By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
A relatively unknown candidate for mayor just six months ago, Tom Leppert has garnered attention, endorsements and cash by relentlessly casting himself as a successful former chief executive officer whose stewardship of Turner Construction, one of the world's largest construction companies, was an apt prelude to leading a city like Dallas. Leppert has said that he has the management experience his politically seasoned rivals lack, often stating that he relocated his company here from New York, giving him an edge in convincing other executives to do the same.
"I moved a $4 billion business to Dallas," he said at an East Dallas mayoral forum last month, highlighting his ability to create jobs. "I look forward to sitting across the desk from any business leader in the world and saying, 'Not only do I think you should move your business to Dallas, I've been in your shoes and here's what I did.'"
Actually, what he did was not as impressive as it sounds. Although Leppert was a well-regarded CEO of Turner, helping nearly double the size of the 100-year-old company, he didn't succeed in making it a Dallas company. For all practical purposes, Turner Construction is not run out of North Texas but the Northeast, specifically Manhattan. Turner's CEO, Peter Davoren, works in New York, as does its vice president, Nicholas Billotti. The company's public relations and sales and marketing offices are also located in New York.
Last year, after Davoren was named to replace Leppert as the company's CEO, he didn't sound like he was headed to a luncheon at the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce.
"I will make policy in [New York] and Dallas will support it," Davoren, a Brooklyn native, told the Engineering News-Record, a national trade journal. "I will be staying in New York."
So what exactly does that leave for Dallas? Not so much. Only one member of Turner's nine-person management team works in Dallas. Three work in New York while the rest are scattered throughout the country. Only 180 of Turner's 6,000 employees work in Dallas. To put that number in perspective: In 2005, a company called Continental Cabinets Inc. moved to Dallas, bringing with it 500 jobs. You don't see their CEO running for mayor.
Leppert says that even with a new Manhattan CEO, Turner remains a Dallas company. Located downtown, the company performs several vital internal functions in Dallas, including IT, human resources, finances, benefits and accounting. Because of the global nature of the business, Leppert says, Turner does not have a large local workforce.
"Corporate headquarters continue to be in Dallas," he says. "The type of business—it's a very decentralized business. In the construction business you have to have people all over."
Turner, a subsidiary of a German company, is an enormous, far-flung corporation, having built some of the world's most iconic towers and sports arenas. Last fall, the company won a $615 million deal to build the new Yankee stadium. Turner is also managing the construction of the Burj Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, which will be the world's tallest tower upon completion.
With a slate of diverse projects around the world, it makes sense that Turner's operations would not be anchored entirely in Dallas. But Leppert maintains that even with a scattered workforce, Turner's had a measurable impact on the local economy. In the Dallas area, Turner is the main construction firm for a range of current and recent projects including an engineering building at Southern Methodist University, a middle school at Cedar Hill and the Stoneleigh Residences in Uptown.
But though Turner locates most of its administrative functions in Dallas, in every other way it's run out of New York. While the company's New York-based public relations department maintains that Turner is based in Dallas, its own figures suggests that's only nominally true. For example, of Turner's 180 employees in Dallas, 100 of those are construction-related jobs (which presumably would exist regardless of where Turner was located) and only 80 are corporate-related. Interestingly, when the company moved to Dallas in 1999, it created just 15 corporate jobs, according to its own press release. In contrast, in New York, Turner has 700 positions, more than 150 of which are non-construction positions—including those in the company's sales and marketing office.
You could give Leppert the benefit of the doubt if he made just one throwaway remark about how he moved Turner to Dallas. But Leppert has brought it up at just about every mayoral forum. He's talked about it to reporters and bloggers and mentioned it twice in the candidate questionnaire he turned in to The Dallas Morning News.
"When I was named chairman and CEO of Turner Construction in 1999, my first action was to relocate the $4 billion company from New York City to Dallas, the place my family now calls home," he wrote, explaining his devotion to Dallas.
Later in the questionnaire, Leppert brings up his relocation of Turner to showcase his credentials in the corporate world.
"As a major company CEO, I can interact with business leaders from every part of the world and bring a special perspective, particularly because I spearheaded the move of a multibillion-dollar company from New York City to Dallas."