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Bob Burton: Loss of an Industry Leader

Profile

Former Hoar Construction CEO left behind a legacy that will never be forgotten.

by PAIGE TOWNLEY

Robert G. “Bob” Burton, former chief executive officer of Hoar Construction, passed away January 12 at the age of 84. Bob

A graduate of Auburn University, Burton first entered the construction industry as an estimator. After joining Hoar Construction—at a time when it was a small general contractor called F. R. Hoar and Son that mainly built various facilities around Birmingham—Burton rose through the ranks and became president of the company in the 1970s. After Richard Hoar retired, Burton became majority owner and chief executive officer of the firm, a position he maintained until he retired in 1991. Burton served on the company’s advisory board until his recent passing. “He used to always say to me, ‘find a career that you like so much that when you go home at night you say you can’t believe someone would pay you to do that because I have fun,’” said Rob Burton, Burton’s son and Hoar’s current chief executive officer. “He had fun in this business.”

In addition to his many survivors, Burton left behind a legacy not only at Hoar Construction but also in the construction industry as a whole. Burton became known as an innovator with shopping mall construction, having completed major projects such as the construction of Eastwood Mall in the 1950s. “He would sit down with architectural partners and determine new and different ways to design and build malls,” Rob Burton said. “I can’t stress enough how he got outside of the general contractor mindset. He didn’t run this company to be just a general contractor. He ran the company to be an asset to the client, one they could rely on to find a better way to build.”

Part of what made Burton so successful in the industry—and added to Hoar Construction’s success—is his attention to detail. “There are not enough people in our industry who consider attention to detail important, but my father did,” Rob Burton said. “A lot of things can get overlooked in our industry and attention to detail is the answer to that. He loved digging into the details of how a building was built and trying to find a better way to do it. That’s what he taught us. He had a large part in leading Hoar Construction in that way.”

Burton always made sure to know the details of every project, Rob Burton said, regardless of his role in the job. “Everyone knew that when you put together an estimate and took it to him that he was going to find something wrong and pick it apart to make sure you had thought everything through,” Rob Burton said. “We would all be shocked at how he had reviewed and read all of the drawings and specifications and would be ready to quiz us on whether we knew the job or not. Some of the questions he would ask we’d wonder how he even knew to ask. But that went back to the responsibility he felt to his client to know the job backwards and forwards.”

The responsibility he felt to the client also meant Burton expected the same attitude and drive from everyone on the job. “Bob was very demanding of himself and the entire team,” said CMH Architects President Everett Hatcher, who worked with Burton on various projects over the years. “He demanded that everyone be responsible, as good as they could be and deliver what they had promised on time. I think that by being that way he made everyone better and it made the projects more successful. He was able to bring the entire team of architects, engineers, subcontractors, everyone involved, together as a team to focus on a single goal.”

Burton’s desire to ensure quality and perfection didn’t end there. Bobby Keith, the former Hoar chief executive who succeeded Burton, remembers Burton for his progressive thinking. “He was an innovator,” Keith said. “He was innovative in the ways of marketing and client service. At a time when the construction industry was more or less focused on just being the low bidder, Bob really thought there should be more of an emphasis on the service you provide to the client. I think Hoar Construction became recognized for that type of thinking and one of the reasons the company has experienced the growth that it has.”

Keith also credits Burton for always being a man of character. “To me, his strongest asset was his integrity,” Keith said. “He thought a business should operate based on Christian principles, and everything I ever saw him deal with, that’s how he handled it.” Added Rob Burton, “There was no shaking his character,” he said. “My father was going to do the right thing no matter what it cost him. He used to tell me all the time that it’s easy to be honest when things are going well, but you find out who is really honest when their back is against the wall. I have never forgotten that, and that’s another legacy he has left with his company.”

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