Thirty-four years ago, Joseph Poynter was a budding cement mason looking to lay down roots in his hometown. He quickly made a name for himself upon joining Cincinnati-based Prus Construction
, but it wasn’t exactly what he had in mind.
The predicament was simple enough: Poynter’s crew foreman, who’s now president of the company, also was named Joe. With all the noise and communication common to a construction jobsite, having two Joes around just wasn’t working.
“Somebody had to have a nickname, so they decided it would be me. I said, ‘just don’t call me Bird Dog.’”
You can almost see Poynter biting his tongue as soon as the words leave his mouth. Alas, he’s been known as Bird Dog ever since (in reference to the Pointer dog breed that’s known for hunting birds).
Driven by an innate positive attitude, Poynter says the nickname has served him well in a career in which he constantly works with different project managers, engineers and municipal employees. Going by Bird Dog is an easy way for him to stand out.
But Poynter’s name is far from the only reason people remember him. His colleagues—both at Prus and throughout the southwest Ohio construction industry—describe him as polite, well-respected, kind and creative. He’s a true leader and a hands-on craftsman who always keeps safety and quality in mind, and who makes everyone around him better. Prus turns to Poynter when a complex problem needs to be solved, knowing he’ll pitch in to do what needs to be done.
For these reasons and more, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC
) named Poynter its 2012 Craft Professional of the Year. He received the award, along with a new pickup truck sponsored by Tradesmen International
, in April at ABC’s EdCon & Expo
in San Antonio.
The last time Poynter was in San Antonio was for basic training in the 1960s. He was stationed in St. Louis and served in the Air Force for four years. When his commitment to the Air Force ended, Poynter went through a cement mason apprenticeship program offered by the Local 527 in St. Louis, eventually graduating as a journeyman in 1976.
As a native of Cincinnati, the banks of the Ohio River beckoned and Poynter returned home to seek work in 1978. He wound up at Prus Construction—which specializes in structural concrete work, road reconstruction and environmental projects—and hasn’t looked back since. Building a Legacy
Rooted in the Present Part of Poynter’s commitment to Prus stems from his ability to evolve along with the company, which was founded in 1888. Shortly after being hired as a cement mason, Poynter was promoted to foreman, and from there he went on to work as a crane operator and plumber. When Prus started doing more slipform paving, he went to school to learn how to set up and run the necessary machinery; when the company delved into bridge work, he learned carpentry.
“Being with a merit shop company, I get to learn a lot of different trades, as well as what everyone else is doing and how it fits into what I’m doing,” Poynter says. “It’s a great place to learn, and they’re always challenging me.”
Indeed, Prus relies on Poynter’s innovative spirit when a job requires a new or more efficient process. “Bird Dog takes a lot of unknown variables out of the experimental process when we first try putting a new idea into practice,” says Jason Harvey, Prus’ director of human resources. “His well-rounded knowledge in all of the crafts gives him a unique ability to look at a situation and come up with a process that no one else could imagine. Then he teaches our crews how to effectively utilize the method.”
In essence, Poynter goes where he is needed, imparts his knowledge and then moves on to the next task. No two days are the same, with his responsibilities changing depending on whether he’s working as a laborer, mason, carpenter or operator.
“Sometimes my job is like putting out fires,” Poynter says. “They call my name, and I come running.”
This spring, Poynter toggled between two important jobs in Cincinnati: Smale Riverfront Park and the Horseshoe Casino. The 45-acre park, which stretches along the city’s historic riverfront between the baseball and football stadiums, is being built in phases with the help of city, state, federal and private funding. Phase one of the project, which wrapped up in May, included event lawns, gardens and walkways, as well as a fountain, labyrinth, bike rental shop, stage and restaurant/microbrewery. Other components include a tree grove and monument dedicated to the Black Brigade, which built barricades in 1862 to defend Cincinnati from Confederate attack.
With Prus handling several crucial aspects of the park, Poynter was brought in to guide the construction of concrete walls for the Main Street Fountain and surrounding steps. “My responsibility was to keep the crew going in the right direction. We worked with plumbers, electricians and landscapers, so I had to coordinate all their work with our work so we didn’t forget anything.”
