Wayne LeChase is a very social person; he calls himself an extrovert.
“I need to talk to think,” he says.
But sometimes he has a short attention span and a tendency to cross-examine people-a remnant of his career in law more than 20 years ago, and one that has served him well in business, he says.
As managing partner and CEO of LeChase Construction Services LLC, the city’s largest commercial builder, LeChase likes to be direct. Posturing and positioning are not his style.
As a teenager, he was headstrong. He might say he still is. But the rebellion that first pushed him away from the construction business his father founded was later ignited by the firm. That passion helped steer the construction company from $5 million in revenues in 1982 into the $275 million local industry leader it is today.
He sounds like something of a tycoon, but people around him-friends, colleagues and clients-describe him as a great guy, a trusted partner and one hell of a lot of fun.
His 60th birthday, at the Rochester Convention Center, where the Beach Boys played for some 800 guests, is one example of the fun. Although his wife of 43 years, Beverly, planned it.
“All I did was put the guest list together-and I forgot to give her a budget,” LeChase, 61, jokes.
Having spent most of his birthdays out of town and many hours away from home, he says it was time to have fun.
“It was a celebration of life, really,” LeChase says, but is quick to warn, “and no, there won’t be another one.”
His longtime friend, Paychex Inc. founder and chairman Thomas Golisano, says LeChase is just as fun during office hours. He laughs when he remembers the fun they have had working together.
Some 10 years ago, at a Paychex construction site, LeChase and Golisano conspired to play a prank on Eugene Polisseni, the former senior vice president at Paychex who died in 2001. Polisseni had just bought a new Mercedes Roadster.
“(It was) his pride and joy,” Golisano says.
LeChase built a special ramp with nylon bands to hoist the exec’s new car onto the company flagpole, where it swung some 30 feet in the air until Polisseni returned from lunch to discover it.
They all had a good laugh, Golisano says. Even Polisseni. In the building opposite the spectacle, an audience gathered to watch.
“Everyone was wondering what was going on.” Golisano says, “People are still talking about it.”
For the joke, LeChase says he used a crane at the construction site to erect steel.
“The bigger the equipment, the funnier the stories are,” LeChase says.
Golisano and LeChase have been friends since 1989, when LeChase’s company built an addition at Paychex. They have worked together many times since then, Golisano says.
“He does a terrific job. I just think he’s a great, great contractor,” Golisano says. “And he’s a lot of fun. He makes doing business fun and easy.”
But LeChase has a quiet but competitive side too, Golisano says. Whether he is playing gin rummy or golf, LeChase wants to win.
Building the company
He has put that tenacity and competitiveness to work for him at LeChase Construction, which he has grown from a $5 million company in total annual revenue in 1982, when he took over leadership there, to $63 million in total dollar volume in 1992, to more than $222 million in 2003. The company is first on Rochester Business Journal’s most recent list of commercial builders.
With more than 700 employees during its peak season, LeChase Construction grew nearly 25 percent from 2003 to 2004, logging more than $275 million in total dollar volume, some 62 percent of which was earned locally.
Due to its size and many recognizable projects, including the massive $200 million footprint reduction program the company is overseeing for Eastman Kodak Co., many people tend to think of LeChase Construction as a big-project company.
“The majority of our projects are relatively small commercial jobs-community fire departments, community centers, a new ticket booth for Rochester Broadway Theatre League, parking lot repairs for the American Red Cross-less than $1 million,” LeChase says. “Our average project is around $2 million.”
Within LeChase Construction there is a division focused on small-scale projects.
“It’s something we need to better communicate to the community and to our customers-that we do smaller projects. We’re very interested in them, and there’s nothing less important about a smaller project than a large one. We need to change that perception,” he says.
LeChase Construction has three offices in New York: its headquarters in Rochester, one in Schenectady and one in Corning. The firm also has an office in Charlotte, N.C., where LeChase says they see a lot of potential.
It is a location where the company can set the high standards it is known for here, and businesses respond, LeChase says. The company has developed some solid relationships with architects and property owners there that likely will lead to future growth, the same way good relationships led to growth in Rochester.
Beyond the United States, LeChase has worked on some international projects, including several facilities for Xerox Corp. in Brazil and Canada.
The company follows business where it can be found; it is not out to try to drive the market, he says. And if a location is not working out, the company tightens its focus on those locations that are.
An example is the company’s Florida office, which closed this year.
