|Owner and CEO, Northshore Concrete Products|
You worked for Merrill Lynch in New Jersey before you started Northshore. What brought you to where you are today?
I grew up in Livingston Parish, the son of an underground utilities contractor, with shovel in hand and mud (among other things) up to my waist. I learned early the fastest way to climb up to ground level and higher was through education. It wasn't the hard work or long hours that motivated me to learn (although it helped), it was the desire to have that hard work make the greatest impact on my family and others around me.
After receiving a Bachelor of Science in finance from LSU, I entered the doctoral program, with a concentration in corporate finance. Although I completed all the required coursework, I stopped short of receiving my doctorate, but not before obtaining an MBA and a Master of Science in finance.
Throughout graduate school I worked as an investment advisor for PaineWebber (now UBS). I knew I wanted to own my own business, but felt I needed a few more tools in my chest. I took a job with Merrill Lynch where I worked in their private client headquarters in Princeton, N.J., and occasionally in New York City for several years.
As vice president of individual and small business product development and marketing, the work was always exciting and challenging, but I found the corporate world to be less than fulfilling. Many times, the impact of hard work gets lost in the complexities of the corporate structure. This was at a time in the early 2000s when Merrill was working through a particularly tumultuous transition from which it never fully recovered.
As with many, the tragic attacks on 9/11 deeply impacted myself and my wife, who was working as a flight attendant out of Newark Airport. We were already anticipating changes to grow our family, and decided it was time to move back south. After thorough investigation and planning, we were in a good position to start a new business.
Manufacturing underground utility structures in South Louisiana was like coming home in more ways than one. Having grown up in Livingston Parish, it truly is home for me. Likewise, having grown up installing these same products was certainly getting back to what I know. Looking back, to me, the path feels completely natural. I wouldn't change a thing.
Talk a little bit about the industry sectors that you company sells to. In the current economic environment, which sectors have been strongest? Which ones have struggled the most?
The infrastructure industry supplies three main sectors of the economy: commercial, residential, and public (i.e., municipal, state and federal). Fortunately, in my experience, growth in these sectors is countercyclical.
Beginning in the years immediately following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, private sector development exploded as individuals and businesses rebuilt and moved to areas north of I-10. This population shift occurred first in the residential markets, then in commercial as businesses moved or expanded to keep up with their customer base. Finally, we saw growth from public infrastructure projects to replace damaged roads and utilities and compensate for population shifts.
In more recent years with the global and national economies in crisis, residential and commercial development has been significantly stifled. Most recently, with the federal government spending billions of dollars on stimulus and infrastructure, the public sector has remained robust. [But at what cost?]
We have been able to maintain solid growth by finding ways to supply the industrial and energy markets in Louisiana, which are poised to continue their strong performance.
Have your clients been squeezed by greater competition from out-of-state companies? How has this trend affected your company?
Because our local economy has outperformed most others across the country, with a few exceptions, contractors face a constant onslaught of new competition on every project. Unfortunately, more often than not, this has resulted in less than stellar project performance.
We have been affected tremendously by this phenomenon. We are a relationship company. I tell people that our goal is not to be the low price producer, although many times we are. We will, however, always be the low cost producer. We save our customers money through accuracy, timeliness, responsiveness, flexibility, and quality. These are things on which we will never compromise.
Again, unfortunately, these are not qualities sought out by temporary entries into the market. For these companies, enormous mobilization, and other costs, due mostly to unfamiliarity of local codes and specifications, often dictate the use of the lowest price on materials, subcontractors and labor, all things that will affect either the duration or quality, and certainly the total cost, of the project.
Livingston Parish has been among the fastest-growing parishes in the state for some time now. What are some of the biggest or most important changes you've seen during the nine years you've been in business there? What are the most important changes you would like to see going forward?
Recently we have seen an influx of industry and manufacturing to the parish. Livingston Parish is projected to double in population by 2030. That presents numerous challenges and opportunities. I would like to see the parish make changes that will bring the greatest benefit to the people of our parish with the best use of what I believe are our three greatest natural resources: our beautiful waterways, our vast amount of undeveloped land, and most importantly our large and growing population of hardworking, culturally diverse people.
Why do you do what you do?
Why wouldn't I?
I get to build products that make a difference in our everyday lives. I work with great individuals that I would spend time with even if I didn't have to. My customers are hardworking, respectable people who make positive contributions to our communities every day. And I have the satisfaction of knowing that whatever situation may arise, I can make an assessment, evaluate the alternatives, and make the decision I feel is best. As any business owner will tell you, sometimes you're right and sometimes you're wrong, but the ability to make the decision and see it through is deeply gratifying.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment?
