Steadfast principals and a compassionate spirit steer the way for C & J Contracting, Inc.
Every business owner has personal convictions that shape the direction of a company. For Scott Reno, Founder and President of C & J Contracting, Inc. (C & J), a corporate value system based on integrity, service and loyalty is key to building long-lasting relationships with employees, clients and project partners.
Since opening in 1982, the general contracting firm has focused on developing a reputation for quality workmanship, diligence and trustworthiness, according to Scott. The fruits of these labors have yielded a steady stream of repeat business and referrals spanning decades.
The San Jose-based operation serves customers in commercial and industrial markets across Northern California, operating primarily in the greater San Francisco Bay Area and in the Sacramento Valley and Central Valley regions. Its clientele consists of tenants, owners, developers and property managers, examples of which include Gilead Sciences, LifeScan (formerly part of the Johnson & Johnson brand), Applied Materials, CBRE and Cushman & Wakefield.
Working in tandem with a team that often includes architects, designers and structural engineers, C & J offers both design-build and construction expertise, self-performing many of the services that competitors typically shuffle off to specialty trades.
“We are more than just a ‘paper contractor.’ There are a lot of general contractors that subcontract everything out, but we have experienced in-house crews that do framing, Sheetrock, finishes, painting and special coatings. This really sets us apart,” Scott says. “Approximately 90% of our work is design-build general contracting. The remainder is performed by our in-house painting division, which contracts directly with the end user.”
When outside help is needed, C & J teams with those on its select list of trusted project partners. “We believe that our success is directly tied to the team we bring to each project. As such, we strive to create alliances with all project stakeholders, including service providers, subcontractors and suppliers. We understand that the quality and efficiency of our performance is only as good as our team’s weakest link. This is why we place a high value on character, integrity, communication, and dedication to exceeding our clients’ expectations,” Scott says.
A Focus on Maximizing Client Value
A diverse project portfolio reveals a range of property types: corporate and private offices, research and development spaces, industrial and manufacturing facilities, retail centers, restaurants, medical offices and more. Along with new construction, tenant improvements and seismic upgrades, C & J specializes in transforming aging, neglected structures into attractive, market-ready properties.
“Our goal is to maximize client value, not the cost of the project,” Scott emphasizes. “To achieve this, we provide asset evaluations and due diligence services to support a client’s understanding of the existing conditions and potential costs of repositioning an asset to bring it to market.” Also, detailed estimates and value engineering offer greater financial flexibility to achieve clients’ project goals.
According to Scott, customers appreciate C & J’s eagle-eyed focus on protecting and strengthening their investments. These value-added services go a long way toward building positive rapport and inspiring customer loyalty. As an example, he points to the transformation of a former Kellogg’s cereal production plant in San Leandro. After performing due diligence and providing cost estimates to structure the purchase, C & J converted the 1950s-era complex into a 400,000-square-foot, multi-tenant business park that retained its original 80-foot-tall concrete grain silos. While the initial $7 million job took place a decade ago, the team’s standout performance continues to secure additional work at the property to this day.
Another signature project involved repositioning an aging, nondescript industrial facility in San Jose into a modernized research and development space. This 110,000-square-foot, tilt-up concrete structure features the country’s first-ever installation of a LängleGlas exterior glass curtain wall system. “We led the architectural and structural team in designing the system,” Scott explains. “Our design made it possible for this architectural application to work successfully with this type of building.” The $3.5 million rehab project was recognized as a finalist in Silicon Valley Business Journal’s Structures Awards program in 2014.
Scott notes, “Project repositioning is a niche service that we’ve developed over the course of many years. We take pride in our ability to transform an old, tired property into the new cornerstone of a neighborhood, thereby providing real value to our clients and pride of place to prospective tenants.”
The Makings of a Great Team
Scott reflects on how his company has evolved over the years. For instance, by diversifying its service offerings to include work that is normally performed by subcontractors, C & J has greater control over pricing, scheduling and quality control. These expanded services also make the company more agile in navigating market shifts and weathering economic slumps.
In the early 2000s, Scott established an executive management team to help shoulder the load of day-to-day responsibilities and decision-making. These key leaders include longstanding employees Vernon “Vern” Pitts Jr., Vice President of Operations and Senior Project Manager, and Art Javier, Controller and Vice President of Finance. The newest addition to the executive leadership team is Scott’s son, Chris Reno, who became Vice President of Marketing and Business Development in September 2020 and also serves as a Project Engineer.
Scott emphasizes that every member of C & J is essential—from executive-level leaders to those who drive the supply trucks. He adds, “Every employee brings something unique to the table and is a key part to the interior workings and accomplishments of what we do on a daily basis.”
Employee longevity is a hallmark of the C & J team. Vern and Art, for example, have worked at the company for 39 years and 35 years, respectively. General Superintendent Scott Taylor has been there 37 years. Additionally, these three individuals are among many who have risen through the company ranks, highlighting C & J’s commitment to promote from within when employees demonstrate exceptional ambition, work ethic and trustworthiness.
