JA Topeka Business Hall of Fame: Jack McGivern

By Lisa Loewen
Photo by Rachel Lock

Walk into the office of Jack McGivern, and you see walls that are covered in beautiful pieces of art.  Porcelain clowns greet you from various nooks and crannies, and a remarkably life-like statue of an old woman is sitting in the “parlor.” Looking around you get the impression that McGivern loves color—more specifically paint.

Preparing the Canvas

IMG_2438_385x257McGivern grew up in the painting business, working for his father who started JF McGivern, Inc. in 1947. He remembers helping his father mix paint in their home driveway on the weekends so that the crew would have the paint they needed to get to work on Monday.

“We mixed the lead, turpentine and linseed oil, and then strained it through women’s nylons,” he said.

McGivern and his sister took over the business in 1960. She managed the office; he managed the paint crews, and together they turned that small company into a big success.

“If I deserve this honor, so does my sister,” McGivern said.

Laying Down the Foundation

McGivern took over a company in a highly competitive industry. Improved materials and advanced technology allowed amateur painters to enter the marketplace.

“We were competing with professional painters, college students and even every home owner,” he said. “Anyone with a paint brush was potential competition.”

In spite of that competition, JF McGivern soon gained a reputation as the commercial painting company of choice in Topeka. The company invested significant capital in equipment, such as under bridge trucks, high reach trucks, man lifts and large sand blasting pots. They also believed in outworking the competition.

“We started on time, did good quality work and didn’t quit before the bell rang,” McGivern said. “We didn’t make promises we couldn’t keep. We either did the work right or we didn’t do it.”

Using Broad Strokes

Doing the work right, kept repeat customers coming back and brought new customers in the door. A stellar reputation combined with commercial equipment that could handle enormous projects soon had McGivern bidding jobs all over the country. Jumping on the company airplane to manage offices in Texas, Connecticut, Florida and Tennessee became a regular routine.

McGivern recalls one of his most memorable jobs in terms of risk—repainting the Dallas Convention Center in preparation for the re-nomination of President Reagan. While it was impressive task, it came with a serious degree of liability.

“It had to be completed on time and done exactly to specifications, or there would be hell to pay,” McGivern recalled.

Working 20 hours a day, seven days a week, the crew actually finished ahead of schedule. Successfully executing those types of complex painting jobs opened up even more opportunities for the business.

“I was fortunate to have a few companies that gave me the opportunity—more like forced me—to take on jobs above my experience level,” McGivern said with a chuckle. “We got paid to learn.”

Revealing the Masterpiece

Jack McGivern sold the family business to his oldest son, John, 13 years ago, but he didn’t simply walk away. In fact, when he isn’t off on consulting jobs, you will find him in the office giving advice or just harassing Lois.

McGivern takes a humble view of his accomplishments, claiming his success isn’t out of the ordinary. But by most measures, a man who builds a multimillion-dollar business while raising 11 children is anything but ordinary.

Advice:

“If you don’t want to work 10 hour days, 6 days a week, you won’t succeed.”

– Jack McGivern