Building foundations for the next generation
2 successful ASU alumni help Fulton Schools enhance construction education
“Are you crazy?”
That’s what Michael Godbehere and Gabriel Gavriilidis could title the first chapter if they ever write a book about the history of GCON Inc., the construction company they founded two decades ago.
They first met as students at Ironwood High School in Glendale, Arizona, and remained in touch as undergraduates at Arizona State University, where they earned construction management degrees in the mid-1990s.
After graduating, they went separate ways into various jobs, until 2002, when Gavriilidis called Godbehere to talk about his concept for a business startup.
“I was 32 and the thought of starting a construction company was far from my mind,” Godbehere said. “I was having a great time and was extremely challenged in my current role at the time with Intel.”
His immediate reaction was to ask Gavriilidis if he was crazy. But Godbehere didn’t stop listening.
“After a discussion and a few beers, I warmed up to the idea,” he said. “I felt like I was losing touch with the construction industry by focusing so much on the semiconductor industry at Intel.”
Constructing a company from the ground up
Godbehere agreed to explore the possibility of starting a company with Gavriilidis, but not as a full-time pursuit. They decided on the name GCON, figuring it gave them the option to use it as shorthand for either General Contractor, Godbehere Construction or Gavriilidis Construction.
Gavriilidis recalled that when they took the first steps to set up the business, an accountant asked what they had for startup capital.
“So, Mike responded, ‘We have this laptop, and it’s worth $2,500.’ If you look back today at our financial statements, you’ll see that laptop is still listed as our only starting capital,” Gavriilidis said.
Nevertheless, they formally established the company in 2003, and in 2005 decided to make it a full-time venture. Godbehere became GCON’s chief executive officer. Gavriilidis took the role of vice president.
For the first five years, the primary goal was simply the company’s survival, the founders said.
“There were times when we were essentially broke until the next job came in,” Godbehere said.
Eventually business picked up and then rapidly expanded. From GCON’s first job — building an auto body shop — and its first full year of revenue in 2005 until the end of 2008, the company increased its overall revenues from $3 million to $30 million.
A community-oriented work ethic
Today, GCON has a long list of completed projects, ranging from construction of public works facilities and high tech and aviation industry operations to health-care centers, office and retail complexes, multifamily residential developments and major renovations of existing buildings.
The two founders said the wellspring of their success has been the guiding principles that shape how they conduct business.
“Over the course of my leadership journey, the main thing I have learned and want to teach people to do to be successful is not to think short term, but to understand the importance of staying true to your guiding path over the long term,” Godbehere said.
He and Gavriilidis emphasize thinking of the people working for you and those doing business with you as a community that essentially shares the same challenges and aspirations.
“Our main focus is understanding what clients want and bringing them value based on what success looks like to them, not just executing the technical steps of devising a contract and building something,” Godbehere said. “That approach creates a deep relationship that makes people want to continue working with us because they see us not just simply as building contractors but as partners.”
The community-oriented work ethic is a major part of the culture GCON’s leaders have established within the company. For instance, along with the standard vacation time given to its more than 200 employees, GCON gives 40 more hours of paid time each year for its workers to volunteer to support efforts and projects to help their own communities.
In addition, the GCON Gives philanthropic program provides company resources for efforts to make sustainable long-term impacts in places where employees live.
“I always tell people that making money is a byproduct of building great projects by doing things the right way. If you focus only on making money, you are going to make bad decisions that will lead to poor results,” Godbehere said.
“You can always cut corners and do things as cheaply as possible, but that’s going to be a risk, including risking the safety of your workers,” he said.
GCON‘s owners credit their business approach for the company’s reach across the country. They have done work or otherwise established valuable industry connections in about half of the U.S. The company is now forecasting revenue for 2023 exceeding $300 million.
Colleagues see GCON leaders as exemplary professionals
Martin Ramirez, vice president of FNF Construction Inc., based in Tempe, has known Gavriilidis since they were construction students together at ASU and graduated the same year.
Ramirez met Godbehere around the time GCON got started and has seen how the company has been managed over the decades.
