By Shamona McClary
After about 18 years of working full-time in the family business, David Griffin Jr.'s face still lights up when he sees the big wrecking machines at work.
"They're grinding, munching and crunching and pulverizing," Griffin said as he gave a tour of the future N.C. Research Campus site.
The campus is a collaboration between billionaire David Murdock's Dole Foods and North Carolina universities. It will host extensive research with top-of-the-line equipment with a goal to one day produce cures for deadly diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
And Griffin and his company, Greensboro-based D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co., is clearing the foundation for the 350-acre project.
Based on square footage, the company is on the cusp of completing the largest commercial demolition ever with the campus.
"Everybody can't do that,"Griffin said. "I like the pressure. I like doing the jobs people say can't be done."
The company went down in history books earlier this year as it toppled about a million square feet on the site, making it the second largest implosion in American history.
D.H. Griffin is also noted for its contribution to the cleanup of the Sept. 11 tragedy in 2001.
Two days after the event, Griffin said he went up to New York as a volunteer. He didn't have a pass to get on the World Trade Center site, so he snuck in and worked on the bucket brigade an assembly line of about 100 workers picking up bricks and dropping them in buckets. He said he did this for about two hours.
Within days he was hired as a consultant for Tower No. 2. Griffin said they removed a curtain wall in less than 55 minutes. After that quick success, the headman asked Griffin to take on the job as demolition consultant for the entire site.
Griffin said he stayed there about seven months and his company remained there about 19 months.
"We finished $400 million under budget and six months early," Griffin boasted.
He is hoping for the same cost-efficient outcome with the campus. And with 75 machines and 150 workers toiling about 10 hours a day, six days a week, he said they are ahead of schedule to complete all demolition work by December.
Today, they have the best machines and special techniques to get the job done. But Griffin said during the start of the company, equipment was less sophisticated.
He said D.H. Griffin was the "product of humble beginnings."
The early years
D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. was founded in 1959 by his father, David Griffin Sr., a man who was raised on a sharecropper's farm with only an eighth-grade education.
By tearing down an old church and using salvageable parts to build his family's first house, his father performed his first demolition job.
He did this with crowbars, sledge hammers, ropes, hoisting cranes and pulleys.
Later, Griffin discovered he could get paid to tear down buildings, and he started winning contracts.
In 1961, he bought his first bulldozer. From there, the company continued to grow, eventually becoming incorporated.
And over time, the wrecking company expanded in various facets such as recycling and asbestos abatement.
"By us being in demolition, it was a natural fit," David Griffin Jr. said.
The company's scope of services has continued to grow during the past 20 years and now includes a used equipment division, a commercial construction company and infrastructure development division.
These divisions have allowed the company to self-perform associated services under one contract.
Griffin said they are self-performing 80 to 90 percent of their work.
Now with 14 offices in 10 states, D.H. Griffin has grown to be the second largest demolition contractor in the United States and the largest in the South.
"We contribute success to good people. We've been very fortunate to be able to recruit a lot of talented people," Griffin said. "We believe you're as good as your team."
All in the family
Aside from the Griffin team, which is made up Griffin's father, mother and his two sisters, Griffin said the employees are the ones who make the difference.
And like his family name, some have been with the company several years.
"We are literally in a big family company,"Griffin said." We have very loyal and dedicated employees."
About 1,250 people are employed at the company. That number includes office staff and workers in the field.
He said D.H. Griffin has encountered three generations of employees at times.
Because of their longevity and Griffin's friendly nature, out of the 150 workers on the campus site, he said he knew about 90 percent of them by first and last name.
As he rode around in his company pickup truck on the busy site, he stopped to talk to some of his longtime employees.
They didn't cower away as the boss approached. Instead they smiled, waved or shook hands if close enough.
"You can't run me away," said Merl Rankin, an employee for 20 years.
Another employee, Tommy Coleman, said he has worked for Griffin for 22 years.
"It doesn't get any better than this," he yelled out the window of a massive machine. "I couldn't ask for a better place."
Coleman's father and grandfather retired at D.H. Griffin. He said he didn't plan to break the tradition.
Others, like 66-year-old Roy Shields, have been with the company for most of their lives. Shields said he has been employed there for 36 years just 11 years shy of the company's entire existence.
Like in any family, Griffin finds himself the victim of practical jokes.
After returning from the middle of a site, Griffin discovered his Lexus, which has a vanity plate of WREKNMAN, blocked in by orange cones.
"They're always cutting up with me," he said as he laughed.
Measure of success
Demolition of the former Pillowtex site, which once employed thousands before its closure in 2003, is just one project D.H. Griffin has on its plate right now.
Griffin said they have more than 50 projects going in 12 states. He tries to visit the Kannapolis site at least three times a week. If he's not there, he's either in Greensboro or flying out to other sites.
Although a company executive, dressed in a hard hat, jeans and boots, Griffin will tell you he prefers to be in the field rather than in meetings or behind a stuffy desk.
"It's all I ever wanted to do," he said.
Then there is that time when he was 18 or 20 when he thought he wanted to be a professional golfer.
But now, Griffin can't imagine any other place he would rather be besides among the dirty, rugged open space of a demolition site where smashing, blasting and grinding takes place before your eyes.
"I'm getting to fulfill every boy's dream," he said.
Griffin, who thanks his father for teaching him the ropes, said the company has taken down more than 15,000 buildings over 40 years and built 12,050.
But that and their financial status does not completely define success to him. To him, success means getting the job done, providing a safe environment, sustainable jobs and happy clients and having fun along the way.
"Business is serious, but I think people take business way more serious than it needs to be," he said.
It's all about being happy, he said. And just like his 67-year-old father, Griffin said he loves what he does and is thankful for his blessings.
Griffin has a wife, Donna, to whom he has been married for 17 years. Together they have three children two teenage girls, Denver, 15, and Dakota, 13, and a 5-year-old boy, David Griffin III.
He doesn't know if his children will continue the legacy, but in his heart, he hopes they choose the same path.
His oldest daughter has mentioned becoming an architect, and Griffin said maybe she will be able to design the buildings they construct.
Until then, he's training his son the same way he got his early interest playing with Tonka toys.
Contact Shamona McClary at 704-933-3450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.