Michael Futch: Building a Better Today and Tomorrow
While still a small boy growing up in segregated Monroe, La., Michael Futch was fascinated with building, intrigued by what made structures stand. He followed his passion into adulthood, earning two degrees in engineering before adding a juris doctorate from the Cornell University School of Law to his passel of qualifications. Today, as vice president and general counsel at Granite Construction Incorporated, a multi-billion dollar California-based company responsible for huge projects, including the Las Vegas monorail and the infrastructure surrounding New York City’s proposed Freedom Tower, Futch remains in the game.
“When I chose to specialize in construction law, being able to read plans and specifications was a tremendous advantage,” recalls Futch. “Now it’s become quite common. At Granite we have six in-house counsel, and four of us are licensed engineers.”
What is less common—though not as unusual as when he began his legal career 25 years ago—is Futch’s status as an attorney of color in a corporate behemoth.
Futch credits the teachers at the Monroe public high school he attended with instilling the drive to succeed within him and his classmates.
“They explained to us that the world was changing, and many opportunities would soon be opening up to young African Americans,” says Futch. “They believed in us, and, in turn, we thought we were the cream of the crop. We competed and were determined to make it.” Futch listened to his teachers’ advice. He studied civil engineering at Southern University, a predominately black school in Baton Rouge, and after graduating in 1970, Futch headed west to San Francisco, where he was employed as an engineer. Only months later, he was drafted into the army.
Once out of the service, Futch continued his education at the University of California, where he was the only African American civil engineering student in the university’s prestigious master’s program.
“It was a lonely existence. I didn’t have a single study partner,” he recalls. “Still, I was determined to try harder, work longer, to do whatever it might take to graduate.” According to Futch, the business world has made strides with diversity because it better understands the advantage of a diverse team serving a heterogeneous pool of customers, and the realities of selling in a diverse society.
“At Granite, we have a policy of hiring minority attorneys as our outside counsel when we can,” says Futch. “We have two minorities on the board, and diversity is one of their concerns. At the moment we are looking to fill a spot in our legal department, and we insist on seeing a diverse candidate slate.”
Futch is hopeful that one day the legal profession will be in the forefront of diversity, but believes it is not there yet.
“Some law firms pay lip service to diversity,” adds Futch. “But it’s only when the general counsel puts pressure on outside counsel to hire minorities, or when clients insist on change, that substantial progress will be made.”
While waiting for that day, Futch is doing his part to help build a diverse workplace, one block at a time.
Patrick Folliard is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring, Md.
From the January/February 2006 issue of Diversity & The Bar®