T.C. Murphy thought he’d have a career in the oil and gas industry after getting a degree in geology from the University of Wyoming. But construction helped him pay his way through college, and when tragedy struck a family close to him, he stepped up to help lead their construction company, leaning on the knowledge and experience he’d gained every summer.
How did you get started in construction?
I started in construction right out of high school. My dad worked in construction so I was always around it. It was one of those deals where I was unsure if I wanted to go to college, and if I did go, I didn’t know what I wanted to study. I went into construction and worked as a hoddie, which is a laborer for a brick mason line. I did that for a year, and it was very difficult work. I realized in that short amount of time by looking at some of the guys next to me, the older generation that was still laboring, I knew I wasn’t going to move up very far unless I got some education under my belt. So I took advantage of the community college education system in Gillette, Wyoming, and I worked on getting my associate’s degree while continuing to work in construction. I was working for an asphalt paving company called Intermountain Construction and Materials in Gillette. I worked there in the summers while going to school, and I used the money from working construction to pay for my associate’s degree. I graduated from Gillette College with a 3.8 and decided to continue my education, and I went down to the University of Wyoming in Laramie and got my bachelor’s degree in Geology in 2009 while still working for the same company. I graduated debt free, mostly from being able to come back every year and work in the summer. For every year I worked at ICM, they promised me a $1 per hour raise so I was making fairly good money hourly. My last year at UW, they knew I was a going to have a geology degree and that I might be going towards the oil and gas industry, so ICM offered me a job right out of college and a $45,000 year salary, as well as paying for the last year of my tuition. I couldn’t pass that up. Because of my work experience with them, they put me into estimating because I knew the ins and outs of the job. It fit really well. My degree didn’t fit exactly, but my work experience was very valuable to them.
How did you start working for Keyhole Technologies?
ICM used to be called Cundy Asphalt Paving, and the family that owned it had known me since I was real little. I was best friends with their son, Matt Cundy. They sold the company right when I went to work for them and moved down to Casper and started a traffic control company called Keyhole Technologies. After a year or a year and a half working for ICM, Brad Cundy came to me and asked if I was interested in a manager position in Casper for an asphalt maintenance company. They gave me a little better salary and offered to pay for some of my housing and help me move, so I took it. Knowing the Cundys, I knew I would be successful in anything they did. Unfortunately in November of 2009 my best friend Matt, their son, took his own life. They needed help kind of filling that spot—he was doing estimating for Keyhole and doing the general managing. I filled in for him and helped them the best that I could. That’s what I’m doing now. I’m general manager and now part-owner of Keyhole Technologies. About two years ago they offered me 30 percent partnership.
How hard was it to take his place?
It was extremely difficult, especially knowing the family for so long and him being my best friend and trying to fill his shoes. He was pretty much running the company. I was trying to fill in for him and at the same time trying to help the family grieve, and it was a very difficult time. But I knew matt wouldn’t want anybody else but me doing that.
What does Keyhole Technologies do?
Mostly it’s all heavy highway, some urban stuff. 90 percent of the work we do is with contractors that our working with WyDOT. Anything that a contractor is doing on our highways and byways, we make sure the contractor and the traveling public is safe.
So, why construction?
I always liked construction. That’s kind of why I went into it. I’ve been surrounded by construction my whole life. I was proud to be called a construction worker. Working with your team, building roads and buildings, I’ve done it all, and I’ve always liked it. Some jobs are a little tougher than others, but when it’s all said and done, being able to stand back and say, ‘I built that,’ I always liked that feeling. I know it sounds a little cliche, but it’s true. My favorite part of construction is seeing the finished product. Especially with roadways, it was great to be able to drive a freshly paved road or even a city street and know that you helped build it. Seeing all the kids strap on their rollerblades and riding down the street for the first time is special. Going around town, especially in Gillette, and seeing all those roads that I was a part of building, expanding the town and the infrastructure—it’s great to see a city like that grow.
Would you be where you are now without your degree?
I think I would have moved up a little bit with the experience I got in the summers. Each year I was able to learn a new piece of equipment and learn the total aspects of what it takes to manage a job. Knowing a little bit of everything on the job site, you have to if you’re going to manage. My supervisor saw that, and he saw my work ethic and wanted to make sure I had my hand in everything so eventually I could maybe take his spot. With my college education I ended up getting that estimating position instead of maybe a field manager spot, which worked out better for me. Estimating pays quite a bit more.
What is it like to work for a family business?
It’s great having that family aspect in construction. Sometimes it can get in the way, but we always have a policy that you’re not supposed to work on the same crew as your family. But when you get up higher in the office level, you have people able to bring their kids into the office and have them there throughout the day, not having the owners complain about that. We always joke that it’s like a little daycare here. Some of the field guys have wives that swing in and say hello with their kids. It’s nice knowing a company like the Cundys actually care, that you’re not just a number.
What is the construction industry looking for in new workers?
Now that I’m in traffic control I’m seeing a lot more younger people, especially filling those flagger positions, and they’re not quite aware of the construction aspect, especially safety-wise and what it entails or how to build a project. I definitely have to do some trainings. Most of them are right out of high school or between the ages of 18 and 25. There is a shortage of construction workers that have skills. Usually the best people that I like to hire are the agriculture kids because they’ve been around machinery, they know what work ethic is. They’ve been getting up at 5:30 a.m., and they are usually on time. I like to hire kids like that. I’ve seen a lack in the work ethic, especially when it comes to manual labor. Nobody wants to get your hands dirty. But I try to tell them my story. I was doing the same thing, digging ditches. I was doing everything you're doing, but if you stick with it and show you’ve got good work ethic you can make a really good life doing this.
The most important thing to me is making sure that we show our workers that we do care, but at the same time we have to make sure they know what they’re doing. I want my employees to take the time to teach and train some of these younger kids and show them how things are done. Too many times they get thrown into the construction field, and without any explanation they’re just expected to do a lot of stuff that they don’t know. I think that it’s important to take the time to mentor and train, that way you’re not losing somebody that could have been a good hand.
What would you tell someone who thinks construction is a dead-end job?
I would just tell them my story, to be honest with you. There’s nothing more that catches a person or grabs them than telling your personal story, I think. Lot of them think they’re just going to get stuck holding a shovel the whole time, and that’s not the case. Yeah, you’re going to be digging ditches for a few years, but you’ll look up and the next thing you know you’re going to be on a roller or a paver, or maybe you’ll be running a crew of your own. Maybe you want to start your own company. You can do that too. There are tons of options. If there is one piece of advice for someone who is maybe thinking about construction but isn’t sure, that is to look into going to construction management school. Education is important. The company I work for saw my work experience and knew I had some type of education, and they saw the classes I was taking. It does not have to be in construction management, but if you’re leaning towards construction, it certainly helps. I almost wish I would have done that, looking back. Maybe my grades would have been better!