Inspiration Abounds for Industry Members With a Passion for Business and Workforce Development 

Leaders are cut from different cloths, but they all have common threads: They’re authentic, innovative, determined, adaptable relationship-oriented and goal-driven. And in the case of construction leaders, they flat-out love developing, building and promoting this industry.

With the help of recognition from their colleagues, peers, local media and business organizations, Construction Executive identified the following eight people as outstanding leaders who are making notable contributions within their companies, communities and the industry at large. They represent a small sample of the talent pool that make AEC companies so successful—a testament to the inspiration that abounds in the construction industry. 

A SHAREHOLDER WITH SPUNK
Alexandra Pulliam
Marketing Director
Enterprise Builders Corp.
Albuquerque


Age: 29
Education: Bachelor’s degree, mass communication, University of New Mexico
Industry Tenure: Seven and a half years

Despite growing up in a construction family, Alexandra Pulliam saw herself becoming a sportscaster or PR hotshot. The vision was to leave Albuquerque behind and land in a big city, but “serendipity,” as she puts it, brought Pulliam to Enterprise Builders Corp. during her sophomore year in college. As it turns out, there was no denying the construction industry is filled with “my” people, Pulliam says.

Fast forward six years and she is the company’s youngest shareholder on a seven-person leadership team—introducing a new level of trust and professional responsibility. She is part of operational discussions and has a full vote in the big decisions Enterprise Builders Corp. makes. “I’m part of a succession plan for a company that is more like family than anything else,” Pulliam says. “It’s personally humbling and such an honor because this industry has my heart.”

In addition to expanding her operational knowledge, Pulliam helped lead a project management and accounting software conversion alongside the CFO, evaluates insurance RFPs and renewals, and helps with many IT issues as the company’s “default millennial.” Never one to stand on the sidelines, she thrives on problem solving and is happy to be the go-to person when strange issues arise.

She also does her best to bring spunk to leadership meetings—a nod to her adventurous spirit outside the office. Pulliam recently created a group of intergenerational adventure-loving business professionals who travel the world in search of thrilling hikes and other physically demanding activities. At work, that energy manifests itself through organizing corporate bonding and employee events, responding to RFPs, preparing for client interviews, handling press inquiries and social media platforms, developing a wellness program, and engaging with a slew of community, construction industry and economic development groups. She also spearheaded a rebranding effort last year to bring a sense of rejuvenation and progress to Enterprise Builders Corp.

“I’m a good resource for assembling the right teams and getting a task done. I have a way of inspiring people to collaborate and believe in the end result,” Pulliam says. “I juggle many tasks, but the end goal is always there: obtaining more work. So I prioritize my day based on deadlines and client needs. I would be bored stiff if every day was the same.”

ARCHITECT TURNED TECHNOLOGIST
Jeff Samuelson
CEO and Managing Member
JZ Companies
Cincinnati


Age: 56
Education: Bachelor’s degree, architecture, University of Cincinnati
Industry Tenure: 32 years

In a way, Jeff Samuelson has been innovating his whole career, with iterations ranging from architect and residential developer to commercial builder and now software inventor. 

His love for architecture stems back to seventh grade, but he quickly realized developers had more control over projects than the design firm for which he was working. In short, he wanted project control from start to finish.

With a move from Atlanta to the Cincinnati area to establish JZ Companies, he embraced the challenge of developing a residential duplex product that would sell. (It did.) Next, he took on the shopping centers surrounding the neighborhoods the firm was developing and decided the work could be done more efficiently in house. Turns out, diversifying into building commercial and medical properties allowed JZ Companies to survive the financial downturn.

“My approach is to emphasize and exemplify continuous improvement for our clients and ourselves,” Samuelson says. “I encourage our team to ask what-if questions to make sure we are getting clients the biggest bang for their buck.”

Today, as CEO of JZ Companies, Samuelson believes the future lies with exploring the intersection of technology and construction and understanding how greatness can be accomplished in a more efficient and uniform manner. Enter ChalkLine4D—a device and software Samuelson has been developing for the past year and a half that takes a 3-D point cloud scan of an existing interior space and projects a floor plan onsite at full scale so plumbers, electricians and wall framers can more easily and accurately lay out their respective materials.

As architects get increasingly creative with shapes and angles, the resulting building layouts are more complex. As such, accuracy is paramount. Each point cloud is measured within a millimeter, and JZ Companies has worked tirelessly to procure better lasers and get the algorithms just right. 