“We’re very pleased with the Charlotte operation. All the offices are doing well, and if they weren’t, they’d be closed like Tampa,” LeChase said. “We’re methodical and try to plan ourselves as best we can.”
In new locations such as Charlotte, focusing on small projects is especially important for building the kind of trust that made the company so successful here.
The big break
It was the trust that the company built up through smaller projects in the 1980s that eventually led to one of the firm’s first big breaks in the mid-1990s-the $60 million construction of One Bausch & Lomb Place.
The company had done a small-scale renovation previously for Bausch & Lomb Inc. That led to LeChase Construction getting the job to construct the company’s 460,000-square-foot world headquarters downtown. It took 24 months to complete the building, which included the 13,000-square-foot, glass-enclosed Wintergarden.
“Danny took a big leap of faith with us,” LeChase says, referring to former Bausch & Lomb president and CEO Daniel Gill.
LeChase said projects, even those at the $25,000 level, are the basis for long-term relationships that sometimes grow into larger, multimillion dollar projects later.
He credits his company’s work with Bausch & Lomb for helping win one of its next big projects in the late 1990s, the Excellus Inc. headquarters on Court Street.
The $37 million mid-rise building took 25 months to complete and further cemented LeChase Construction’s reputation in Rochester for quality, large-scale commercial construction work.
It is the kind of work that led to the Kodak Revitalization and Asset Reduction Plan, which is believed to be the largest project in Rochester history. The three-phase plan is slated for completion in late 2007.
“The Kodak project is a partnership,” LeChase says, “and trust plays a key role in that.”
Last year, LeChase Construction was picked by the Rochester Raging Rhinos as construction manager for PaeTec Park.
LeChase Construction chief operating officer and president William Goodrich said both the Kodak and PaeTec Park projects are on schedule and moving full-steam ahead.
The first phase of PaeTec Park will be complete by late summer, he says.
“In addition to the ongoing work on concessions and utilities, three quarters of the seats and 80 percent of the bleachers are installed. Work on the playing surface is scheduled to begin in early July,” Goodrich said.
LeChase Construction is one of the construction companies serving on the board for the $230 million Renaissance Square project, which is expected to include an underground transit center, a downtown campus for Monroe Community College and a performing-arts center.
He is proud the company is a construction consultant to such a significant project to enhance downtown’s Main Street corridor, LeChase says. But it took him some years of experience to gain the confidence he needed to pursue the type of large-scale jobs the company is known for today.
“I think one of the major feelings that I had was this fear of failure was enormous. I would come in and think, ‘Do I know what I’m doing? Holy Moses. Am I heading in the right direction?’ I tried to roll up my sleeves and work harder to make sure everything turned out,” he says.
His reluctance back then is almost hard to believe now, especially coming from the strong-willed youth LeChase says he was.
While he was a sophomore at John Carroll University in Cleveland he got married and sent his father a telegram to announce the news.
“That’s true. When I say I was a pain in the ass, that was typical-it was just characteristic of me-going out on my own and doing my own thing. Remember, I was a child of the 60s,” he says.
It was his father who founded the company, Raymond LeChase Inc., in 1967.
Almost 40 years later, Raymond turned over the reins of the company to his son, Raymond Wayne, who has long gone by the name of Wayne to avoid confusion with his dad.
LeChase first joined the company in the 1970s, while he continued a career as a lawyer. He graduated from John Carroll University with a bachelor of science degree in business administration.
“I was convinced through my college years that I didn’t want to be in the construction business because I wanted to spend time with my family. I had other goals and objectives in mind,” he says.
LeChase chose law as a career and enrolled at the SUNY Buffalo School of Law.
“Buffalo was the cheapest alternative, if you really want to know. I ended up getting a scholar incentive award so I didn’t have to pay tuition. We lived in municipal housing that cost $42 a month for two rooms, and that included utilities. And we qualified for food stamps,” he remembers.
LeChase worked as a clerk at a couple of law firms and at a library during law school. He was admitted to the New York bar in 1968.
But the decision to forsake a career in his father’s business was hard for his family to take.
“(My parents) were upset, as naturally they would be,” he says.
He remembers one night that changed. It is a memory that is dear to him.
“It was Sunday evening. At the time we had two babies. It was 8:30, 9 at night. I had some stupid law book on my lap, and there was a knock at the door. Now where we lived, if there was a knock at the door at 8 at night, you were very concerned.
