After their tour of the RenCen construction site, the Disney people came to our on-site field office for a demonstration keyed to what I feel to be the most important part of construction, the scheduling program. We were extremely proud of our sophisticated scheduling program, which we had developed in-house for the World Trade Center; it involved the timing of the arrival of materials and precisely when, where, and how the materials were to be put to use. We had done another, similar “CPM” construction program management schedule for Renaissance Center, and I envisioned doing the same for the Disney project.
One of our employees had a lot of expertise in the CPM program since he had helped to create it. We had arranged that he would give the presentation, in a room in which the multiple charts and schedules of the RenCen CPM had been pinned to all four walls. He chose to sit on a stool in the center and point to the mounted schedules while he narrated the Construction Management story. During the period when our WTC-veteran executives took the visiting Disney executives and myself on an exhaustive site tour, this man anxiously waited for us all day in the on-site office. The day was inordinately hot, and by the time we all arrived in that room, everyone was sweaty, thirsty, and impatient.
The young man tried to begin the presentation but felt such pressure from the situation that he immediately fainted. He was taken to a couch to revive, and the Disney executives decided to forgo the presentation because they really were more interested, after a hot day and long site tour, in information on where in Detroit to go for good drink, dinner, and entertainment. That, we readily provided.
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Shortly thereafter, I convinced the Disney executives that what they wanted was not a General Contractor but Tishman Construction as their Construction Manager. I explained how they would, in effect, rent our construction company, and that we would work directly for them as a part of their team. This arrangement would allow the two firms to jointly control costs and adhere to schedules. We would add our “owner/builder” input to the design process, supervise the bidding process, and do everything else associated with managing the construction for a fixed fee that would be a percentage of the overall construction budget. They liked the idea. As a Disney executive later told the Engineering News-Record, they were impressed by more than our track record: “There was … a certain flexibility in [Tishman’s] approach that left us with a gut feeling that these people would be able to adapt to our way of doing things, that the two organizations would interact well.”
We were hired and then, as discussed in the previous decorating, the project was shelved for a while, due to the Middle East War, the oil embargo, and the subsequent economic downturn.
I was very favorably impressed by the Disney style, their belief in quality control, and their company consciousness. No matter what level the executives were on, from the construction honchos to the top management, they seemed to have very little personal ego involved in what they were doing; it was all about being proud to be part of Disney. Several times, while walking around the Disney parks, I saw a top executive bend down and pick up a stray piece of trash in just as natural a manner as if he had been on his own front lawn or if he had been a designated groundskeeper rather than an executive, and without calling attention to the task or to himself for doing it. Working with the Disney people, I concluded, was going to be a pleasure. While EPCOT was on hold, the Disney people put us to work on a second-phase addition to their Polynesian hotel. This was a relatively small, $8 million project, but I knew that it was a test to see whether we were really going to be able to handle the then-$800 million EPCOT project. So I assigned Milt Gerstman, the lead man on the WTC project, to the Polynesian, even though someone less senior could have supervised it. We completed the building in late May on a schedule that had called for us doing so by June, and only then found out that Disney had expected completion for occupancy in August. We also completed our objective: to meet and pass their test. Now we could build EPCOT and the first hotel under our ownership.
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