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Developers Journal

Summer 2009

J&S Construction A Family Legacy


A Family Legacy Produced by James Tingley & Written by Greg Kotcher Few companies are truly family based. In these wavering times many enterprises start that way, but hardly make it a decade before seeking the assistance and monies of larger corporations. Indeed, it is becoming extremely rare to do business with a firm that is 100-percent independent and “All in the family.” For the most part, this concept holds true in the construction world as well. However, there are exceptions; in this case, an immensely triumphant one at that. A Family Affair In 1932 Pat Stites created a small sand and gravel startup in Upper Cumberland, a region in Middle Tennessee. As a construction family, it established a

series of firsts for the area: the introduction of readymix concrete; opening a cash-and-carry lumber yard; and designing and constructing a concrete block plant. A quarter of a century later, after relatively handsome success, Pat Stites’s son John transformed the personal business into a full-grown industrial commercial firm now known as J&S Construction. Based in Cookeville, Tennessee and catering to its own state as well as in the neighboring eight states, this once shaky independent endeavor has found sure footing, now employing 115 people and generating average annual revenue of $33 million. The Extended Family Most of the 100-plus person clique that comprises J&S Construction’s staff was, more often than not, found in cyberspace. “We mainly use,” says CEO Johnny Stites, who now runs his father’s company with his brother, Jack. The company has found success by conveniently posting a very specific ad on the heavily trafficked website. The post always uses words like integrity, values, and a strong work ethic; if a candidate does not prove to have these qualities, the company is not interested in having him or her on its team. “It’s simple: Either they have it or they don’t,” says Stites. “If they don’t, we can’t train them to have integrity if their parents were not able to.” Thus, the business uses a consultant to aid in the process. The job of said consultant is primarily to provide a series of litmus tests for the candidates. Ranging from thorough tests to interviews, the rigorous exams sift through the potential employee’s brain and personality to detect if he or she possesses desirable qualities. “All tests must be passed. We don’t care how much someone may know about construction. If he or she doesn’t produce the results we are looking for in integrity and work ethic we’re not interested,” explains


US Developers Journal

Summer Edition 2009

Stites, referring to personality tests given as the first measure of the candidate’s compatibility. Moreover, a discussion about the industry does not even occur until after the tests are concluded. “On average we train our people one week out of the year,” Stites divulges. This goes for everyone. No exceptions; from the top down to the bottom up. What does this entail exactly? “It’s in-class training totaling about 40 hours,” Stites responds. In these courses, employees master everything from software such as Timberline’s Accounting, to project managing and estimating. However, unlike many companies which choose to teach on site, J&S Construction educates its staff in a classroom. It is Mr. Stites’ philosophy, as it was his father’s and grandfather’s, that it is poor form to train on the job. “If we do that, [it] calls our stellar record into jeopardy as well as our desire for perfect quality … our clients don’t want us training on their job.” All in a Family’s Work

appropriate room sizes. It also exists to weed out those potential companies who use bad business processes. By identifying these businesses and not allowing them membership, the NACDB has grown stronger and more competent. “It’s not that they are bad people…” Stites explains. “Those with good processes and management should and are used for building purposes.”

J&S Construction spans the spectrum of what a construction company is able to accomplish. From erecting churches to completing military installations and building new businesses, the company can do it all. In church construction, the J&S is a member of the National Association of Church Design Builders (NACDB). Stites praises the association’s ability to help churches get in contact with builders and designers who truly have their best interests at heart. The association uses spreadsheets to figure out important details such as realistic budgets and |3

to shed light on the situation his competitors put themselves in: “Most people don’t realize that the AIA contract they sign with an architect expunges that architect from responsibility for quality, the means and methods used, the schedule, the price … and yet architects still say ‘trust me.’ These people learn valuable lessons in an unfortunate way.”

are. “It’s a one stop shop for those considering church construction,” says Stites. “The people who are interested in something more than the cheapest price,” he clarifies.

The NACDB holds conventions where, through seminars and display and informational booths, attendees get to witness first-hand what the association has done and what its future projects

Recently, J&S Construction was awarded a $13.1 million contract for the Corp of Engineers at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. In a heavily contested bidding war, the company devised a LEED design that included better insulation, a “cool” roof that rejects 98 percent of the sun’s energy, better mechanical systems, and incorporated numerous recycled “green” products that do far less damage to the environment because they contain no volatile off gases (VOCs). For the powers that be, it was a no brainer. Other industrial projects are on the horizon as well, including a new Wound Center for

Cumberland Medical Center, which will service the region’s hospital. Staying in the family, the company also maintains its origins catering to individuals. In Tennessee for example, J&S Construction just completed a very unique residence. “The man loves fire engines,” Stites chuckles. Because of this, the enterprise constructed a replica of a fire house complete with an engine, gear, and a pole among other fire equipment and fire-related trinkets. The Family’s Future

As for his company? “In our agreements we take responsibility for our workmanship, for our warranty, for our quality and schedule and price … for our everything because ultimately, we get the blame or the praise.” This above all else is probably the reason that, for 52 years, J&S Construction has never had an issue with a design/ build method and, from the looks of it, will not be encountering one anytime soon.•

COMPANY AT A GLANCE Established : 1932 CEO : Johnny Stites Annual Revenue : $33 Million Employees : 115

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In addition to the environmentally friendly project at Fort Campbell, J&S Construction has built a LEED Silver retail center and is attempting to certify its entire new headquarters LEED Gold. If successful, the process, which takes three months, will establish the office as the only privately owned LEED Gold building in the state of Tennessee. Yes, the future is bright for J&S Construction. “We are on the cutting edge of emerging markets in design and building,” boasts Stites. Ever concerned with “delighting” his clients, Mr. Stites attempts |5

J&S Construction Winter 2009

1843 Foreman Dr. Cookeville, TN 38501 United States