With ChalkLine4D doing the heavy lifting, so to speak, less experienced trades can do the layout work in a fraction of the time, freeing up senior team members to focus on tasks that produce income for their company. It also levels the playing field for small firms to be able to bid on complicated jobs.

Product demonstrations and rollouts have just begun, with JZ Companies offering the technology as a service. Computing and technical administration is done remotely at the firm’s headquarters. The whole process takes about 15 minutes, after which the general contractor or subcontractors can begin installing plumbing, conduit trenches and floor track. 

“It’s as if you blew up the drawing to full scale, laid it on the ground and built on top of it,” Samuelson says. “What used to take weeks now takes minutes.”

CREATING HER OWN ROLE
Ellen Ward 
Human Resources Representative & Diversity Outreach Liaison
Joeris General Contractors
San Antonio, Texas


Age: 30
Education: Bachelor’s degree, mass communication/media studies, Middle Tennessee State University
Industry Tenure: Six years

After working in the retail, restaurant and television industries, it was a no-brainer for Ellen Ward to take her “temporary” gig at Joeris General Contractors to full-time status when given the opportunity. There was something about the family culture and the “work hard and still know how to enjoy yourself atmosphere” that she wanted to be part of. Now, she helps mold that culture with HR responsibilities related to recruiting, training, internships and diversity outreach. 

“My director has allowed me to build my position into what I want it to be,” Ward says. “Because Joeris is big on giving back to the communities in which it builds, I have been able to help support education in the community and raise funds to research cure and treatments for heart disease and cancer. I also get to mentor young people who might not know the construction industry is a great career path—something I’m very passionate about.”

A large part of Ward’s job includes visiting universities and trade schools to find the company’s next field and office leaders, as well as presenting at K-12 classes and career fairs on job prospects in the AEC industry. She’s also actively involved in San Antonio’s Black Contractors Association and African American Community Fund, St. Philip’s College Construction Advisory Committee and the Schertz Cibolo Universal City ISD Education Foundation.

In-house, she is leading the effort to update Joeris’ new hire orientation so the onboarding process extends to every department. “We want all new employees to be informed of our processes and procedures—aka The Joeris Way—before they head to the jobsite or their office,” she says. 

On the diversity front, Ward created and continues to manage Joeris’ mentor protégé program for small, minority and women business enterprises. She also attends city and county events to spread the word in the community about the company’s commitment to working with diverse subcontractors. Recently, Joeris has partnered with SA Works, which helps connect high school students with companies in San Antonio.

“Through this program, we are hoping to hire, train and fill the gap of needed tradespeople,” Ward says. “The program gives students who may not have a desire or chance to attend college to obtain a viable skill in an extremely stable and busy industry.”

WHO’S COMING WITH ME?
Dane Bechtholdt
Vice President – Northern Division
Douglass Colony Group
Commerce City, Colo.


Age: 32
Education: Bachelor’s degree, business administration, University of Colorado Boulder
Industry Tenure: 13 years

Dane Bechtholdt developed a passion for business in college, thinking his competitive nature would lead him to a career in the finance industry. But during a program designed to teach students how to start and operate a small business, he chose to run a residential painting company based on some summer construction jobs he had as a teenager.

“This was the platform that propelled me into construction and away from finance,” he says. “Having the experience of running a small business and gaining the leadership, sales and management skills was what I was after; painting was just the trade.”

Family friends introduced him to Douglass Colony Group, which has been around for 70 years, during his senior year of college. At 22 years old, he was by far the youngest employee in the office, but that wasn’t the case for long. Bechtholdt helped recruit younger talent to the company and in 2013 took over as division manager for Douglass Colony Group’s Northern Colorado office, which was suffering from high turnover and low profit margins. 

Under Bechtholdt’s guidance—with a solidified team and new operations and estimating protocols in place—the office had its best year on record in 2016, nearly quadrupling revenue from the previous best year. Morale made a 180-degree change for the better as well.

“I know what my goals are, and I challenge those around me with ‘who’s coming with me?’ It may sound a little rah-rah for some people, but I lead by example and let my actions speak for themselves,” Bechtholdt says.

Today, as vice president of the Northern Colorado division, Bechtholdt remains devoted to setting realistic goals and learning something new every day. As a young executive, he takes the title and responsibilities seriously while operating under the mantra of working hard every day to honor his talented colleagues and mentors.

