phenomenal event than our final dinner and dance,” said Schulgen. “The food was good and the band was unbelievable. It is always great to see the dance floor packed, and it stayed packed all evening. Husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, even the littlest kids were pairing up and cutting a rug.”

The hit, Schulgen continued, had to be the Clark Hat. A bright plaid fedora and matching tie, purchased as a “thank you” gift the AGC of Texas’ sitting president, somehow ingratiated itself into almost every picture taken that night. “For that, it will forever be known as the Charleston Hat and will be housed in the glass case at the AGC Chapter Office. If you have not caught a glimpse of this glorious specimen of a hat, I highly encourage you to take a gander the next time you are in the chapter office… and have absolutely nothing else to do,” he laughed.

bounce house

Derek Angel (Angel Brothers Enterprises) and son Harrison have fun at the “bubble therapy”Derek Angel (Angel Brothers Enterprises) and son Harrison have fun at the “bubble therapy”station during an AGC of Texas Management Conference outing.

At the reception, Anne Weisman offered a toast to the women of AGC – both members and spouses. Female spouses have “to give up so much, especially early on” as husbands were building businesses and careers.

“We like to stay in the background,” she said and, then, with laughter, told the audience she has reminded her husband, Johnny Weisman, “you are not my boss.” The audience applauded, and Johnny sagely said he could not offer any rebuttal.

But the veteran industry leader thanked state officials for helping to acquire desperately needed highway funding increases to address highway safety, connectivity and congestion.

“We have a good partnership with our elected people – from the governor on down…. It’s going to work out better than what we thought it was. Our job is to perform – to get the roads built out there, and we have to continue to work together to provide the adequate funding that is necessary, “said Weisman, a two-time AGC of Texas president.

Laughing, Schulgen said the pressure now shifts to his friend, AGC of Texas President Clark to come up with a 2019 conference location that approaches Charleston in popularity.

“I am not sure what all Chad has planned for next year’s conference, but if he beats this one (and I know he’ll try) he will have to blow the roof off the place,” Schulgen said.



MediaEDGE Logo sml