As the first phase of work finished up at the park, Poynter moved on to a high-priority project at the $400 million Horseshoe Casino, which is scheduled to open next spring. In addition to a 100,000-square-foot gaming floor, 33,000 square feet of multipurpose space and three restaurants, construction plans call for an outdoor plaza. That’s where Prus comes in.
“It’s almost like a park itself,” Poynter says of the plaza. “The project has a really tight schedule, so I was sent there to get the retaining walls up.”
Once Poynter marked that task off the checklist, he briefly moved on to a street reconstruction job before heading back to Smale Riverfront Park to gear up for phase two. He gets a thrill out of not knowing what challenge will present itself next, and enjoys the lasting impression his work leaves on the community.
“There are very few jobs where you can do something and go back 20 years later and see it,” Poynter says. “Hundreds of thousands of people enjoy the parks we work on, which makes you feel so good, but you shouldn’t waste too much time looking backward. The project I’m most excited about is what I’m working on right now. You can build your legacy and look at what you’ve done, but what’s most important is the job you’re currently doing.” Influencing the Next Generation
Such wisdom gleaned throughout a three-decade career is a boon to young craft professionals. Most of Poynter’s training responsibilities occur onsite via informal mentoring, but he also leads classes at Prus’ education center, named “The Bird’s Nest” in honor of Poynter’s contributions to the construction industry and local workforce.
“I often try to place our apprentices with Bird Dog because he’s approachable, knowledgeable and loves to share trade practices,” Harvey says. “Not only do apprentices look up to him as a mentor during their journeyman status, but they also develop a strong lifetime bond with him. He really has impacted the lives of people who are now leaders in the construction industry.”
Perhaps Poynter’s most important influence has been on jobsite safety. He leads by example and makes no exceptions about who must follow safety guidelines and procedures. As a result, he has yet to experience an Occupational Safety and Health Administration recordable injury on any of his jobsites.
“We have daily safety talks that keep everyone on the safety track. They might seem redundant, but you have to keep your mind sharp because you can hurt yourself and others if you start doing something without thinking about it,” Poynter says. “Safety isn’t something we focus on to make work harder; it’s because we care.”
Another core value Poynter passes on to young professionals is the importance of having a positive, progressive attitude; in other words, he tries to instill a “self-expectation of success” and a desire to continue learning.
“I don’t like working with a bunch of zombies,” he says. “I want the crew to ask questions or offer a better way of doing something. If it won’t work, I’ll tell them why. If it does work, it means they’re using their heads and learning.”
Encouraging collaboration and problem solving onsite—rather than just allowing crews to log eight-hour workdays—is Poynter’s way of preparing young workers for the retirement of seasoned craft professionals. With the right direction, he has found apprentices are eager to step up.
“Construction isn’t just digging a ditch anymore. Technology use is way up, so they have more to learn and more responsibilities. The young people we hire are ready for that,” Poynter says. “It’s up to us to explain to them that construction is a great job and offers a great life.”
Two people who have received that message are Poynter’s sons, Matt and Doug, both of whom work for Prus. Between the fun of working with his kids and the thrill of always having another challenge around the corner, Poynter isn’t ready to untie his work boots just yet.
“The construction industry does not hold still; there’s always something new,” he says. “I can’t remember a time when the change was for the worse. It’s always for the betterment of the industry, the people who work in it and the customers you’re building for.” Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?
Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC
) Craft Professional of the Year award honors an employee who sets the standard for professionalism in his or her field by exhibiting outstanding skills and leadership. In addition to award winner Joseph “Bird Dog” Poynter, a foreman with Cincinnati-based Prus Construction, finalists for the 2012 competition included:
Nominees are judged on their mastery of job-related skills, jobsite and safety performance record, leadership, professionalism, community and industry service, personal motivation, credentials and commitment to the merit shop philosophy. Candidates must currently be employed by an ABC member firm, possess journey-level designation as defined by their employer, and spend approximately 90 percent of their daily job duties and responsibilities either using tools, processes and equipment or directing field supervision of craft professionals using tools. For more information, visit www.abc.org/education_training/awards.aspx
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