“I have always strived to be the best in everything I do,” Bechtholdt says. “Failure rarely deters me. Persistence and determination are humbly just a part of who I am.”

BRAND AMBASSADOR
David Conwill
President and Co-owner
Redwood Living, Inc.
Independence, Ohio


Age: 37
Education: Bachelor’s degree, industrial management, University of Akron
Industry Tenure: 16 years

David Conwill has had “entrepreneur fever” since a young age, constantly orchestrating moneymaking ventures from lemonade stands and paper routes to putting together a business model for selling concessions at high school basketball games. Post college graduation, he landed at Pride One Construction, an entrepreneurial developer that allowed him to sharpen his skill set structuring real estate deals.

From 2003-2009, Conwill directed various real estate endeavors during his tenure with Pride One Construction, including the development of Redwood Neighborhoods. Beginning in 2009, despite recessionary headwinds, he established a comprehensive and ambitious growth plan within Redwood Living, encompassing both geographic expansion and corporate infrastructure. 

Today, Conwill is the brand ambassador of the company’s signature product: single-story, two-bedroom apartment homes with an attached garage. The company transcends the industry status quo by building fewer units per project in open-space neighborhoods. Redwood neighborhoods range from four to seven units per acre, as opposed to the more common 18-plus units per acre.

“Our primary amenity is peace and quiet,” Conwill says. “We cater to people who are renters by choice and who want a lifestyle that is conducive to single-family living without all the weight and strings that come with home ownership.”

Conwill’s tenacity and creative problem-solving to pry open investments during the economic downturn set the stage for rapid growth. From January 2015 to September 2017, Redwood’s unit count grew 267 percent from 3,000 units to 8,000 units. Approximately 6,000 units are in various stages of construction, and future development is planned in seven different states. Looking ahead, Conwill will continue to drive the implementation of Redwood Living’s strategic business model, identifying innovative ways to drive the scalability and programmatic growth of Redwood neighborhoods across existing and new geographic regions.

“It a very programmatic business model. We do one thing very well; it’s scalable and repeatable in different geographic regions,” Conwill says. “Because we’re building the same consistent product, now we’re all about the continuous improvement model as a way of progress. An entrepreneur is never satisfied.”

The company also has expanded to nearly 320 employees from about 50 just seven years ago—giving Conwill a chance to further cultivate his ability to bring everyone in line with the same vision. For him, servant leadership is the way to go: “Roll up your sleeves and do whatever needs to be done,” he advises. “Ask people what you can do to help them succeed.”

HONESTY AND HUSTLE
Kendrick Ballantyne
President
Optimum Construction
Portland, Maine


Age: 34
Education: Bachelor’s degree, finance, Northeastern University
Industry Tenure: 12 years

When Kendrick Ballantyne retired from his football career with the Baltimore Ravens, the most important criteria for his next endeavor was that it be relational—and not require sitting at a desk all day. With a collegiate background in finance and construction management, starting up a commercial contracting company in his home state of Maine was the perfect fit. 

“This job gives me the opportunity to interface with virtually every kind of person there is, from subcontractors and vendors to architects, interior designers, brokers and investment groups,” Ballantyne says. “It’s a people-driven business, and the quality of a project reflects the quality of each relationship involved.”

To that end, Optimum Construction spends an inordinate amount of time making itself available to stakeholders and genuinely getting to know them. That approach extends to projects as well, in the sense that it’s not all about the building so much as ensuring everyone wins. And wins are measured in perfectly square corners, profitability and, most of all, quality of life for clients and subcontractors.

“We want our employees, vendors and subcontractors to have balanced lives and invest in their own relationships outside the working day,” Ballantyne says. “Happy people work harder and produce better results. The side effect is excellent work that is on time and on budget.”

Honesty is top priority as well. Ballantyne holds himself to a pretty stringent ethical standard, even if it means sharing information that hurts the company. Sincerity and integrity must be modeled to earn trust, something he and his business partner Ryan Lessard learned as they faced the challenges of starting Optimum Construction six years ago. In making mistakes and performing certain jobs with their own bare hands, they really got to know their business and how to paint an accurate picture of their capabilities for clients.

For Ballantyne and Lessard, “this is the way it has always been done” is never an excuse. “It’s a lot easier to maintain the status quo, but we hustle toward innovation on a daily basis. We are not afraid to try new things and modernize our approach. It’s a constant pursuit for us.”

