From the White House to Harvard Business School
Brothers Paving & Concrete Corporation
Based in Manassas, Virginia, Brothers Paving & Concrete Corporation continues to excel in its core areas of asphalt and concrete work. The company is led by CEO/Founder Paul Battista, who sets the example for his company’s growth through his own professional development – which includes his enrollment in a highly selective executive education program administered by Harvard Business School.
Brothers Paving & Concrete’s array of services include asphalt paving, asphalt repair, seal coating, asphalt rejuvenation, crack sealing, pavement markings, concrete site work and snow removal. The company almost exclusively performs all of its own work – with little reliance on subcontracting.
“We might occasionally partner with somebody to sub for us when we’re super busy – but for the most part we self-perform everything we do with our own equipment,” states Battista.
From its base in Manassas, the company primarily works in Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC. Given the company’s location, it’s handled projects for some pretty high-profile clients. “We’ve paved at the White House. We’ve done a lot of paving at the Pentagon. We’ve paved at Mount Weather. We’ve got a handful of federal work we’re currently doing,” shares Battista. Located in Virginia, Mount Weather is the site of an operations command facility for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Needless to say, special clearances are requisite for work at the White House or any of these other federal government locales. Brothers may be somewhat unique among the industry in its number of employees with both the professional abilities and “clean” backgrounds that enable access to such areas.
Besides the government segment, Brothers also works for retail/commercial, office and residential sectors. “The company does a lot of office parks and office communities, and routinely takes on jobs with homeowner associations (HOAs) and property managers as part of its residential work,” states Battista.
Brothers can trace its origins to a 1985 launch of a firm called Brothers Development. Brothers Paving & Concrete Corporation began in 1997 when Battista purchased the concrete division from Brothers Development. In the decade after Battista founded Brothers, the company experienced hyper growth – expanding from startup to 25 million in annual revenue,” he states.
When the recession of 2008 hit, “Everything in our industry tanked. Everybody goes into survival mode. The most important thing for us, from 2008 to 2015, was brand preservation; that’s all we focused on. Trying to maintain relationships with our ‘A’ clients, maintaining strong relationships with the right banks, the right vendors. We partnered with some of our key vendors in ’08. A lot of them came to us. They said, ‘We’re only going to pick a couple of people to partner with to ride this thing out. You’re one of them. You’re going to get asphalt, you’re going to get concrete and we’re going to work with you through the crisis,’” he recalls. “The team here has been through a lot over the past 20 years. Shawn Boyce, a key employee who has been with me from the beginning, is now a partner and owns a piece of the company.”
This experience reinforced Battista’s belief in the importance of building relationships, or partnerships as he prefers to call them.
“Our culture here is that we partner with people. Our suppliers are a critical part of our success. We partner with the right suppliers. We put a lot of effort into making sure our customers look good for their customers. We not only have to understand our business, we have to understand their business,” he explains.
“The big differentiator between Brothers and other construction companies is how we approach our relationships with our customers and our vendors,” continues Battista. This translates into a focus on professionalism – sticking to schedules, offering straightforward proposals to clients, utilizing “spotless trucks” to get to jobsites and putting front line employees in nice polo shirts with the company logo on them and having our crews wear neat, clean company uniforms,” he states.
“When somebody reaches out to us for asphalt and concrete services [we offer] proposals that are very detailed and clearly define what we’re going to do… when we schedule a job and tell you your parking lot needs to be cleared on Tuesday and Thursday, you can feel confident that we will send notices out to the 200 or 300 tenants, AND that we’re going to show up on Tuesday and Thursday on time as promised,” adds Battista.
The company currently has approximately 140 employees, up from roughly 130 last year at this time. Brothers treats its employees well – in addition to steady pay, benefits include medical, dental, 401(k) plans with employer matching, vehicle allowances, and more. In return, the firm has a low turnover rate and a high number of long-serving workers. While hard work is expected, “I think there’s a lot of respect here. I think people feel like they have a voice here and feel like they’re part of a team,” explains the Brothers CEO.
Getting new hires isn’t always easy, however; Battista says his biggest challenge at the moment is the “labor shortage – trying to find the right people, trying to find qualified talent.”