“It turned out to be my mom and dad,” LeChase recalls. “They had loaded up the car with every conceivable diaper, ice cream, food-like we hadn’t eaten in months, and that was their way of saying, ‘It’s OK. Let’s get on with our lives, and make the most of it.'”
Years later he realized practicing law was not fulfilling him.
“I wasn’t doing anything creative. I wasn’t making a difference. I was just another attorney trying to make a living, and there’s a lot of those,” he said.
LeChase worked with Rochester-based Johnson, Reif and Mullan P.C. for some four years before moving to LaDuca, Offen and LeChase where he was a partner.
When he later joined LeChase Construction, he became secretary and contract manager.
“My vision of where I thought construction as an industry and, in particular, this company, should go, was a new direction, and there were many instances that my dad and I wouldn’t particularly see eye to eye on a number of issues,” LeChase says.
Joining the company and later leading it was a leap for LeChase-in many ways, he says.
“I grew up in a construction company family, which is a little different than most because it’s all-consuming. A day off would be going to see job sites,” LeChase says. “That had an impact on me. There was a fair amount of rebellion in that the industry and the business took a lot of family time-a lot of my father’s time.
And LeChase was hesitant to join his father’s company, where he knew he would have to try to make a place for himself.
“I think a fair part of it was in finding my spot in the company, with my dad, try to understand where I fit, and how we were going to be able to share our vision as to where this company should be and go.
“I think in 1979 or ’80 we did 2 million bucks or so. …We were only doing a couple projects a year. We tried to do more, but we were over-extended. I wanted to build the company. I didn’t know where it was going. I knew we couldn’t remain status quo. And it’s the same way today,” he says.
When he joined the company, LeChase said he made some big mistakes, but his father did not lose faith in him.
“I made two gross errors right out of the box. There were two sewage treatment plants, and I don’t think we’ve done any since,” he says. “(The errors) were a great part of my education. I was humbled in a hurry.”
He calls it an education by fire. He learned quickly, but what helped him most was the team he began to form around him. Their support and the vision they shared with LeChase were essential to his success.
“If you have good people, you trust your instincts and you trust them, good things happen,” he says.
LeChase says his father always has been a good mentor. At age 92, he continues to play an active role at the company.
“He goes to job sites. He’s like the glue of this company. If he doesn’t come at his usual time, people ask where he is,” LeChase says. “He’s really a part of the culture of this company.”
LeChase still asks himself what his dad would do in different situations. As he continues to prepare the company’s succession plan, he takes stock of how the transition took place more than 20 years ago when he assumed leadership.
“I appreciate it more and more. He was able to take a company he founded and nurtured and grew and had the ability to turn the control over to me-when it’s very difficult to remove yourself and not be in control,” LeChase says.
But the transition could have gone more smoothly and been better planned.
“It could have been something that, had we sat down and strategized on what the correct time and way the transition would take place, it would have been less of a dramatic experience for both of us,” he says.
“I feel it’s something we could have done better. That’s why it’s one of the things we’re doing right now with Bill Goodrich and his management team. It’s being done this way so there aren’t these bumps in the road, this second-guessing.”
Goodrich, the company’s chief operating officer, succeeded LeChase as president in 2002.
“We’ve been working on a continuity plan that has been formulated over seven or eight years wherein Bill and a team of executives have invested sweat equity, and they’re replacing my equity through those efforts, and the plan is working very well,” he said.
Goodrich started working for LeChase Construction in 1985. He served as an assistant to project managers and superintendents before moving into superintendent and project manager roles. He was made project executive in 1991, vice president in 1995 and chief operating officer in 1998.
Goodrich and the company’s other partners form a strong team, in which LeChase says he has complete confidence.
“I’m part of strategy and making decisions, but Bill has done just a fantastic job, and I know he’s going to bring this company to the next level-he already has in many instances,” LeChase says.
And the transition plan is giving LeChase time to become more engaged in the city’s community.
“The beautiful part about the team that’s in place here, having Bill Goodrich and his team-my partners-is that they believe strongly in that responsibility, or stewardship, and believe it’s part of what should be done. So I can participate because operations of the company are in very good hands,” LeChase says.
Goodrich says it is LeChase’s genuine concern for the people of LeChase Construction, its customers and the community that make LeChase such a good leader.