A DUTY TO HELP OTHERS
Debbie Rodriguez
President, Competitive Edge Partners & Consulting
Owner Operator, Quality Labor Management 
President, ibuildcentralflorida.com
Orlando and Winter Park, Fla.


Age: 42
Education: High school graduate
Industry Tenure: 18 years

Debbie Rodriguez wakes up every day with the intent to be 1 percent better than the day before. As the owner/operator of two
businesses and a nonprofit organization, a lot of people depend on her, and she doesn’t take the responsibility lightly. 

Rodriguez started in construction staffing to fulfill her desire to help others, and she does just that on a daily basis by placing many skilled workers and laborers in Tampa, Gainesville and Jacksonville, Fla., through Quality Labor Management. On top of that, she founded Competitive Edge Partners & Consulting in 2008 “on a hope and a dream” during the worst of the economic recession. The business provides materials management, HR consulting, OSHA training, permanent employment placement and vendor management for temporary staffing needs. 

“Success has come from countless hours of hard work and the inspiration of friends, family and clients who believed in me,” Rodriguez says. “My employees and I take great pride in building relationships with members of the industry and our community.”

In that vein, Rodriguez founded ibuildcentralflorida.com to unite construction organizations and educational institutions in Central Florida. “For years I heard industry partners and associations talk about not having enough trade workers. So I got tired of listening and worked with others to do something about it.” The group’s vision is to be a one-stop shop to promote and provide pathways to careers in construction, as well as provide salary projections and success stories. Supporters include the Associated Builders and Contractors Central Florida Chapter, National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), Academy of Construction Technologies and Florida Electrical Apprenticeship & Training, Inc.

As part of NAWIC, Rodriguez oversees the summer Construction Career Camp, which educates female high school students on trades such as plumbing, electrical, drywall, fire suppression, tile work, heavy equipment operation and more. Several hundred girls have participated since the camp started in 2010.

“I truly believe everyone needs a cheerleader and a mentor. If I can see something in an individual, I focus on the positive and make them feel that they can achieve anything,” Rodriguez says. “I have the ability to change people’s lives by moving them into a career path that has endless opportunities.”

GROWING THE FAMILY LEGACY
Jason Boyd
President/Owner
Hampton Mechanical Inc. and Allegheny Balancing
Gibsonia, Pa.


Age: 37
Education: HVAC program graduate, A.W. Beattie Career Center 
Industry Tenure: 21 years

Jason Boyd is dedicated to two things: responsibly growing the family business and investing in the future workforce.

Family comes first. Boyd’s grandfather and father, who started Hampton Mechanical in 1989, are his idols, and he hopes to hand over the business to his 12-year-old daughter Abby some day. When Boyd came on board at age 18, the company was bringing in $2 million to $3 million annually. Since taking over operations at age 26, the company is in the $10 million to $12 million bracket. 

It’s an impressive uptick in activity considering Hampton Mechanical, a nonunion mechanical contractor and sheet metal subcontractor, is regularly winning work on large projects such as schools, hospitals and government facilities that as recently as a decade ago were considered union-only jobs. This year, opportunity arose for Boyd to start another venture, Allegheny Balancing, to fulfill demand for an open shop National Environmental Balancing Bureau-certified air and water balance company in Western Pennsylvania. The two businesses combined generate more than $20 million in revenue.

“I never liked the idea of having to work for someone else. I like to be the one to make the decisions and implement them to benefit others,” Boyd says. “It is not always easy. I am the one who gets the calls at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night or if something goes wrong on a job. But the relationships I have been able to build with a lot of our close customers and vendors makes every day rewarding.”

He also takes pride in being a champion of workforce development. Not only does Hampton Mechanical’s facility serve as the training center for the Western Pennsylvania Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors’ sheet metal apprenticeship program, but Boyd also serves on the HVAC advisory committees for the Western Area Career & Technology Center, Beaver County Vocational Tech and A.W. Beattie Career Center, where he attended. In the last two years, all three of these programs have made OSHA 10 and CPR training a mandatory part of their curriculum. Plus, Hampton Mechanical has employed many students in the shop on second shift.

“The lack of skilled trade workers is an issue now and for the future,” Boyd says. “By building and maintaining relationships with these schools, I employ the best young workers in their programs every year. By the time they graduate, they are some of our best young workers—eager to go out into the field and learn.” 


Joanna Masterson is senior editor of Construction Executive. For more information, or to recommend an industry leader, email masterson@abc.org or follow @ConstructionMag