“We’ve got a great atmosphere here,” Scott comments. “We have a real sense of family and treat one another with dignity and respect. People love working here.”
He remarks on the singular principle that resonates with every member of his team: integrity.
“Integrity encompasses all of one’s life, one’s character, the way one speaks, the way one acts. It isn’t something you can teach someone; you either have integrity or you don’t,” he says. The companywide focus on integrity is one of the main reasons people choose to join—and stay—at C & J, he adds.
Retirement Is Overrated
As C & J approaches its 40th anniversary in 2022, Scott is keen on planning for a future where his business continues to meet clients’ needs while turning a respectable profit so employees can provide for their families. Though the hardworking company leader claims he may never retire—he still happily shows up to the office at 5 a.m. most days—he is setting aside more time to travel with his wife and visit with family.
“I wouldn’t mind retirement so long as I can continue to be a support factor…mostly because mortality rates aren’t great for people that retire,” Scott admits, laughing. He’s a big fan of using technology to remain active in the business, even from a distance. “At some point I will give up the daily management of the company, but as long as I have breath and can get around and be rational, I’ll probably always be involved in business development, marketing, reaching out to clients and being a support in that area,” he adds.
Currently, a continuation plan is being developed to pass along the reins of leadership to his son, Chris, who will eventually take over as President. The transition will likely take four to six years, during which time Chris will receive training and mentorship from Scott and other senior leaders of the company.
“…I really have peace about where we’re headed in terms of our continuation plan. There’s no looking back; we’re committed now.” Scott Reno, Founder and President, C & J Contracting, Inc.
Opportunities of All Shapes and Sizes
No stranger to the inner workings of construction, Chris grew up around his father’s business, from sweeping the shop floors as a youth to pulling layout and hanging Sheetrock in the field during his high school and college breaks. But instead of following in his father’s footsteps, Chris chose a different vocation. He became an English teacher at a private school in Watsonville, California, where he says he thoroughly enjoyed using his talents to help students learn and grow. However, after spending 15 years in education, the devoted father had to consider other career options in order to care for his growing family. (Today, he has six kids ages 2 to 12—that’s a lot of mouths to feed!) So, he traded in his Hamlet lecture notes for a tulip-shaped snifter and set his sights on another passion: the emerging and potentially lucrative craft beer business.
In 2016, Chris, his dad and a close group of investment-minded friends opened Pour Taproom in Santa Cruz, California. Set in an eclectic space built by C & J, the self-pour tasting room touts a host of tantalizing craft beers and delicious gastropub fare. While serving as General Manager of the fledgling business, Chris also worked part time as a Project Engineer at his father’s company to make ends meet.
Scott says Pour Taproom had a great run up until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, at which point state-mandated shutdowns quite literally shut off the revenue spigot. Despite grim prospects for the taproom, Scott saw a chance to formally invite his son to become the future leader of C & J.
“As we discussed the potential shutdown of the taproom and what Chris was going to do next, I didn’t offer him a job—I offered him a company. After much consideration by Chris and his wife, he took the offer,” Scott says.
Next Generation of Leadership
Scott expresses excitement at the opportunity to turn C & J into a multigenerational family business. He adds, “This is the first time in three years where I really have peace about where we’re headed in terms of our continuation plan. There’s no looking back; we’re committed now.”
He goes on to describe certain qualities that make his son an ideal fit for his future role as president. “Chris’ integrity, passion, communication skills and love for people really set him apart. I am confident I can turn the reins over to him and he will care for our employees and clients with the same level of dedication as me,” Scott says.
Chris also has exceptional leadership abilities, giving him that special “X factor” that resonates with Scott. “Leadership is intentional. We’re not into self-driving cars around here—we’re into being at the wheel and steering the company in a win-win direction for everybody,” Scott says.
With many of C & J’s experienced, seasoned employees looking to retire in the next five to 10 years, one of Chris’ biggest priorities will be to bring in fresh, young talent. “Running a good company cannot happen alone,” Chris says. “Investing in the right people will be paramount.” Also, he plans to follow his father’s proactive example of seeking out new clients and maintaining strong relationships with existing clients.
While he already possesses a solid understanding of running a business and managing employees, Chris acknowledges there is always room for growth and improvement. “I’m going to have to hone the balance between taking care of our people and customers while also being intentional about spearheading the advancement and productivity of the company,” he says.
Scott’s heart for people has left quite an impression on his son—one that will likely continue to inspire Chris as he guides C & J into the future. “I greatly admire my dad’s compassionate spirit. I’ve watched him be faithful to people, and not just from a business standpoint. He constantly checks in on people and knows what it means to be a good friend—especially to those who are hurting or who are in tough situations. Also like my dad, I want to be faithful to my vocation and to my family.”
By emulating these positive qualities in his own leadership style, Chris may indeed inspire others to embrace the company’s core values of integrity, service and loyalty—and make his father proud in the process.