This is the third in our GEN NXT series, which places a focus on highlighting younger professionals within the masonry trade. For this interview, I had the opportunity to talk with Kent Bounds of Brazos Masonry out of Waco, Texas. Kent is the President of Brazos Masonry as of January 2017, and has spent most of his life at the company.
We would also like to welcome aboard JagClamp, who has graciously decided to sponsor this important series.
Dan Kamys: So why don’t you tell me a little bit about your background. Obviously everybody knows the family you’re a part of, but why don’t we start with how you got started in the industry and your upbringing?
Kent Bounds: Well, I guess it started back when I was 12 or 13 years old, and my pops said it was time for me to quit playing around in the summer and start working. So, they got me out there to our equipment yard and I started working out there for a little bit of nothing. I won’t say the amount though, because I don’t want to get him in trouble.
But I would work out there during the summer, and I’d work two or three times a week. You know, that was kind of my introduction to masonry. I just got to learn the different products and the equipment we had. I did that until I was 17. I did that every summer.
DK: So why don’t you tell me what you specifically did while you were in the equipment yard?
KB: In that summer when I was 16 or 17, I went out to the Baylor Law building and started my apprenticeship to masonry. That’s where I got started on my Project Managing skills. So basically, I was the little man on the totem pole. The job itself was a large cast stone job. I was in charge of going through all the cast stones, checking against shop drawings, getting with our bricklayers that day to see what cast stone pieces they needed, what location they were working on, then locate the pieces, coordinate with our operator to get those.
That was a whole summer. The job was, if I remember, several million dollars in size. So basically, they stuck me over with the cast stone part during my time there. I got to know shop drawings very well, I got to know how cast stone works, how to set cast stone and all the fun things of the job site.
DK: And you were how old when you were doing this?
KB: I was 17.
DK: So, you had to have been interacting with people a lot older than you, right?
KB: It was very intimidating. Back when I started, there wasn’t a younger generation like you have now. There were a lot of old crusty construction guys, and there were some guys that I would avoid like the plague. Their reputation kind of preceded them. Being as young as I was and inexperienced, it was very intimidating. So that kind of spring boarded me into the masonry industry. For a while I didn’t know if it was my calling.
You know, it was one of those things that your father does, [so you] tend to feel driven or forced to follow his footsteps. But you know it was one of those things after a while after doing it, I liked it.
DK: So, after high school, what did you do?
KB: After high school, I went to the junior college for two years, and ended up being on a job site where I was going to college. They had a job in town, so I was kind of an on-site Assistant Project Manager.
It was my only job at the time, so I was able to go out in the field. In the evenings and the afternoons when I got there after school, I would go and help the guys with labor. I would help bricklayers lay out the material and kind of work through one summer out there, just to basically expand my masonry knowledge.
DK: I was reading up on you and now you sit on the board for Brazos, right?
DK: Can you tell me a little bit about that transition?
KB: For me, it’s one thing to follow in your father’s footsteps in the masonry business. But you know, I basically came in as a Project Manager, that’s what I strived at and worked at. I was satisfied, and I always thought ‘I don’t want to be President. I don’t want that responsibility.’ But again, I was in my 20s, and you can probably say you have other cares in life during that time.
KB: Running a company is not one of those things at the top of your priority list. But as time moved on, not to say that project managing got boring but I wanted more challenges, I wanted something more. So, we started the conversation of ‘Okay, so what is the next step?’
I moved into VP of Project Managing and basically was overseeing the Project Managing department, and that was good but I kept wanting more. So we sat down four or five years ago and talked to Mackie, our CEO and owner and president at the time, and Pete who was our CFO at the time. I said, ‘Look, I’m ready to take the next step, if y’all are willing, I’m ready.’
I have a partner, Kelsie Bounds, [who is] really my cousin. At the same time, we both purchased a small percentage of Brazos stock and were put onto the board of directors at that time. So it started slow, we were listening a lot more than talking in the early board meetings. But as time progressed, we’ve grown and matured and were able to find our place. I still see us as young, I see myself as still very young in the industry, but I do hold a lot of knowledge and try to balance that and bring a lot to our team.
DK: So can you tell me a little bit more about what your job really entails now?
KB: Well now, I won’t say I’m in my final transition, but I’m in another transition. You know, I’m VP Of Project Managing, and as of January of this year 2017, I’ve moved into the President of Masonry.
DK: Wow, congratulations.
KB: So that has happened January 1, and it’s still a transition because as the VP of Project Managing, I was overseeing the department and I also probably took around 10 of the largest jobs as a Project Manager. I give all my other PMs a hard time, and go, ‘Look I’m doing like 3 jobs, and project managing more jobs than you are with more value.’ But I’m hoping that by June or July of this year the jobs that I have will be done, and I will most likely not project manage anymore.
Although I’ll still be overseeing the Project Managing department, I’ll be focusing on my role as President and leading the company. You know my dad Mackie has been really great to work with. He’s been helping [throughout] the transition. But you know, he’s been at the top for the last 27 years, everybody knows him as President and Owner. There’s a lot of transition, and it’s probably going to take a lot longer, and require a lot more patience along the way. But at least we’re at that point, and I’m excited. We’ll be looking forward to the future.