This fits with the company’s devotion to doing high-quality work, with an eye toward maintaining its reputation and bringing in repeat customers. Something the company keeps in mind is the fact that it might be years before customers call the firm for repeat business.
Battista was invited to apply to, and was accepted in a Harvard Executive Education program, a prestigious three-year initiative run by Harvard Business School. The program offers real-world training, discussions and lectures to executives/owners who might have otherwise completed their formal education some time ago.
“It’s amazing. I just finished session one of three. It’s incredible. I’m with a select group of very sharp CEOs who run companies ranging from $20 million to $2 billion and I’m with some of the best professors on earth. Many are on Fortune 100 Boards of Directors. We study strategy, leadership, finance, marketing, negotiations and other business areas via their case study method. We focus on the key elements of being a successful business owner and leader,” he says.
The program runs on a periodic basis throughout the year, and Battista expects to graduate in 2020. He appreciates the depth and practicality of the lessons: “It’s not an MBA program; the guys in this program don’t really need an MBA. We’re not talking or studying theories of workflow analytics. We’re sharing how we have successfully applied workflow analytics in our various businesses. Real life applications. Then asking ourselves how we can better run our businesses? It has been a life changing experience.”
Given the nature of what Brothers does, it’s no surprise that “safety is a high priority here. I have a director of safety and a safety coordinator and I have weekly meetings with them,” states Battista. Regular toolbox meetings are held with crews, focusing on specific safety-related topics, and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) guidelines are strictly adhered to.
Brothers has a website and takes part in trade shows for promotional purposes, but Battista also likes to apply the personal touch. “I try to interact as much as possible at the executive level with our largest customers. We offer educational seminars. An educated customer for us is a better customer. They fully understand what it is we’re doing. They have a reasonable expectation of what the results will be from what we’re doing. They have a better understanding of the value we bring to the table. Important stuff. We offer a lot of value for a fair price,” he explains.
The company isn’t planning on introducing any new services or products in the near future, but intends to stick to “stuff we’re good at, stuff we feel comfortable we can make reasonable margin on. We put a lot of effort in growing our existing client base,” continues Battista.
Brothers Paving & Concrete Corporation does, however, have ambitious goals for the next five years. The firm wants to expand its own market while possibly adopting a franchise model. “I see us continuing to grow in the markets we’re in. Our strategy is pretty aggressive growth,” states Battista. The company envisions year-over-year growth in the 10 percent range and setting up a branch outside Virginia.
“There’s been talk about establishing a division in Utah. That’s something that’s definitely a possibility,” states Battista.
Asked why he isn’t thinking of starting a branch in a state closer to home, Battista says simply, “my adult kids now live in Utah.” The presence of family members in that state makes expansion there a distinct possibility, he explains.
Franchising is another idea for which the company has already laid the ground work, notes Battista. In fact, Brothers was considering launching franchises years ago but had to put the plan aside during the recession of 2008.
That plan has been revived. In the model under discussion, interested entrepreneurs could purchase a Brothers franchise and, “we would train them, educate them on how to properly scale a business from a small mom and pop organization to a $10 to 20 million dollar business. We definitely understand the process and we have the relationships with national clients to do this,” says Battista.
The company hasn’t set a specific time-table for the plan. The concept is “something that’s sitting out there as a possibility. If we have a decent economy for the next three to five years and we’re at a point where we can afford to give proper attention to the idea… I could see [selling franchises] possibly in next five years for sure,” he continues.
“Shawn and I also initiated a pavement software startup – known as “PAVEMENT SOFT.” We created this amazing software for our business years ago and made it available for purchase by our industry colleagues approximately one year ago. We currently have over 100 companies beta testing it for us. Available features include Customer Relationship Management (CRM), estimating, satellite measuring, proposal templates, field work orders, and QuickBooks integration. This software will enable a detailed proposal with maps for the customer within minutes of a request for bid. We are expecting major worldwide demand for this software in 2019. Those with interest in this software can check it out at pavementsoft.com.
Regardless of what direction Brothers takes, the company will continue to adhere to an adage coined by Edwin Gay, former Dean of the Harvard Business School, which notes that “the purpose of business is to make a decent profit decently.” Battista concludes by noting “that’s our mantra.”