Stepping Up to Serve
D.C.-based ABC National Chair George R. Nash Jr. Prioritizes Safety, Smiles and Second Chances
It’s no secret that George R. Nash Jr. loves his work. He enters any room with a big smile, a strong voice, a sense of purpose and a willingness to lend a hand. With a knack for putting others at ease while making his expectations known and keeping them motivated, he’s just the guy you’d want to be the face of a national construction organization.
As 2018 chair of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), Nash leads the 21,000-plus member association’s executive committee and board of directors, guides its national initiatives and serves as its spokesperson, while remaining in his day-to-day role of preconstruction director at the Herndon, Va., office of Branch and Associates, Inc.
Nash does not believe he was destined to take on this responsibility; he simply followed a path and never said no. But to hear Nash describe his journey, the idea of fate certainly comes to mind.
Nash, who was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in the Maryland suburbs, will help shape the politics and policy of the organization in a year when midterm elections will influence the industry on a national stage. His first job in the nation’s capital introduced him to the value of the merit shop philosophy. His life path led him to build a church that he now attends and considers a pivotal influence in his life. His early encounters with a few esteemed colleagues have fostered lifelong friendships that Nash intends to nurture for the rest of his life. And ultimately, his experiences during his 35-year career have made him a better leader—and a better person.
Safety and Mentorship
In setting his agenda for the year, Nash’s No. 1 priority is to make the industry safer than it has ever been—a natural goal for a man who considers himself to be a servant leader.
“Pause for a moment and think about this: Three people die every day on construction sites. Three husbands, wives, dads, sons or daughters, didn’t come home today. They left in the morning to go to their place of work, and they are not coming home today. What are we going to do about it?” Nash says, challenging the industry to do better. “Are you going to say it costs too much money and takes too much time? We must take every excuse off the table.”
In every speech and site visit throughout the next year, Nash intends to elevate the importance of ABC’s Safety Training and Evaluation Program (STEP) and remind ABC members to engage in this simple measurement tool to grade and improve their safety record and culture.
Next on his agenda is pulling off the very best ABC National Convention in March in Long Beach, Calif., where the public will have a chance to see America’s premier craft professionals and students compete in ABC’s National Craft Championships and Construction Management Competition. “I want to show folks the incredible skills and talents of the next generation of our craft and young professionals,” he says.
And throughout the year, Nash will drum up the value of high-paying careers in construction.
“We need to take every opportunity we can to show young folks that whether it’s a career as a project manager or an electrician, or a career as an engineer or a superintendent, that construction is an awesome industry. It’s a place where you can make your dreams come true,” Nash says. “People look at it as an ‘alternative’ to other careers, and we must change that narrative.”
Not only does he recommend all construction firms—in every part of the country—make a concerted effort to visit middle schools and high schools, but also that industry leaders invest in programs for adults who have a desire to take their lives in a new, rewarding direction through programs such as the ABC Baltimore Chapter’s Project Jumpstart program.
“One of my areas of focus is to drive the message home for second-chancers. Life has certainly given me a couple,” he says. “I’ve had personal discussions with young men and women who want a second opportunity. They don’t want to go back to prison. They don’t want to start drugs again, and they don’t want to steal. They just want hope. They want a purpose. We can provide the hope and purpose they are looking for.”
A Purpose-driven Life
It’s important to look at where you’ve been before you know where you’re going. For Nash, the son of a butcher and a government financial analyst, he wasn’t exposed much to construction during his youth. “I hurt myself when I’ve got a tool in my hand,” he jokes. But a little bit of exposure during his teen years was all it took to steer his fate.
To date, Nash has worked in every facet of commercial construction, including estimating, procurement, operations, preconstruction and business development. He has managed a multitude of projects ranging from small and large commercial buildings to public stadiums.
Nash graduated from Towson University in Baltimore with a business degree in marketing management. At the time, there was no such thing as a construction management degree, though if he could go back and do it all over again, he says he would pursue it, knowing the doors it opens for people who want to be on a fast track toward an exciting and rewarding career.
In his freshman year of college, the father of a close friend who worked with Omni Construction connected him with a short-term job at an open shop company called Miller and Long, one of the largest commercial concrete firms on the East Coast. Nash, who was small in stature at the time—“I was only 5 feet 5 inches and 105 pounds soaking wet,” he says—was a better fit for an overnight shift on heater watch than swinging a hammer or pouring concrete. He came back to Miller and Long every summer and winter during college breaks, and eventually he worked (and grew) his way up the ladder by putting in lots of overtime and making some incredible connections who would teach him all they knew.
“It’s not a coincidence that I wound up at ABC, and my career started with one of the best construction companies in the country with deep ABC roots,” Nash says.
When he graduated, the economy was in a recession and not many jobs were to be found. His uncle, the vice president of field operations for a large union mechanical contractor, invited him to work in the yard until an assistant purchasing agent position opened up. Taking this role gave Nash the chance to integrate his field experience with his business acumen, keeping all of the supply orders in line on old-fashioned paper spreadsheets.
