David Cross was the kid who tore apart lawnmower engines and his bike just to see how they all worked.
At 53, the new president and COO of Silver Spring Township-based R.S. Mowery & Sons Inc. is still tinkering in his spare time.
He builds furniture, tackles bathroom remodeling projects and does his own electrical work at his Spring Garden Township home.
That may be a common story in the construction industry. Or maybe his passion and attention to detail are what will lead the Cumberland County company to new heights.
Cross doesn’t fear new challenges and said he believes he was “wired” for construction — or deconstruction — and working with his hands.
“You get to see what you’ve done. That’s what construction is for me,” said Cross, who took over the company’s day-to-day operations in November.
Cross, the handyman and first non-family member in the role, has been fine-tuning the 91-year-old company.
R.S. Mowery & Sons was recently rebranded as Mowery to pay homage to the company’s strong family foundation, while being more progressive in its marketing efforts.
The company has hired field supervisors, project managers and estimators, and invested in technology, including a cloud-based project management system and more mobile devices in the field.
But Cross is not stopping there.
Only a few months on the job and he’s already doing something most seasoned executives would rather shy away from: continuity planning.
Planning for the next decade
With an aging population in the construction industry, including in the ranks of senior management, Cross said he wants to know how long employees realistically expect to work before retiring. He wants to build in more overlap in key positions to better prepare for planned and surprise departures that could disrupt businesses and, ultimately, work for Mowery’s customers.
And yes, a few months into his tenure, he’s even confronting his own mortality.
“The big mistake would be waiting to 63,” he said. “I’m stunned by how few businesses actually do it.”
Like most of his peers whose companies have seen sizable upticks in business, Cross said he expects Mowery will show bigger sales numbers over the next decade. The contractor finished 2015 with $137.5 million in revenue and has consistently been one of the leading general contractors in the region.
But Cross, who expects at least $100 million annually, wants to know now who may or may not be on the team in 10 years. Recruiting can be a challenge because of how the industry is perceived by younger people.
Construction was built around blue-collar physical labor, he said. However, the emphasis today is on white-collar jobs and technology that is constantly changing how people work.
In order to compete for younger workers, construction firms and educators for the skilled trades have to do a better job of marketing the industry and combating negative perceptions. The Keystone Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. has already begun marketing its educational programs to more middle and high school students in hopes of planting the seed that career opportunities are available in construction.
Mowery, meanwhile, is being more intentional in its hiring and employee-development process through personality testing that attempts to match employees to roles they can grow into.
‘You know where you stand’
The direct approach Cross has taken doesn’t surprise those who know him, including state Rep. Kevin Schreiber (D-York), who used to head up the economic development efforts for York, where Cross leads the redevelopment authority.
“He has a really candid, good-natured communication style. You know where you stand with him,” Schreiber said. “He wants to get the job done and do things right. And he cares little for credit.”
Schreiber, who has known Cross for more than a decade, said he’s very relatable and he really “gets it,” in terms of the industry. His reputation for building consensus in York and working with developers on city projects will only help Mowery expand its client base, Schreiber said.
Mowery CEO Don Mowery agreed.
“He demonstrated to me a high level of intelligence and he’s a good strategic thinker. Culturally, we think the same on how a company should be run,” Mowery said. “Over the years, we’ve routinely done projects in the York area, but this enhances our exposure down there.”
He and Cross were merely industry acquaintances before they started talking about succession plans a year ago.
Cross was working at Rock Commercial Real Estate in York. He previously was president and COO at Wagman Construction Inc., which has an office in downtown York, from 1997 to 2011.
For Cross, the job at Mowery was an opportunity to return home to construction, he said. “I’m a builder at heart.”
For Mowery, who turns 65 this year and had been thinking about slowing down over the last few years, it’s an opportunity to spend more time with his family. He had been at the helm since 1984, having taken over from his father.
He also has found the time to pursue other interests, including flying and painting.
“Even though I don’t have any talent, I plan on continuing to develop my painting skills,” Mowery said.
He also is a passionate model railroader, adding, “We can build on that.”