Any telling of Tower subs must also include the Wayne Griffin Electric Company, which had its headquarters in Massachusetts, but operated a branch in Birmingham. In the late 1980’s, Griffin had done the electrical work on the huge Gordon Persons State Office Building, located just behind the State Capitol. In the midst of that construction, the State decided to relocate the Capitol Complex central telephone exchange into the Persons Building, a move which generated vast change order work in the electrical subcontract. To put it bluntly, Wayne J. Griffin took advantage of the situation and cleaned the State’s clock. While PH&J was not the architect on that project, we heard daily horror stories of Griffin’s gouging through our electrical consultant, Frank Shaver, who was heavily involved in the Persons Building design.
Then in 1992, just when the Tower work was gearing up, PH&J wound up with Griffin Electric on the Bruno Library job at the University of Alabama. Before the ink was dry on that contract, we encountered some minor change and received a first-hand lesson on Griffin’s outlandish pricing.
When the RSA Union and Tower came on the market, I prequalified and listed the electrical firms we would allow to bid the jobs. I did not include Wayne Griffin Electric, and Wayne J. himself jumped on his plane and flew to Montgomery to confront me over the issue. Surprisingly enough, Griffin was a very young man to have built such a large operation. “Wayne,” I said, “our buildings are going to include constant changes as the tenant work comes in, and the RSA does not need to entangle itself with a Yankee contractor who wants to gouge the Owner at every opportunity.” Wayne feigned surprise and hurt and vehemently protested my assessment of his business tactics, but I continued anyway. “You stole the State blind on the Persons Building, and now you are doing it to PH&J and the University on the Bruno job. There is no way in hell that you will be approved.”
The meeting ended with Wayne’s vow to win us over. I recall that he flew to Montgomery from Boston four times over the next month. He plied yours truly with lavish Christmas presents. We had eight general contract bidders lined up for the Union and that slick Wayne Griffin cajoled every one of them into writing me and asking that Griffin Electric be approved. After that he came in and again requested that his firm be allowed to bid. “You have only proved that you are a con artist, Wayne,” I admonished him. “No contractor would ask me for your approval unless he thought you would give him a lower price than you’ll give any other bidder, and you’ve conned each of the eight into believing that he will get that special deal. You’re slick!” To that, Wayne responded, “I’ll be back.”
A week later Wayne flew down from Massachusetts once more and yet again beseeched me to approve his company. He insisted that he had cured his over-zealous change order request in Tuscaloosa. No sub had ever gone to such lengths, but I was growing weary of the game. “Wayne,” I finally said, “there are only three people on earth that can get you approved on these RSA bids. I’m one and I am not going to. The second is our electrical engineer, Frank Shaver, and he won’t because he knows I’ll jump his ass every time you screw up. The third is Ron Blount, the Owner’s Rep, and he’s sitting across the table. Ask him.”
Ron Blount thereupon proceeded to cut a deal. He would, on behalf of the Owner, direct an approval of Griffin provided that company agree to undertake the first $50,000 in changes with zero markup for profit and overhead; calculate any and all change orders using the lowest of the three current labor rates published by the NECA; and last, actually reimburse the RSA for any expense which it incurred in the employment of independent electrical estimators to check Griffin’s change proposals. No electrical contractor in his right mind would accept those terms.
I know my eyebrows arched in amazement. That would be the deal of the century. To my astonishment, Wayne J. Griffin nodded his head in acceptance, and by letter of January 8, 1993, committed to those terms in writing.
Griffin Electric turned a high bid on the RSA Union, but the Massachusetts outfit was low on the Tower and got the job. Before the Tower was complete, Wayne J. and his company got caught up in Huber-Hunt’s administrative bungling and the two squared off legally. I have no clue as to how their squabble was ended, but they did deserve each other. Quite probably the threat of testimony posed by Wayne Griffin Electric kept Huber-Hunt from turning on PH&J and making the entire affair a legal Armageddon.
-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)