Construction Management: A Family Affair

Whoever said you shouldn’t mix business with family never met a DeHart. We’ve been running successful, family-owned and -operated companies for generations, starting in 1920 when my grandfather, Ed DeHart, founded DeHart Sheet Metal Works in Chickasha, Okla.

When I was a kid, my grandad used to bring me leftover building supplies from DeHart Air Conditioning, a company he ran with my father, Elmer DeHart. You could say I started my building career at a young age thanks to my dad and grandad.

DeHart Sheet Metal Works was started by Cary's grandfather in 1920.

DeHart Sheet Metal Works was started by Cary's grandfather in 1920.

My friends and I used the scraps to build all kinds of structures, including a five-story tree house and a two-story clubhouse complete with stone fireplace. However, the DeHart elders always knew when to help and when to let me learn something on my own; nobody told me we needed a chimney. We filled the whole clubhouse with smoke the first time we lit a fire!

In 1974, when I was about to graduate with a degree in construction canagement, my dad helped me start CMSWillowbrook. He sent me a request for proposal for construction management service for a renovation project at University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and suggested I submit. We were selected, and it became one of the first public construction management projects in Oklahoma. As the business grew, my dad offered guidance on how to hire the right people to produce the best capabilities.

Now, I’m the dad helping my daughter, Summer, and my son, Weston, in the construction management industry. I remember when they were small children visiting projects and then helping work on projects during summer breaks as they got older. Summer, CMSWillowbrook corporate secretary and treasurer, started working in the office while she was a teenager. Weston, CMSWillowbrook president, got his start in the business sweeping floors while in junior high school before moving up to pouring concrete and laying out for sitework in high school. He started project management while still attending Oklahoma State University.

My children amaze me with their talent and passion for the business. Weston’s technical skills elevate CMSWillowbrook and the whole industry, and Summer has stepped up in a marketing role, along with all the other hats she wears. Summer’s husband, Jeff McClure, also works for our company as the vice president of our self-performance division. It’s wonderful to come to work everyday and see your family carrying on the company you started.

My five grandchildren (soon to be six) are still young, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they joined us in business one day. My 10-year-old grandson likes to look over project plans and visit job sites. And one of my granddaughters is enthralled with big equipment. What’s most important is that they follow their passion and do something they enjoy.

There are easier businesses to work in than construction. You have to truly love the industry to have longevity. And my children impress me every day with their dedication to growing the company.

As I look back on the last four decades of my life, I’m pleased with the business I helped build and proud of the next generation of DeHarts who are running it.

Cary DeHart is the CEO of CMSWillowbrook

Larisha Hunter