“At LeChase, he’s been a pioneer-a visionary leader for the company and a role model for me. His foresight has allowed our organization to grow and prosper by trusting in the entrepreneurial spirit and by empowering a wave of new leadership,” Goodrich says. “For the community, he’s taken his commitment and put it into action initiatives that will reap rewards.”
One of many organizations he works with is the Center for Governmental Research Inc., where he has served on the board for all of Patricia Malgieri’s 12-year tenure.
Malgieri is president and CEO of the public-policy research organization. She will leave the organization this fall but likely will continue to work with LeChase in other organizations in which they both take part. Two examples are the Stewardship Council of the Catholic Diocese of Rochester and the Rump Group.
Malgieri describes LeChase as action-oriented and quick to assume leadership roles. And he is never afraid to step up to the plate, take on assignments and address unpopular subjects, she says.
He often asks the questions that need to be asked. For example, “How can we can be sure our economic development policies actually grow jobs in the community,” Malgieri says.
LeChase is a member of the American Bar Association, Association of General Contractors and Project Management Institute; director of Integrated Nano-Technologies LLC’s executive committee; and an engineering adviser at Rochester Institute of Technology.
He is a trustee or board member of St. John Fisher College, Rochester Business Alliance Inc., United Way of Greater Rochester Inc., Otetiana Council Inc. Boy Scouts of America, Rochester Museum and Science Center and Greater Rochester Enterprise Inc.
“Wayne is extremely generous,” Golisano says. “He should be commended on it. He’s a real community person.”
LeChase today was named a member of the 2005 class of the Rochester Business Hall of Fame. Last year, RIT’s College of Business honored him with the Herbert W. Vanden Brul Entrepreneurial Award.
Malgieri says, “He is someone who is extremely generous with his time, financial resources and wisdom. He has a great sense of humor. … And he’s been one of my most valuable mentors. He always gives me the right advice. …”
LeChase devotes a lot of time to his family now too. It has been one of his ambitions for a long time.
He has two regrets in his career, LeChase says. One was the poor rollout of the company’s first transition in leadership, and the second is how much time he had to spend away from home during his career, despite wanting to avoid the all-consuming career his father had.
“It was 20 hours a day, six days a week anyway-maybe seven,” he says. “I regret, quite frankly, the way the transition took place with my dad. I wish I had been smarter with that.”
But LeChase says the work he has invested in the company has been necessary.
“You ask yourself, if you had to do it
again, it would probably take the same amount of energy and passion to pull it off. And when I think back, one of the things today is the benefits that we have been able to achieve have been the fruit of the work that went in early on,” LeChase says.
Now he is able to enjoy more time with his family.
“I am so blessed I have both my parents both alive. (My father) is in Rochester. He’s here almost every day,” he says. “And my mother is still alive. She’s still takes care of my dad. She’s still the boss. She’s the one who says the way it is. She’s a strong woman.”
LeChase says his family’s support, particularly that of his wife, has made him the person he is.
And his children played a big part too. LeChase’s son, Raymond, 41, is a project executive at the company, and his daughter, Jacqueline, 40, owns her own catering business. Both live in the Rochester area.
LeChase also has four grandchildren: Raymond, 15, Leah, 12, Alexander, 10, and Emilee, 6.
He and his wife try to spend as much of their free time as they can in Florida where LeChase enjoys deep-sea fishing. They are planning their second trip to Italy in October.
“She loves the earth and I love the water. It makes for some pretty dynamic conversations about where we’re going and how we’re going to get there,” he jokes.
And while he says he most enjoys being with people, playing golf or cards, he is beginning to enjoy more quiet time.
Still, he and his wife dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus every Christmas for the employees’ children at work.
Ten employees are deployed with the U.S. military in Iraq. The company started a drive to collect some home comforts to send to them. LeChase said even vendors and subcontractors brought things in to send.
It is his employees and his management team he thanks for the company’s success. It is due to their talent and commitment that the company has achieved such rapid growth, he says.
“It’s the energy. It’s the passion and the rewards. I like to think the rewards are not only monetary, but the pride they take in accomplishments, to be part of a group-a family. We care about each other. We treat people with dignity and respect,” he says.
“I was just very fortunate to have the caliber of people ready to accept the challenge, and we all share the same mission and vision. It’s such an easy sell. We’re all customer focused. We all care about each other. High standards are part of our culture. Do the right thing. Honesty. Integrity.”
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05/27/05 (C) Rochester Business Journal