The work that we do every day. It gives me a great sense of fulfillment to be able to drive to just about any town in South Louisiana, and to almost any major infrastructure project of the past nine years, and see our product in the ground. It really feels good to know that we have a hand in helping our state and communities stay vibrant and continue to grow.
What was your first job?
I started when I was thirteen working construction during the summers and holidays. Was that legal?
Don't tell anyone. Working from 50 to 70 hours a week taught me a lot. I would say the most important thing the shovel taught me was to stay in school and get the best education I could.
What is the best advice you've ever received?
I would say that my father has always been a source of enlightenment. Not so much in the form of advice, but more with anecdotes that reveal their true value over time, again and again, as I need them.
One of the earliest I recall is a story of when my father was working construction. He had an early-morning commute along Galveston Bay, Texas. Upon arriving at the jobsite, the owner, his uncle, inquired as to the weather coming in from over the bay. When my father responded that he wasn't paying attention, his uncle turned it into a teachable moment. He lined the crew out with ten hours work, then headed home to retreat from the poor weather he knew was moving in.
As a boy, from this story I learned to be aware of my physical surroundings. As a man, over the years I've expanded the lesson to include being aware of my emotional, economic, political, intellectual, and cultural surroundings as well. Be prepared, think ahead, and don't wait until you find yourself in a given situation to figure out where you stand and how to proceed. By then you are usually relegated to playing catch-up.
I can't recall one instance of my father having told me what I should do. But I've always seemed to find the answer in his words. He certainly has been throughout my life, and continues to be, my mentor and most trusted source of enlightenment.
If you could have any job other than your own, what would it be?
Guiding 10-12 day fishing and rafting trips in the Alaskan wilderness. It's a place that brings the true character of an individual boiling out of the top. It's intriguing to see how people respond to self-reliance and being unplugged. I wish I could take every prospective employee on a trip as part of the interviewing process. Actually, that's not a bad idea. If I were to ever retire that may be my next business: Taking prospective upper-level management employees and employers on a discovery excursion. I could certainly do it for less than the cost of a 90-day probationary period.
What is the greatest personal or professional obstacle you've overcome?
Balancing work life and personal life. For me, it's been more difficult than it sounds. My wife will tell you that I'm making progress. She's very diplomatic.
If you started over, what would you do differently?
Listen more. Talk less.
What is your prescription for life?
When you get out of bed, get right to the work that needs to be done, including planning for tomorrow. But once you lay your head on your pillow, surrender tomorrow to take care of itself.
What book are you currently reading?
How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It, by James Wesley Rawles. Hey, I say be prepared for anything, as unlikely as it may seem.
If you could have dinner with any three living people, who would they be?
My wife Rhonda and my two boys, William and Gregory, and I'm grateful I get to do it almost every night. I would have chosen the President, to explain how he's crippling the foundations of our country, but I think he already knows that. So, what would be the point?
Who would play you in a movie?
I suppose most people would say Kirk Cameron. Not too glitzy, I know. It is what it is.
What do you do to unwind?
I love getting out on the water. No particular agenda, just the feel and the smells and the sound of the wind and water. I find it completely rejuvenating.
What is the most expensive purchase you've made for yourself?
My boat, and it continues to be. If you have one, you know what I mean.
What is your favorite weekend activity?
We have a pond stocked with catfish. My two boys and I love spending our days out by the pond fishing, playing ball, and doing what boys do.
What's your favorite spot in Baton Rouge?
Death Valley, of course.
How do you take your coffee/tea?
Coffee: The first cup when I get to work around 5:45 a.m. has one spoon of raw sugar. The way I see it, waking that early in the morning, I deserve to get a little sugar.
What is your favorite movie? Against All Odds (it has a little something for everyone)
TV show? How It's Made (no surprise here)
Band? James Taylor
What is your favorite gadget?
My Scala Rider G4 headset mounted on my Harley helmet. I love being able to stay in touch, even when I'm out of touch.
What is something that you can't live without?
Ah. My iPhone. It truly is amazing what I can do with this thing.
If you could change one thing about Baton Rouge, what would it be?
Build the loop. As difficult and complex as the issue is, we need strong leadership to get it done. It will be a boon for Baton Rouge, the surrounding parishes, and the state.
What is your greatest hope for Baton Rouge?
Managed growth. With our industries and location, strong continued growth is inevitable. I hope we are able to manage it well.
What is your greatest fear for Baton Rouge?
That those without vision or who fear change will hinder or spoil the development that is happening, and will continue, along the I-10/I-12 corridor.
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