Les Granger was born in Seneca Falls 74 years ago; he attended Union Springs High School and attended Auburn Community College – now Cayuga Community College – and did what folks did in those days: got a job and got married.
“When I graduated from high school, I immediately went to work in construction as a laborer, and it didn’t take me but a week to say, ‘Uh-oh; what did I do? I don’t look forward to this being my life,’” Granger said, laughing. “So here I was married and starting a family and had a full-time job and thought, ‘Oh, my God, I should have done something.’”
So for two or three years, he took night courses in accounting and business. He said he also was extremely fortunate to have a lot of great experiences.
“I grew up on a farm,” Granger said, “so I learned hard work at a very early age. I started as a laborer in the construction business. I later went to work with a general contractor, learning the masonry and carpentry trades.
“Back in those days you didn’t sleep much. You needed at least two full-time jobs, so I was working days and nights. I took Sunday afternoons off. I was building houses, basements, fireplaces and remodeling kitchens.
Granger said he believes everyone aspires to a leadership role, but it’s not always what people may think.
“I got the opportunity to become president of a large, local construction company,” Granger said. “It was a total disaster. It involved corporate politics, 18-month cash flow projections, visiting New York City bonding companies, Chamber of Commerce meetings and glad-handing, none of which was suited to me.”
The company was managed by three people, Granger said, of which he was one.
“I was president for two years and every vote was two-to-one,” he said. “So it was a real defining point in my life: I aspired to success, and said, ‘Wow, I really enjoyed getting here, but I hate where I am.’ I have a passion for building; I love building things. I’m not a very good politician. I don’t like corporate attitudes and politics. When I walked away from that life, it was the last time I wore a tie.
“I went back to building.”
Granger said he’s been lucky enough to come up with something that works for him.
“I enjoy all aspects of the work and still participate in putting projects together, even though I don’t swing a hammer anymore,” Granger said. “I get to put together the people and the process.”
Granger said he worked as a subcontractor, a general contractor and has experience from many different sides of the field.
“And I was always willing to work more hours than the next guy.”
Granger had co-owned businesses in the past, and at the end of the mall-building boom, he was looking for something to do.
“I was too young to retire,” he said. “I wasn’t sure I could afford to. I love building buildings – that’s where my passion is – so I went back to general contracting and started from scratch. I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit.”
Granger Construction opened in 1992.
“Learning to make unemotional decisions was the toughest thing I had to do,” Granger said.
A second location soon followed in North Carolina.
“I figured if things went bad up here, we’d have that to fall back on,” Granger said, explaining he really liked that area. “But the exact opposite happened.”
He said the 2008 crash made southern lenders shut down all lines of credit to builders because they didn’t want to work with contractors down there – there weren’t any middle managers who had experience making decisions during hard times.
“Business began to flourish here, and I didn’t have the stomach to do it again down there,” Granger said.
Granger said he has issues with some technological advances, especially those that have replaced people.
“You used to have someone at the bank you could look in the eye, and now the numbers are just fed into a computer that decides whether you’ll get a loan, for instance,” he said. “I’ve had the same accounting firm for 40 years, but some of my long-time professionals, like lawyers, are retiring.”
Due to COVID-19, Granger said he is working from home for the first time.
“I would do whatever I had to do – work 18 hours in the office – to not bring work home, because home is my sanctuary,” Granger said. “I never brought work home until now.”
Granger said working so many hours prevents him from doing more hands-on work in the community, but says he’s always tried to be a good community member and good neighbor, making donations and working for non-profits.
“I’ve always worked so many hours, I’ve never had much time for anything else,” he said.
And in that work, Granger wants the world to know that integrity is everything to him.
“I can’t deal with a liar,” he said. “We have enough of a tough time dealing with the English language because so many words can be interpreted so many different ways. You have lawyers who can give you hundreds of different definitions of the word ‘the.’
As a result, integrity is a quality demanded of his staff, also, and he finds watching people grow in the business rewarding.
Granger said he’s not big into talking about activity or clock-watching.
“I’m a results-oriented person,” he said. “If you’re responsible for getting something done, do it. I have a tendency to retain people who are results-oriented. I enjoy other people’s success more than my own.”
He said he thinks watching other people succeed is his greatest success.
“I love watching people do things and surprise themselves. They need the push and the opportunity.”
“Our website says it all,” Granger said. “We legitimately try to do a good job at a fair price. We believe it, we live it, and we weed out those who don’t share that priority.”
Granger is clear he wants the business to far surpass his involvement in it.
“You can’t change the world; you have to adapt to the changes within it,” he said. “We need to continue what we’re doing and implement the newest technologies.”
He said he worries about the temptation to standardize the design field; he said each project is a work of art hand-crafted by good people.
“That’s our stock in trade, and it’s too easy to just cut and paste,” he said. “A good general contractor is an orchestra conductor. Not every violin is a good fit. We always have an eye out for the best people for the best fit.”
“I want the succession group after me to go on to face challenges and flourish for the next group after them.”
Granger said the biggest challenge will be attracting and maintaining youth in the industry.
“It’s an environment that respects age but depends on youth,” he said. “It’s very hard for a young person to get respect in construction. We need new blood trained to use these improved technologies with care.
“Success isn’t necessarily how it’s typically defined,” Granger said. “It’s the ride that’s the fun.”