Arch Willingham has been a faculty member since 2011 in the Engineering Management and Technology department. Arch is also the president at Parks Construction. Read the interview below to learn more.
• His first paying job was as a fourteen year old working at a place called Thirsty’s. Thirsty’s was his parent’s beer store that sold wholesale beer, soft drinks, etc. He carried beer and kegs out to the customer’s cars.
• He has his pilot license and figured out how to loop an airplane without an instructor in the airplane (and in a plane not designed for it).
• He is a vice-mayor, a lobbyist, avid tennis player and bike rider, works out at Orange Theory, and is likely described as extremely social, interesting, outgoing, outspoken, gregarious and a good friend.
• Higher education is a family business. His grandfather was chancellor!
As President at Parks Construction, what did you do to get to that position? What do you do on a daily basis?
AW: I graduated from Auburn with a Building Science degree. After graduation, I went to work for EMJ general contractors. I was there for nine months and then got hired by TU Parks to be an on-site project manager for the Heritage Landing condominiums. I was on site for eight years and then went to work in the office. After getting moved into to the office, I moved up through the ranks of estimator, project manager, vice president, expert witness and, after 31 years, was made the first non-Parks president of TU Parks. I have now been there 38 years.
The biggest part of how I got here was never saying “no” when asked to do something. I always said yes…if it was a new thing, something to do in the community, a board to join, politics, etc, I’ve always said yes.
Answering “What I do “ is a tough one as it varies every day. I am still an estimator and project manager on some work. I help with the accounting side, legal side, PR, IT, etc. I also help oversee the residential side of the business as well as odd commercial work. I spend a lot of time involved with construction litigation working with attorneys in my role as an expert witness.
Editor’s Note: He’s been involved with 93 + expert witness cases.
What changes have you seen in your field over the years?
AW: The obvious answer is IT. Drawings are now electronic, we use lasers extensively to locate corners of the structures as well elevations, etc. That has been a great help to boost productivity and it’s more fun for the people in the field.
Less obvious, but more importantly, is safety. When I started working, getting hurt on the job was sort of something that was viewed as a necessary evil in the business. About twenty years ago, I saw a mass effort by the industry to no longer view that as a thing that was acceptable. Unfortunately, in many cases, the people in the field didn’t like it. Oftentimes taking risks was viewed as a badge of honor and getting guys to wear eye protection was almost impossible. It is now viewed as the norm, and the accident rate has plummeted.
You’ve held several high positions in your career. What drives you to take on these roles and what advice would you give students as they begin their careers?
AW: When someone asks you to take on a new challenge, do it. When you learn of an opportunity to join a group, do it. When you meet people that are not of your political/religious/ whatever persuasion, sit down and talk to them over a beer and listen to what they have to say; you will mostly likely learn something fun and interesting that you didn’t already know. When you are thinking about going home to watch TV and play a video game, take a hammer and hit your thumb as hard as you can to remind yourself that’s a terrible way to spend the limited piece of life you were given. Get to be friends with the opposite sex. Get out, meet people, laugh, learn new things, do fun stuff, go to bars. Bars are the true melting pot of the world and some of the most incredible people you will meet will occur over a beer. Make it so that when you walk in a room, fifteen people say “Hey, I know that dude. He’s fun.”
Never be afraid to ask a question. No one minds you asking; they were there at one point and they remember being reluctant to ask. Also, many times, the question you asked was also being pondered by many people in the room. They were just embarrassed to ask.
What has been your favorite thing about your career so far?
AW: That it’s been fun. I’ve had maybe ten bad days in thirty-eight years.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
AW: I am extremely social and do something, somewhere, almost every day of the week. If you have been anywhere downtown, I’ve probably seen you. I love to hang out with family. I have a wife and two daughters.
For what are you most grateful today?
AW: My parents for instilling in their kids the ability to know right from wrong, the ability to persevere when the going is tough, the love of reading, the love of getting out and meeting people, appreciation for the zest of life.