Pierce Flanigan in the Baltimore Business JournalFriday, August 17th, 2012
Local legend’s business view was quite a walk in the park
By: Rob Macdonald
Friday, August 17, 2012
The young CEO sitting across from me always believed that tough times make you stronger. But he never dreamed he’d face times this tough.
Imagine this. It’s 2008. You’re fresh from college and working in the field for your dad’s construction company, when you get hit by a double-whammy. A full-blown recession nearly shuts down your industry, and your father unexpectedly dies, leaving you in charge.
“The doom and gloom of the time was rough,” Pierce J. Flanigan IV said. “People were scared that the whole economy wasn’t going to work anymore.”
The legend of his company, P. Flanigan & Son — one of the longest-running family businesses in Maryland — is a classic American story. It is proof that one can find poetry in unexpected places.
Patrick Flanigan, who emigrated from Ireland, started digging ditches in Baltimore in 1885. He was an innovator when modern sewer systems came along, and built the utility for Baltimore. When the city eventually took over all utilities, Patrick changed his business to fix the roads on top of them.
Five generations later, Pierce had to make some tough decisions to keep the company alive. He laid off longtime company stalwarts, changed the culture and renewed the emphasis on innovation.
These changes helped Flanigan continue to compete for its share of the state’s shrinking transportation infrastructure budget. More importantly, Pierce Flanigan was able to leverage his true family inheritance: creativity.
“There’s an art and science to this business,” he said. “There are a lot of different mixes, recipes for blending petroleum and stone to make asphalt.”
Nowhere is this passion for art and science more evident than in the memorial the family built for their father (Pierce III), called Pierce’s Park.
Pierce’s Park, which opened in May at Pier 5, is a place for families to enjoy art and the outdoors on the waterfront. I visited the other day and was blown away by the harmonious mix of music, motion and landscape architecture. It’s got a living willow tunnel, berms and large smooth sculptures that kids were climbing on.
But my favorite was the curving path with words engraved in the pavers. Paired homonyms like “mind” and “mined” or “build” and “billed” encourage you to consider opposing concepts simultaneously.
“It gets you thinking about poetry and words,” Pierce said. “And that was an important part of my dad’s life.”