Next steps on his career path would take him to well-known D.C.-based open shop general contractors Sigal Construction, Balfour Beatty and Tompkins Builders. He joined his first ABC committee in 1993.
When his wife Diana became pregnant with their son in 2003, Nash made the decision to work for a developer client, which ultimately wasn’t a good fit for his ABC activities. “Then serendipitously in October 2006, Charles McPherson with Facchina Construction called and said, ‘me and the old man want you to come run our commercial group.’ A few weeks later, I gave the developer three months’ notice to wrap up everything I was working on,” Nash says.
Nash credits Paul Facchina Sr., who was the chairman of the ABC Metro Washington Chapter in 1997, with stoking the fire in his belly to take on an ABC chapter leadership role. Nash chaired the ABC Metro Washington Chapter in 2010, and by 2014 he was chairing the ABC National Political Action Committee. In 2015 and 2016, he was the Mid-Atlantic region vice chair serving ABC members and chapters in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, before becoming ABC chair-elect in 2017.
“Early in my career, I was a ‘do it my way or the highway’ kind of leader. I was not a very pleasant person to work with. I think I’ve changed as a person and as a leader,” Nash says.
In January 2011, right around the time that Nash was taking on more responsibility at the national level of ABC, his car was broadsided by a large truck driving 60 mph through a red light—an accident that could have killed him. Knocked unconscious, Nash woke up surrounded by airbags in his mangled car, which miraculously had come to a stop along the side of the highway, where the first thing he heard was the sound of a woman sobbing. She was a witness to what looked to be a fatal accident—and for a brief moment, Nash thought that maybe he had died as well. Even though the accident occurred through no fault of his own, he came to realize he’d been given another chance to improve his life to the fullest.
In 2014, Nash was diagnosed with tongue cancer. While the experience shook his speaking confidence in the short term, he has since fully recovered and regained his natural poise in presenting before large groups—a job that will become second nature during his chairmanship.
As Nash regained physical strength after the car accident, he also built spiritual strength. He joined a local church, discovered a faith he had never known and began to walk down a new path that led him to be a ministry leader of a Christ-centered recovery program. “I strive to be a servant leader. I lead to help others. I try to help others grow,” he says. “I like to gather people’s thoughts and opinions and help people move on their path forward. ‘My way or the highway’ leads to burnout. It means that if people don’t do it right, you wind up doing it all for them, and then you spend 12 to 14 hours a day working.”
Today, he prefers working on a team, encouraging others to collaborate and negotiate—and most importantly, to have fun. Having fun leads to better customer relationships as well. In one case, a company-wide 360-degree evaluation led to a complete turnaround with a particularly challenging customer, and the attitude adjustment led to the team receiving the customer’s top rating within just six months.
“When there’s a sense of genuine gratitude from your client at the end of a project—that is pure joy for me,” he says. Nash doesn’t claim to have one favorite job that he’s built. Rather, he credits the men and women in the field who do the real work.
But if he had to choose a favorite market area, he’d put educational and religious facilities as the most rewarding project types. In fact, during his time with Facchina, his team built the church where he and his family now worships. During construction, members of the church wrote prayers on the concrete floor of the sanctuary before it was covered up with carpeting—and even though the signatures are now hidden by the carpeting, “I can feel those prayers every time I walk into the sanctuary,” Nash says.
Beyond his work and church commitments, Nash has served in volunteer leadership roles for a variety of construction and community groups, including being a member of the Town of La Plata, Md., Green Building Committee, a mentor and advisor for the ABC Metro Washington Leadership Development Program, a member of the Charles County Chamber of Commerce Legislative Committee and a board member of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance.
ABC to the Core
From his early Political Action Committee leadership until now, Nash sees ABC as the core of all the things that matter most to him: hard work, community service, family and relationships, and being a thread in America’s construction history.
“There was something that awed me when I went to my first ABC board meeting: the leaders, the connections, meeting all these new people. It was then that I fully grasped that I was part of a really awesome organization with a lot of awesome people training, having great networking opportunities and getting engaged in politics,” he says. “For all of us, it’s a personal commitment.”
Nash gives credit to many chapter and national leaders who came before him, including John Chapin, Gary Hess, Paul Facchina, Charles McPherson, Bob MacDaniels, John McMahon, John Magnolia, Patrick Caulfield, Bill Fairchild, Eric Regelin, Pamela Volm, and of course recent past ABC National Chairs Dave Chapin and Chuck Goodrich. Nash cherishes these friendships that go beyond the business of construction.
“When my dad died in 2016, so many ABC folks showed up at his funeral. People sent flowers from across the country. People checked in on me, people prayed for me. I am so grateful to all of them,” he says.
“I believe God has placed me on this path for a reason, and I still do not know why. There were a couple of roadblocks in recent years, but God kept clearing the path.
“Just the thought of representing the greatest construction association in the country and standing up for our merit shop freedoms is, in a word, inspiring. I’m awestruck by this opportunity,” he says.
Lauren Pinch was editor-in-chief of Construction Executive and serves as an editorial consultant to the construction industry.