Successful as Friends and Partners
R&J Construction Corp. has thrived thanks to the bond of the two men who founded the company
Business partnerships can be developed for both commerce and convenience. What is unique about the story behind R&J Construction Corp. (R&J) is how it started through a unique friendship that created a bond for a highly successful firm.
R&J is one of the largest drywall contractors in the competitive and vast New York City construction market. Plus, it is New York City’s largest minority-owned construction company.
Headquartered in Island Park, N.Y., R&J was founded in 1984. During its history, it has booked over a billion dollars in contracts based largely on four tenets: excellence, professionalism, experience and integrity.
Those four words explain the company’s philosophy. Two words define the company founders—inseparable friends.
Company President Ralph Richardson arrived in the United States from Trinidad in 1969 at the age of 19. R&J Vice President, Scott Horak, is a decade younger than Richardson and is from Rockaway in the New York City borough of Queens. Their fathers worked together in construction and that brought Richardson and Horak together. A lifelong friendship was born and led to starting their own company.
“I love Scott as my son, my brother. I always tell him that God put us together,” Richardson says.
And in these roiling times when ethnicity and skin color are creating controversy and chaos, perhaps the story of R&J Construction—Richardson and Horak—provides a ray of light and hope.
“The pride factor in being the largest minority-owned construction company in New York is that you have a black man and a white man working together so well to be successful,” says Horak, who was 12 when he first met Richardson. “There’s so much hatred and racism in the world; but here we are, two people who are brothers and race doesn’t matter. God made us all one color—red, the color of our blood.”
Richardson’s father, John, continued his work in construction when he arrived in New York. From the age of six, Ralph had tagged along with his dad on his job sites.
“It’s the only thing I know,” Richardson says. “I used to straighten nails because it was expensive to waste them. I would help pour the water for concrete. I’ve just always been around construction.”
In 1983, after working for nearly a decade doing carpentry work for other companies, Richardson decided he was ready to run his own shop. The first person he called was Horak. Their company opened for business in early 1984.
“Ralph and I started working with our tools and our first job was for $30,000,” Horak recalls. “We’d work in the field; we’d have our work clothes on, then change into suits in somebody’s bathroom or in our cars to go to a business meeting to try to book our next job.”
For the first decade, as a way of establishing the business, R&J’s leaders added frugality to their philosophy of integrity. Horak says the company was basically working to break even. It gained jobs because its bids were typically lower than other companies. Then, by providing quality, on-time work, the company was able to build its reputation and then started landing contracts that began to grow profits.
“We were able to build our references,” Horak says. “We’d do work on a project and the owner would tell people, ‘These guys are the greatest things since sliced bread.’ The Milsteins (one of New York’s top real estate families) really took us under their wings; we worked on three buildings for them in the first five years. Word-of-mouth advertising is the best advertising.”
Richardson and Horak each say that their fathers taught them about the importance of integrity in the construction business. One of the company’s work mottos is “on time, all the time.”
“Our word is our bond,” Horak affirms. “What we say we’re gonna do, we’re gonna do. We don’t mislead our customers; we do the job the way we tell them we’re going to do the job. If we say we’ll have 10 men on the job at your site, there will be 10 men or more on that job site.”
In the mid-1990s, R&J went from the minor leagues to the major leagues at the same time there was a building boom in NYC. With its sterling reputation and ability to often submit an economical bid, the company expanded its project resume. R&J’s work has ranged from airports to hospitals to schools to high rises.
At any given time, R&J could be running jobs on 10 to 12 construction sites with the contracts ranging from $3 million to $20 million to $60 million.
Our Nickname is “Run and Jump”
“In 35 years, we’ve never missed a schedule that we agreed to in a contract,” Horak says. “We’re a very lean company. A lot of guys in the industry say our company’s name stands for run and jump; that’s our nickname. We work our guys hard but we treat them well so that they’ll want to work for us.”
While Horak has gravitated more into the sales and business aspects of the business, Richardson enjoys being on job sites. Monday through Saturday, he’s up at 3 a.m. and arrives in the city by around 5 a.m. His schedule is awe-inspiring, considering he’s 68.
“I can’t sleep late,” he admits with a chuckle. “It’s a habit.”
Richardson’s job site visits are not micromanagement. He’s a general supervisor who knows everything that needs to be done at each site. Richardson walks the job site and looks for problems. If those problems and/or mistakes are persistent, he meets with the foreman and changes are made to make sure issues are corrected before the project becomes mired down.
“I can’t be in the office and not know what’s going on at the job sites,” Richardson says. “I love what I do. This is what makes me tick. If I had to stay in the office all day, I would retire. I’m not an office person.”
Flexibility and the Future
In recent years, more construction companies in New York City have been able to hire non-union workers. That has enabled them to submit lower bids on contracts. R&J is a union shop but its reputation and experience has helped keep it at the leading edge for drywall installation.
R&J has 300 workers and about 40 general contracting foremen, most of whom have been with the company for years. Their experience and know-how is one of R&J’s biggest strengths.
“Right now, hospitals and airport work tend to go more with union contractors and that’s a major reason why we’re moving toward those types of jobs,” Richardson says. “The competition remains very strong. One of the edges we have is that the guys who work for us have been with us for over 20 years and they know how we do our work, and that our reputation for that work is so valuable.”
Richardson is training an apprentice, someone whom he expects will eventually take his place in making the supervisory trips to job sites. Richardson, however, doesn’t believe his retirement will be in the near future.
“I’m thinking about maybe another 10 or 12 years,” he says.
Richardson’s goal for the company’s near future is to increase its current yearly contract deals to the $200 million range from the current range of approximately $135 million.
“I am very, very proud of where we came from because it’s been hard work,” Richardson concludes. “That’s the only way Scott and I know how to do it.