Shirley Bolton celebrates 40 years at Grubb Interests.
It was the year of the bicentennial. The year Apple Computers was founded. The year Nadia Comaneci scored the first perfect 10 in Olympics gymnastics. And the radio was playing Bee Gees, Abba, and, yes, the Bay City Rollers.
It was 1976.
It was also the year Shirley Bolton began the job of a lifetime. She just didn’t know it.
“I had just moved back to Iowa from Texas, fresh out of college,” she says. “And I applied for an office job with Stephen Grubb.”
Grubb was looking for a gal Friday, someone who could be in the office and handle the phones and the paperwork so he could be out on the job site.
“Stephen was 2½ hours late for that interview,” Shirley says. “And I waited. That’s probably why I got the job.”
Stephen’s perspective is different. “I knew there was something special about Shirley. All I could do was stand back and watch. She just took over,” he says.
However it happened, that gal Friday job turned into four decades and a friendship and professional relationship that has grown with the business.
That was then
“When I started, I answered the phones, did the bookkeeping, whatever needed doing,” Shirley says. “And when we got busy enough that we could hire a full-time receptionist, I got my own office. It was a storage room with a metal Budweiser table and a piece of paneling across the arms of the chair to hold the typewriter.”
But she was willing to work and willing to learn. “I didn’t know anything about the construction business,” Shirley explains. “I had an elementary teaching degree.”
She had realized quickly that teaching wasn’t a good fit for her. But gal Friday was.
She filed, kept the books, vacuumed, even cleaned toilets if it needed to be done. And she learned the business.
“We used to never meet the buyer; that was all handled by the real estate folks. And you could finish a house in 30 days,” she adds. “But that was back when we were building little ranch homes, just 1,000 square feet.”
Though she was young and female, Bolton says the predominantly male construction business never made her feel out of place. “I was young,” she says. “Probably more timid or cautious because of that. But the men I’ve worked with are all respectful.”
Grubb says gender has never been a factor for him. “I don’t know how things are in other companies,” he explains, “but I never think about that. I just hire the best man for the job—whether that’s a man or a woman, I don’t care.”
Shirley Bolton was definitely the best person for the job.
This is now
Shirley says attitudes may have changed over the years, but she attributes that more to the way she’s changed. “If people treat me differently now than they used to, it’s more because of my experience,” she explains. “Besides, they know I’ll put them in their place if I have to.”
She says she’s had some great teachers over the years, and that’s given her the opportunity to grow professionally as the business has grown. “When the Carter years hit, we were working 12- to 14-hour days just to survive,” she adds.
That experience paid off. Now Shirley does the bidding, negotiates prices, deals directly with the realtors—whatever needs to be done. “We have a unique group here,” she says. “We’re a little off-beat. We operate as a family. And we’re loyal like family.”
Though Shirley has been with the company longest, celebrating her 40th anniversary this year, that loyalty runs in the Grubb “family.” “Our bookkeeper has been here 24 years. Our foreman 20, and our handyman 16,” she says. “Stephen and I fight like brother and sister, but we’ve been through a lot over the years, and we’re loyal like a brother and sister, too.”
Enjoying the moment
Shirley is so loyal, in fact, she says she won’t retire. “If Stephen retires, I will. But not until then,” she promises. And that’s a good thing.
Stephen and Shirley have been through boom years and bust years in the home-building business. And they’ve found a place where they’re comfortable. A place where Shirley has her own office, complete with desk, and she can bring her dog to work. A place where Stephen can spend more time on the job site and less at his desk.
“Being crazy busy was fun. Don’t get me wrong,” Shirley explains. “But we’ve been there, done that. We like being big enough to do the kind of work we like and to do it well, but not so busy that we can’t pay attention to the details.”
As Stephen is fond of saying, “We’re in business for two reasons: to make money, honorably.”
Shirley says that is why she’s stayed all these years. And why they’re enjoying the moment and looking forward to the years ahead.