100 years of gratitude
For the Goodfellow family, building a culture of excellence reaches far beyond the boardroom
It is a rare opportunity to capture moments in history that have left an indelible mark on humanity. Life lessons, mistakes and learnings of a venerable 100-year-old family business provide a window into the hardships and successes writ into family lore. At 100 years old, Goodfellow Bros. boasts a vast archive of those business and family stories. From the destruction of war to the construction of a solar farm, their stories are rich. The Goodfellow histories are woven together over the span of a century – many are told by word of mouth from generation to generation. Some are written down, others are not.
Within the unwritten pages of its family lore, there is the first chapter – the one about the humble beginnings of the Goodfellow construction company. This chapter begins wistfully in 1921 in a small café on the Left Bank of Paris. Three brothers – all American soldiers – sat down together to reflect on the Great War and lay the foundation for their future. With the war over, Jack, Bert and Jim Goodfellow had to make a plan. Together, the battle-weary brothers decided once they were stateside, they would dedicate their lives to building great and meaningful things —bridges and highways and buildings and roads. And the company would be based in the brothers’ beloved home state of Washington, a state rich in agriculture and natural resources.
Today, Goodfellow Bros. is still based in Wenatchee, Wash., and continues the legacy first imagined by the three brothers. The heavy-civil construction company employs 1,155 people and saw revenues of $623 million in 2020. It builds and re-imagines vital infrastructure projects that are all, frankly, a testament to the human spirit.
“For us, first and foremost with this history comes great responsibility. It is the greatest gift to be a part of this legacy and it is a testament to all the people who have made us great for 100 years,” says Chad Goodfellow. “We are the custodians of the business, but also of the history. It’s not just our family, it is our people who help us carry on the legacy.”
Chad Goodfellow is the 40-year-old CEO of Goodfellow Bros. He is a soft-spoken, well-intentioned fourth-generation Goodfellow. While the company is based Washington, Chad does the dirty work and holds down the company’s Hawaii headquarters in Kihei. He is a masterful and thoughtful storyteller who takes pride in his family’s history and is humbled by its successes. “More than ever, people want to work for something they believe in. People are the center of everything we do. We want people to work for something they believe in. We want to give them purpose. And, frankly, our people give us purpose, too,” says Chad.
Relationship building is a key tenet of the company’s centenarian status. “We want to empower our people to problem solve [and] create new opportunities for the business. We break down barriers that impede that progress. We encourage entrepreneurial thinking as a fundamental part of our culture,” notes Chad.
Relationships, according to Chad, drive opportunities, and trust is at the heart of Goodfellow’s relationships. “Our business is one of trust. It is a core value and one that we have never wavered from in 100 years of doing business. Four generations ago, this business began on the basis of trust — and always doing the right thing.”
In fact, Chad keeps himself and his employees grounded by frequently referring to a quote from his grandfather. He considers it a guidepost to everything his company does: “You can’t make money on every job, but you can always make a friend.”
Chad and his fourth-generation relatives elected “to keep the board of directors among our family for now.” Goodfellow’s executive team, however, includes non-family members. “All the planning and vision come from our executive team,” explains Chad. “But ultimately we are all a part of the success as a team.”
Being a part of a family business is “truly the greatest thing,” according to Chad. “Everyone is proud of their work and their work to come.”
But there is a downside. “Going into the family business is not the easy road,” says Chad. “It’s the hard road. It’s your name out there. You have to be true to that.”
Like most family businesses, it’s not a 9-to-5 gig for the Goodfellows. “It’s around the clock. This company is so much bigger than our family. People rely on us and our business. It is a huge responsibility and one that we take seriously. We talk about it all the time. At Christmas. At the dinner table. You have to be willing to accept that responsibility and be accountable,” he explains.
The company’s culture is a successful byproduct of its long-established and deeply held values. “Embrace and empower people every day. Earn trust every day. That’s our secret sauce. It’s that simple.”
On the occasion of turning 100 in a highly competitive and complex industry, perhaps John Looper, director of estimating for Goodfellow Bros. in California, sums it up best. “I’m part of a business that is 100 years old. We’re not good because we’re old. We're old because we're good."
100 years, 21 lessons, and a mantra for all family businesses
As told by Chad Goodfellow
1. Do the right thing
2. Focus on your community and give back
3. Build trust inside and outside your company
4. Get your hands dirty
5. Be entrepreneurial and encourage entrepreneurial thinking
6. Break down barriers that discourage innovation
7. Put people first every single time
8. Make friends along the way, this is our reason for being
9. Build a culture of excellence
10. Empower and embrace your employees – family and non-family
11. Know your values
12. Don’t tell people your values, live them
13. Embrace the past
14. Innovate the future
15. Be an example
16. Constantly strive to be better
17. Give your employees purpose
18. Have a social impact strategy
19. Build relationships
20. Understand with leadership comes great responsibility
21. Do the right thing again