A mere five words ignited the showdown:
"We don't work on Sundays."
On one side of the table in the worksite trailer sat Firoz "King" Husein, owner and founder of Span Construction & Engineering, a company that specializes in the engineering and construction of large steel buildings.
On the other side sat the executive management team in charge of construction for Costco, the gigantic consumer goods wholesaler.
At issue was a 110-day schedule during which Costco's latest warehouse store needed to be completed.
Span Construction had negotiated the contract to build the project, and a few wrinkles, as they always do, had come up to delay the construction schedule. This would not do. Costco's timetables are sacrosanct. The store had to open at the end of 110 days, as announced.
So the executives were letting Husein know that Costco was willing to pay for overtime, but obviously the hours and the days had to be ramped up or the deadline would not be met.
And King Husein was letting the executives know that he would bring in larger crews and they would absolutely lengthen their days — with the exception of Sundays. Span Construction did not work on Sundays. That too was sacrosanct.
Suddenly the air was leaden. Maybe the 110-day clock was spinning, but in the heavy silence of the trailer time stood still.
Finally, a Costco executive spoke, saying to Husein without disguising his incredulity: "You would not work your men on Sundays even if it means you could lose this entire account?"
Answered Husein, "I hope it doesn't come to that, but if it does, I'm sorry, I will not work my guys on Sundays."
The executive stood up, approached Husein, and, inches from his chest, said, "You'd better meet that commitment."
As he was leaving, he said to an architect outside the trailer, "That is one stubborn Indian."
Truer words could not have been uttered.
The above incident in the trailer occurred 21 years ago. Since that time, Span Construction has become the exclusive builder for Costco worldwide, erecting over 59 million square feet of structures in North America, Asia, Europe and Australia, including 350 warehouses, 16 depots, four office structures, 66 expansions, four additions and 376 gas stations — an average of more than 40 projects every year.
And not a single solitary finger has been lifted on Sunday.
King Husein shakes his head at the memory.
"Though it was not my intent at the time," he says, "since that day, the respect and trust from the Costco management increased substantially. We met our deadline, but we did not work on Sundays. They know we will not compromise our principles in meeting our commitments."
Two decades and all those millions of square feet later, Tom Walker, Costco's executive vice president of construction and logistics, says of Husein, "He's a fantastic vendor for us, an incredible person, and he earns everything he gets. He's on schedule, on time, construction costs are under control and he does it in lightning speed."
Adds Walker: "He's always available, I can reach him anytime, day or night. But not on Sundays. He's absolutely blank on Sundays."
* * *
He wasn't always King.
He came into the world in Bombay, India, in 1946 as Firoz Mohamed Husein, born into a Muslim family in the largest Hindu country in the world.
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