Executive Spotlight Q&A: Jay Labarre, president/CEO of Labarre Associates
Photography by Don Kadair
Family: Married to Tere, with two children: Lauren, 35, and Logan, 31
Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana
Education: Bachelor of architecture, bachelor of science in construction
What kind of jobs did your parents have when you were growing up and how did their work experiences shape your outlook on what kind of career you might want to pursue?
My father was a lifelong employee of the telephone company, Bell South, where he retired from after 37 years. He also did side jobs in construction which made my career choice seem like an extension of his “second career.” My dad always demonstrated loyalty and commitment, traits which I have placed in high esteem throughout my career. My mom, when see wasn’t a stay-at-home mom with six kids, was a medical technician. She encouraged us to stay in school.
What was your first job and what was your takeaway from the experience?
My first job was taking care of a horse owned by a plant nursery near my house (natural plant fertilizer). Kind of strange for an inner-city kid in New Orleans, but it’s what was available to me if I wanted to make extra spending money. That job led to other jobs at the nursery and was my first exposure to what it meant to be responsible.
Your company has designed several notable projects in the region over the years, including several Livingston Parish Library branches and the Greystone Country Club pavilion and clubhouse, among others. Any that you are especially proud of, and why?
While it may sound cliché, I am proud of every job where we ended up with a satisfied client. The Livingston Parish Courthouse was one of our largest and most challenging projects, given the budget and 22 elected officials as a client.
How has technology changed architecture over your years in the business and how has your company adapted?
The answer to this question could fill several of your publications. Hand drawings, “cut and paste” specification writing, and individual catalogs and product manuals were the norm when I started my company. Today, computer drafting and specification writing programs continue to improve to allow faster and more efficient production of construction drawings and specifications. At the same time, building materials and equipment grow increasingly more complex each year. As a result, we spend more time researching and coordinating new details with subcontractors, engineers and suppliers and less time producing the construction documents. Once a project moves into construction we now have cloud based file sharing programs that allow us to document and communicate with contractors and owners in real time. We have been able to consolidate our own space by using new specification software and BIM (Building Information Modeling)—gone are the days of having overflowing product catalog libraries. We’ve adapted by replacing them with large open spaces to work and collaborate. The introduction of Revit, a BIM program has greatly increased coordination between the different trades involved in the design process. We trained all architects to use this program several years ago.
What’s your philosophy for attracting quality employees and retaining them?
There are tremendously talented people out there, but currently a somewhat limited pool to choose from. While it is important that we get people capable of doing the required task, it is more important at Labarre that we get people that fit in with the culture of our firm. Labarre has people in the firm that have been here for decades. Our corporate culture is very important to us and if we get the right people that share our cultural values, then retaining them is easy.
You’ve expanded your company through the years to include branch offices in Mississippi and Florida. What’s your advice to business owners who want to branch out and expand their business?
Make sure you have exiting work and clients to support the branch office, or the capital required to see you through what is usually a slow and expensive start.
We hear you’re also a forensic consultant for courts in cases involving architecture, construction and facility management. What kind of cases do you get involved in and what does your work in that arena entail?
My forensic consulting has involved both plaintiff and defense work. The majority of my consulting involves commercial work but I have done some limited residential cases. My expertise, as recognized by the courts, spans architecture, construction and facilities, and I am able to bring a unique perspective to both the attorneys and the court. Testimony usually involves trying to clarify code-related issues, but there are usually multiple interpretations of codes. The expert with the most credibility usually influences the mediators, arbitrators and judges.
Your business took on upwards of eight feet of water during last August’s flood and only recently re-opened its offices. What did you learn about yourself, your employees and your company through the experience?
Actually, our office never really closed as several of our divisions worked out of the second floor of the office. Our architectural division worked out of the corporate office of one of our clients and another division worked out of rental space on our campus. While we have back in the office for several months, our recent grand reopening allowed the entire company to get rid of our plastic tables and work on real desk and work stations. Almost one half of the staff housed in our Denham Springs office lost their homes and cars to the flood, but we stuck together as a company and continued to service our clients without missing a beat. For us, the silver lining to the flood was that we learned to rely on each other and our clients learned that with the capabilities of our employees we really are “One Source-One Solution.”
How do you plan to have your company emerge from the flood even stronger?
After the flood, we rebuilt the entire corporate office with an emphasis on the needs of the employees. We have learned that when our employees are provided with a superior working environment the employees provide our clients with superior service. Our clients have seen that, no matter the adversity, Labarre Associates can take care of their needs. The strength of our company is based on the strength of our relationships with our clients. After the flood, our relationships are stronger than ever.
What do you think Livingston Parish and Denham Springs officials must do to ensure the area fully recovers from last August’s flood and continues to grow in the manner it was prior to the flood?
That’s a loaded question, but in my humble opinion, officials from both the city and the parish need to be sensitive to the extraordinary circumstances their citizens have suffered through. The tricky part is balancing that sensitivity with the need to comply with codes, building safety and zoning requirements. While there can’t be an exception to everything, in certain situations common sense needs to trump codes and ordinances. Not a position I would want to be in.
What’s the greatest personal obstacle you’ve had to overcome, and how did you do it?
My greatest personal obstacle has been adjusting to running a business, rebuilding both my home and office simultaneously, taking care of my clients and taking care of my family. I did it with the grace of God, the support of wonderful employees and clients and the unwavering faith and support of my wife, Tere.
You’re taking me out to a business lunch in the Capital Region. Where are we going and what do you recommend I order?
I have way too many friends and clients in the Denham Springs area to select one over the other. Denham Springs and Livingston Parish now provide an abundance of selections of restaurants that would work for a business lunch.
How has your management style changed since you founded your company 33 years ago?
I am much more prone to delegate issues to the senior management team at Labarre. In the “good old days,” my typical response was “get out of my way, I’ll do it.” The success of Labarre Associate now depend on a team effort. No individual could possibly get us to where we are today.
What’s your usual morning routine to get your day off to a good start?
My usual morning routine consist of getting up around 5:30 or 6 a.m., followed by morning prayers, a brief review of the morning paper, shave, shower and head to the office. The morning continues with a pre-lunchtime swim to relieve stress and keep the day moving.
How do you unwind after a particularly busy day or week?
I am a salt water aquarium junkie. I have a 300-gallon reef tank at my house and a 200-gallon reef tank at the office. I lost both to the flood but am now in the rebuilding process. I can lose myself and forget the world when I’m working on them. We will bring both back better than ever.
What’s the best vacation you’ve ever taken and what’s the next vacation you hope to take?
The best vacation I ever had was a 14-day sea and land excursion to Alaska. Twelve members of my family made the trip and it was truly special. The next vacation I hope to take is where my wife tells me, probably somewhere in the Caribbean.