DK: So what do you hope to do as President of the company?
KB: I mean for the time being not to say ‘I don’t want to rock the ship,’ but of course I have my own ideas, I do. But what we have [is] a great legacy here at Brazos. Mackie has done well establishing himself within this industry and our core values. You know Kelsie has joined me as Vice President, so basically there’s nothing wrong with the path that we’re traveling.
We want to basically push toward those same ideals and those same core values and just try to meet those same goals. If it’s not broken there’s no reason to start fixing it. Of course, maybe how we get to our goals may be a little different.
KB: I’m sure as I get more into it, maybe a year from now, I can give you a different answer.
DK: So I always ask this question, mainly because I get a different, interesting answer every time. Have you worked with younger people at the company? Assuming you have, what has been your experience with them?
KB: So far it has been great. I have an estimator that’s younger, I’ve had a couple of the Project Managers that I’ve hired that have been younger, and they’ve been great. I will be taking on a new challenge this year. I’m going to be doing an internship a college student who will be a Senior this summer, so I’m going to create a new challenge for myself. He’s going to intern as a possible candidate for a new Project Manager. I’m going to see how the really-really young generation works.
DK: What’s the biggest challenge that you’ve faced in your role?
KB: My biggest challenge, well not really a challenge, but it’s just been different to hire people that are older than me. Just because you know, I’m 34, you know interviewing people that are older than you is tough. You to try to show them that respect, and I wouldn’t say that it’s awkward. But I guess that’s been the toughest thing to do and try to find a balance. I hired a project manager that’s like six years older than me. But I mean it’s been great. It’s been great to work with him, and I have an older man that’s in his 60s that works for me.
When someone is younger than you, they kind of look up to you, and not that these guys don’t, but they have more life experience than you do. You try to take their ideals and experience and apply it, but then give your decision and move on. That’s been one of those interesting things as I’ve moved up.
DK: Is there anything you wish you knew before going into this field? Anything that has surprised you that you wish you knew beforehand?
KB: I wish I had more experience with field knowledge.
KB: To just be frank, I mean I know a lot. I know why [my experience] happened the way it did. At the time, Mackie needed more people in the office for project managing, and he had some guys quit. It was one of those things where I wish I could’ve stayed out in the field longer, and experienced more of those job site issues.
I’ve experienced them from a different point, from the project managing side. I wish I would’ve been able to relate [the information] better to a bricklayer or a laborer.
DK: Any advice for younger people who might be thinking about entering the industry?
KB: First off, the government doesn’t owe you anything. You have to get out there, and bust tail, it’s hard work and dedication. That’s for any trade you ever go into. If you want to go into a trade, you could start a literally start right out of high school. And we’re trying to do some things right here in Texas that will even start that process in high school.
I think it will help our industry, especially our workforce development part. If we can get this thing to grab hold. I mean we all know that college isn’t for everybody, I’ve met a lot of different people that didn’t go through one hour of college and are doing very well for themselves.
I think sometimes we as a society look down on people that don’t go to college as being a bunch of idiots and a bunch of dummies. That’s definitely not the case. We need to get in front of high schoolers and people who college isn’t necessarily for them, whatever reason.
We need to get out there and say ‘Look we have a trade that will be here from now until the good Lord decides it won’t be anymore. You know this trade is something that’s beautiful and long lasting. You know, your work will be there forever and can inspire. It is hard work. It’s not just the point of going out and laying brick, you’re an artist when it comes to this building. Take some pride. You need to have a willingness to take that pride in fully doing your job, and doing a good job often.’
DK: Do you try to work technology into the company in order to attract the younger generation?
KB: Yes. We realized that it’s the younger generation, that’s how they connect. It’s fun and exciting. You know, we’re unfortunately a little behind the times in this industry. You can tell there’s not a lot of stuff out there about the latest trends.
DK: So the last thing we’ll talk about is your involvement in the MCAA and your affiliation with the South of 40 Committee. Can we talk a little bit about you know how you got involved?
KB: You know, I served for our local chapter in Texas, the Central Texas Masonry Council. I served as the Secretary, Vice President, and now serve as President. Being a part of that association really got me to see what an organization is about.
Although it’s a very small level, but to be able to be that involved with it kind of led me to want to do more and be more a part of our state associations and the MCAA.
The state associations can do quite a bit, but I was able to see the parts of the piece put together with the MCAA, and I guess that’s what got me motivated. It wasn’t just a trip to Vegas to have fun.
I wanted to come back to Vegas and go to the mid-year meeting because I wanted to learn, and I wanted to network with a group of mason contractors. I created a lot of great friendships, and just talking to these guys, and being able to share ideals and concerns and our thoughts.
That in itself is one of the biggest benefits that I see. To be able to tap into some of that knowledge out there every year. But yes being part of the South of 40 has been another great part of the networking that we can come together and we meet as a group, as a younger generation that share some of the same challenges and be able to share with each other.
DK: Thank you so much for your time, Kent.
KB: Thank you.