A Growth Mindset: Q&A with Managing Director David Florence
During the past 60 years, Gray has grown exponentially from its humble beginnings of building barns in Glasgow, KY. The once regional contractor is now a global brand known for providing fully integrated services including engineering, design, construction, smart manufacturing, and equipment manufacturing for some of the world’s most sophisticated organizations. To grow as Gray has, the company has naturally and willingly said yes to new opportunities.
In 2020, a trusted customer called on Gray to help broaden its horizons in Europe, and Gray, as it always has, once again stepped up to the plate. For David Florence, managing director for Gray Europe, this meant packing up and moving to Ireland. He recently shared his story highlighting his personal growth at Gray, leading the charge in Europe, and where he sees Gray’s European efforts moving forward.
Can you tell us briefly about your various roles during your time at Gray?
I was originally hired in 1999 into the small projects division; the intent of this group was to provide support to previous customers for any new additions they may have been contemplating. My first project was a stamping press line expansion, and I acted as both the design and project manager for the project. I went on to work as the project manager for several projects as well as provide estimating services for several projects in the early 2000s.
From there, I had the opportunity to be on the teams to open two regional offices, including the Gray Southeast Office. Through the next several years, I had the opportunity to be part of several key projects such as Sejong Alabama LLC, KTH Parts Industries, Halla Climate Systems, Mobis Alabama, Caterpillar in Winston-Salem, NC, and the Caterpillar project in Athens, GA.
As the next step in my career path, I began leading our Pre-Construction department with the intent to centralize our knowledge base regarding costing models and provide consistency in estimating, create a systematic approach to how we develop proposals with a dedicated group of professionals who were collaborative and cross-functional to support this work, and produce a readily accessible and consistent cost database with a formal cost estimating tool to assist in the process.
Most recently, I moved to Ireland to serve as managing director as Gray grows its European presence. I’ve had many moves in my time at Gray but being across the pond is the definitely the furthest.
How did you transition into your most recent role?
Through a large, complex project that Gray recently executed fully integrated services, I was exposed to many business consultancy activities. This same customer asked Gray to provide turnkey services on its first project outside of the U.S. – in Ireland. Due to my engagement with this company early on with the previous project, they asked if I would be willing to support their initial setup in Ireland and help co-lead the overall program management. This is a service platform that Gray provides, and I love – from project conception (long before lines are drawn on a piece of paper), all the way through commissioning and start-up. Gray’s entire suite of services are being performed on this project. As a result, my wife and I packed up and moved to Ireland.
What has the transition and living overseas been like? What challenges have arisen?
So many factors tie into this question. The challenge of moving overseas impacts every aspect of your life. To be honest – at first it seemed so exotic and enticing. We’ll travel the world! We’ll be so cultured! And then, there’s reality. Let’s not also forget the pandemic. We moved here in February 2020, and Ireland went into its first lockdown in March. The lockdown is still occurring today, even though greatly reduced. It’s definitely been an experience living in a foreign country during a pandemic and seeing the U.S. from the outside looking in.
The positive is that we are in Ireland, and there is a great relationship between Ireland and the U.S. There’s a long history and a lot of cultural similarities that are shared between the two countries. The people are warm, friendly, and very engaging. The work ethic is outstanding and the desire to exceed is very real. Everybody that we meet wants to learn about us and Gray. The doors that are opened, and the help to succeed is genuine.
Also—the Gray team that is here is wonderful. Everybody has had challenges of some type and level, but the commitment to success and the dedication to the project has been unparalleled.
How has this transition helped you grow professionally?
For one, we have had to communicate Gray’s culture to our peers and partners here. A big part of our culture is transparency and open collaboration. That is built on trust and relationships. So, we had to come out of the gate with consistency of our core values – and not only “say” them, but “live them.” It all takes patience, consistency, and humility.
Where do you see Gray heading in relation to the European market?
The Gray Europe office is growing through engineering subject matter expertise in the Food & Beverage market. With our integrated approach and our willingness to take the project “at risk,” we offer a solution that is very uncommon in the market here—a full project lifecycle solution provider. There is a strong and growing focus on the digital side of Gray’s services. Modernization activities within the EU marketplace will drive an abundance of opportunities within this space.
If you had to describe Gray in one word or phrase, what would it be?