Words: Mackie Bounds, CEO of Brazos Masonry Inc.
Photos: Brazos Masonry Inc.
The late Martin Luther King once said, “I have a dream!” At the age of thirty-one, I had a dream, and the day I turned thirty-two, my dream became a reality. On March 21st, 1989, Brazos Masonry bid its first job, and we got beat. The bid was on Luby’s Cafeteria in Waco, TX, and my bid was $89,397, and the low bid came in at $87,500. It is amazing how that seems like it was yesterday, and the numbers are engraved in my mind thirty-three years later. After my dream became real, I had a vision and still do for our company. Our mission statement today is “We elevate our people and projects beyond expectations.”
From the very beginning, I knew I would never be any better than the people around me. I have been blessed with a great team of folks all my business life, but today being the best ever. It is a part of my vision that Brazos Masonry is the “Best Place in Masonry” for people to work and provide for their families. A huge part of our story is sharing our success with our employees. We are like a family, and we are always looking for ways to enable our employees and their families to have a better life.
Then I look back over the last 33 years, and I stand amazed at the projects that I have been blessed to be a part of. My very first project, job #0001, was Huck Manufacturing renovation for a contract price of $13,980. On that very first project, we tried to exceed the expectations of our customer. From that one job, I also did jobs #0009 and #0010 for the same owner. Then there was job #0036 and #0042, which was the now Motorola Oak Hill project in Austin. We were awarded the exterior package first, and due to our performance, we received the interior project. Our final contract amount on the combined projects plus change orders exceeded 3.7 million. I am not saying Motorola was a greater project than Huck Manufacturing, but on both, we did our best to exceed the expectations of our customer.
I have to share a story concerning the Motorola project. When I went and met with the GC for the interview, he asked, “can you bond the job?” I quickly told him, “No.” I informed him I was so poor, “I didn’t have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out.” I was telling him the truth because my office was in our shop. At that time, there was no pot, no window, no heat, no a/c, but a vision of a better place one day. He then asked, “why should I give you this job?” I remember my answer like it was yesterday, “poor boys work harder, but most of all, I will do it better than you want!” The rest is history, and after that project, I had a crew at both Motorola facilities every week for the next ten years.
Remember, I went into business on March 21, 1989. The economy stunk, and getting a line of credit was unheard of. That is when I started looking for an outside investor to guarantee my line of credit. A man by the name of Walter Dossett came into my life and bought 30 percent of Brazos Masonry and guaranteed a one-million-dollar line of credit. He mentored me and taught me more than ink and paper can record. I told him many times that I felt I would be in debt to him for life even after I owed him nothing. He told me the best way to pay him back was to do for others as he had done for me. He always made me feel good when he would tell me that “Brazos was the very best investment he ever made.” As you read the rest of the Brazos story, you will find that I tried to fulfill his instructions. I share this part so no one gets the idea that I started with nothing, and suddenly, I fell into a gold mine. I simply say I’m a blessed man.
1994 was a year of excitement. We started the construction of a real office. One with a pot and a window! We completed it in 1995 and are currently doing our second addition, which will bring us to 15,000s/f. At the same time, December 20th, 1994, was one of the darkest days in my business life. I had an employee who had worked for us for approximately 15 minutes. I can still hear the explosion like it was yesterday. Instead of using a hammer and chisel to take a lid off a barrel, he used a torch. I will never forget having to inform his parents that their son was critically injured. We had a safety director at the time, but we were monitoring safety but not teaching SAFETY. Today we are teaching safety as LIFE. We do not say “safety first,” but we say, “safety is life,” and that is what safety is all about. It is a very important way to elevate our employees and simply show we care for them and their families.
I stated earlier that I have a vision, and I strive every day to fulfill it. I don’t see our vision as something that is fancy and out on the edge but rather a guiding light that keeps our path lit. As you achieve certain goals and your workforce changes, then I believe it should have an impact on our vision. We recently made a change to our vision statement. A big part of our story, we are always looking ahead and changing before changes affect us in a negative way. Thirty-three years ago, my vision was for that day, and it brought us a long way. When I started, I was an estimator, project manager, field operations, and accounts receivable and payable. On top of that, I was president, CFO, controller, and sometimes a truck driver. Time changes things, and today I am CEO, Pete Groetzinger is CFO, and we also have a controller. Today a new generation has become leaders, and therefore a company’s vision must change. What amazes me is some parts never change. Today it starts by saying, “To be the premier contractor of Texas.” That has always been our vision. We have our niche like every other company, but we enjoy doing the tough job. Such as the high-tech industry and its clean room protocol, football stadiums, basketball arenas, and baseball and softball fields that had completion dates that could not move. The medical world must be perfect and done quickly because it is dealing with life. Education facilities from K – 12 and universities work around the state of Texas and Sewanee, TN. Our niche today is high rises in the hustling and bustling cities. Our tallest to date is 42 floors with masonry all the way to the top.