“They’ve created a great work culture by treating their employees like family members and giving them opportunities for career advancement,” Ramirez said. “They lead their team by setting the example of doing their part to get jobs done.”
In turn, GCON’s employees treat the company’s clients in a similar fashion and take pride in what they build, Ramirez said.
“That work ethic and integrity is why you see all the repeat business GCON has been doing with those same employees and customers for many years,” he said.
A big part of their formula for success is nurturing a corporate culture that makes employee well-being a major priority. That includes trying to ensure a healthy work-life balance, offering flexible work schedules, providing free mental health-care services for all employees and maintaining family-friendly corporate leadership.
GCON is a model of business integrity and community building, said Melissa Holdaway, the chief executive officer of the Arizona Charter Academy, an elementary school west of Phoenix. The company has built three of the school’s buildings and completed several building improvement projects.
“They do what they say they’re going to do,” Holdaway said of the GCON’s leaders, “and if there are any issues or problems, they are the first to sit down and work through them with you in a fair and ethical manner.”
Godbehere is one of the academy’s board members.
“He is my go-to person who I bounce ideas off of if I’m thinking about expansion or have a business-related question,” Holdaway said. “He’s always been there to help me navigate things or brainstorm solutions.”
He and Gavriilidis are “super knowledgeable and super generous people," she added, noting Godbehere’s additional service as a board member of Leadership West, a nonprofit that connects local leaders to focus on issues and challenges facing the Phoenix metro region’s West Valley communities.
An ASU-influenced business philosophy
The company founders said much of the groundwork for their commitment to a socially conscious approach to business has its roots in their education at ASU. And the relationship is reciprocal. Godbehere serves as the executive committee chair for the Del E. Webb School of Construction within the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.
“We are creations of ASU and the Del E. Webb School of Construction,” Godbehere said. “I think back to what the professors taught us about the building profession. It wasn’t just about skillsets and the management side of business. It was also about ethics as one of the fundamental things required to deliver successful projects.”
Their college education included a focus on the challenges of the building industry — labor issues, legal matters, corporate responsibility, public relations, economic recession and the like.
“These things were not surprises to us as we entered the workforce,” Godbehere said. “We were prepared to engage in discussions about these kinds of issues and how to deal with them.”
Both Godbehere and Gavriilidis now contribute their expertise and support to help enhance the education of Fulton Schools construction students.
GCON has provided funding and helped to provide guest speakers for classes and school events, alumni support programs and consultations for students with the company’s leadership and staff.
Over the years, the company has frequently given ASU students internship experiences. About 25 of those students became full-time GCON employees.
The company now offers 12-week immersive, on-the-ground internship experiences throughout the year. It’s a field-based program that also includes training focusing on specific facets of construction work and project management, team building events and seminars led by the company’s executive team members.
Making impacts that benefit students
In his role on the construction school's executive committee, Godbehere helps to establish and expand connections between ASU and construction business leaders, as well as fulfill the committee’s role to maintain continuous evaluations of the school’s construction management education program to ensure it stays current with industry needs and trends.
“Mike’s involvement has helped our graduates not only remain competitive, but become highly sought after throughout the industry,” said Anthony Lamanna, the PENTA Building Group Professor and coordinator of the construction school’s undergraduate program.
Godbehere’s leadership has positively impacted faculty, staff, students, alumni and industry stakeholders, said Timothy C. Becker, interim program chair for the construction school.
“Mike is a consummate professional with a huge portfolio of experience and a dynamic leadership style who has significantly contributed to the school,” Becker said. “He challenges us to deepen engagement with industry partners and the alumni chapter to create employment opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students. His participation in curriculum reviews will ensure our program remains relevant and impactful, and at the front of the pack of construction programs in the nation.”
GCON’s leaders see their efforts for the Fulton Schools as acts of gratitude for what they gained from their college experiences and part of a productive ongoing relationship.
“ASU played a crucial role in preparing us for our careers by giving us the leadership skills to succeed in our industry,” Godbehere said of himself and Gavriilidis. “We want to make sure current and future students have that same opportunity. Close working relationships between professors and industry associates play a big role in giving students that educational advantage.”