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St. Louis RCGA

Looking for Opportunities

By Christine Imbs

Derek Glanvill’s life is a classic immigration story.

“I literally came to the U.S. with one suitcase and a few hundred dollars in my pocket,” he says. “I was a 25-year-old kid from South Africa, arriving in New York City, and ending up in Houston, Texas.”

Today Glanvill is president and COO of McCarthy Building Companies, which as of this year is a $3 billion company, and one of the oldest privately-held construction firms in the nation. But back in Houston working for Hill Constructors, Glanvill was just happy he was surviving.

“In my early years, I’d say the fact that I survived was my biggest accomplishment,” he says. “But really, I couldn’t believe the opportunities. I had a regular salary, and with a salary you could lease a car. Vehicles were cheap, and the gas was cheap. And even though I stayed in this truck-stop motel for a while, at 25, I thought I had everything. The world was mine.”

For a self-confessed overachiever, a few opportunities was all Glanvill needed to start making an impact. By the age of 30, he was president of Hill Constructors. When it was bought out by an international firm doing business in Southeast Asia, he not only continued to run the Houston-based operation, but also acted as negotiator for the international consortium traveling to places like Burma, Laos, and Singapore.

“Because the international company was more lucrative than the U.S. operation, they wanted me to move to Singapore,” he says. “That meant I would lose my permanent residency status here. But by this time, I had decided to become a U.S. citizen. I felt my only alternative was to leave my position and go to work for an American company.”

That company turned out to be Sverdrup, located in St. Louis, a place he was unfamiliar with. So he got out his map and did a little research.

“I saw that it was by Chicago, so I thought it couldn’t be that bad. Then I did some research and saw it was a perfect fit because it was a wonderful city and had some history and culture. I thought it would be a good place to raise children.”

Glanvill worked for Sverdrup for several years until it was sold to Jacob Engineering. McCarthy was looking to do more industrial construction at the time and hired him to start their industrial division. After five years with the company, he joined the executive committee, and, in 2002, was part of the transition when McCarthy became a 100 percent, employee-owned company. Glanvill says that’s what drives him today.

“We’re all owners here and that culture of ownership makes a big difference in the attitudes,” he explains. “We don’t work for just an individual or family. We’re not top heavy with managers. Everybody here is a worker and has a very hands-on function. It’s very encouraging for everyone to know that we all work together for the good of everyone. It’s inspiring.”

Asked what he believes is his biggest achievement, and without hesitation Glanvill says next to surviving those first few years in the United States, it’s being part of the McCarthy family.

“We are truly a family here. And it’s an accomplishment and a thrill to lead this very complex, respected and high-performing employee-based company,” he says. “But at the same time, I also see it as a privilege. We’re making a difference. And making a difference is what life’s all about.”

Listening to him it’s no surprise to learn that Glanvill’s favorite quote is by Robert Kirby, a British born musical arranger, who said, “The true mark of a professional is giving more than you get.”

“It’s what I aspire to do,” he says. “There are givers and takers in life. I want to be a giver.”


BORN: South Africa
FAMILY: Wife, Penny, and three children ages 9 to 15
EDUCATION: B.S. in civil and structural engineering from University of Natal in South Africa
CURRENT READ: The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman
FAVORITE CHARITY: Make-a-Wish Foundation & Wyman
HOBBIES: Runs 22 marathons, 2 ultra-marathons & an iron man competition
ST. LOUIS IMPRESSIONS: A wonderful place to raise a family


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