There are two projects that stand out in my mind more than any others. The first is the now dining facility at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN. We constructed the project in 1999, and it was recognized as the most beautiful stone job in America. The campus has been recognized several times as the most beautiful campus in America as well. We did work on this project that I most likely will never do again. I cannot go through all the details that made this job so unique. The job with material and labor was over 8 million dollars. This showed my vision when the company was only ten years old, “The Premier Contractor.” The other project I hope I never forget is the Texas A&M Bonfire Memorial. This was for twelve students who died while building the bonfire, and it collapsed on top of them. It was the quietest job I have ever been on, and it was all out of respect for those who lost their life. In 2003 we ordered the granite. It was bought in the US, then shipped to China for fabrication, and then back to the states. I hope one day you can take a stroll down memory lane as I did in 2003. You will probably shed a tear not even knowing the young people, but masonry was the perfect product for this memorial. Again, our vision, “The Premier Contractor,” is seen in doing projects that hold memories for many years to come. Another part of our vision is “Striving for Excellence.” We try to mentor our employees, so this vision will always be a part of Brazos. We do our best to have over 95% of our work be with repeat customers. I have always lived by a rule that has helped in abiding within our vision. If we are not willing to set it in our own living room and look at the work that we just completed, then don’t expect others to like it. We are currently working on our quality control policy, and we now have a QC Director hired. Ugly work will never encourage architects to design with masonry. Our vision is becoming clearer as our management team is taking bold steps to ensure “excellence.” It is not only in quality, but safety is another important part, and here at Brazos, we now have three full-time employees in our safety department. It is not “Safety First” with us, but rather it is “Safety is Life”!
The next part of our vision is developing our people. Many of our superintendents started with us as laborers. I have employees who have worked for us for 30-plus years. Our people are like family, and we want the very best for them. I love it when I see dad and son both working for us. We have always believed it is such a great feeling to change people’s lives for the best. I have one employee that came to work for us living in a tent and now has a nice home on a small ranch. Don’t forget when I say small; that is in Texas. That is all a part of developing people. I like to look at it like we are trying to change lives to make it better for them and their families.
The last part of our vision is “changing the face of tomorrow.” As I travel through Texas, it is so exciting to see skylines change, and we help accomplish that view. Austin is a great example. At one time, we were working on five high rises that changed the appearance of Austin. I enjoy driving through Baylor University, University of Texas, and Texas A&M University campuses to see the changes that we have been a part of. That is buildings, but the real change is leadership. People ask why did I not name it Bounds Masonry rather than Brazos? The faces are going to change, but the name will never have to change. We have a new president and executive vice-president today, but we are already mentoring their replacements.
I mentioned the gentleman, Walter Dossett, that backed my line of credit. He told me the way to repay him was for me to do the same for others. We now own a division 8 and 10 company, Integrity One Solutions. I had seven guys that came to me on a Monday before Thanksgiving, and they were all without a job because of an immediate shut down for the company they were working for. So, Pete Groetzinger, CFO of Brazos, and I discussed the opportunity. I shared that I thought we could make money but also, I could do for others what had been done for me. We also own a GC company, Bounds Commercial Construction. I had an individual that worked for one of Brazos’ customers, and they decided to close. Again, Pete and I talked, and again I was able to do for others as it had been done for me. Both companies have their challenges, but one day I will be able to say to them, “Pay me back by doing for others as it has been done for you!”
As I wrap the story up, I don’t want anyone to think this has all been because of one person or even two. First, I give credit to God, and I thank him every day for all the blessings he gives us. I even say thank you to our trade associations at the national, state and local levels. Don’t forget Brazos started on March 21st, 1989, and on March 22, 1989, I joined MCAA. I love our industry, and I am a firm believer you get out of it what you’re willing to put into it. In our first year in business, we had 1.5 million in Revenue, and today we are going toward 70.0 million. Our five-year plan will put us up to 90 million. There is so much I can share, and there is not a good stopping place. I have enjoyed sharing with you what I have. It did me good, and it helps me realize how thankful I should be.
GOD BLESS EACH AND ALL, OUR MASONRY INDUSTRY, AND OUR COUNTRY!