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Building through careful expansion

William Goodrich says it was the family focus and what it meant to former CEO Wayne LeChase that made Goodrich want to spend 25 years of his career at LeChase Construction Services LLC.

Wayne LeChase, now chairman, and his father, Raymond, considered their employees to be like a family, and Goodrich was a member. Goodrich says he also wants employees to feel that way.

After two years as CEO of one of Rochester largest private companies, Goodrich, 45, is doing more than reinforcing the focus of his predecessor. He continues to oversee five offices in New York and two in North Carolina while leading through a recession-stricken construction industry in which competitors crowd to bid new projects.

With 475 employees in Rochester and 600 companywide, LeChase’s local revenues totaled $184 million last year, down from $277.6 million in 2007. Officials could not provide companywide figures or 2009 estimated revenues.

Among LeChase’s recent and most notable local projects are the new ESL Federal Credit Union corporate headquarters, the University of Rochester Clinical and Translational Science Building, the UR Pediatric Replacement Imaging Science Modernization, a Unity Health System medical office building and the St. John Fisher College Skalny Welcome Center.

The company handles a dozen or so project types: K-12 education, senior living, corporate offices, manufacturing space, commercial, retail, institutional and government construction, health care and higher education-the last two of which, under the weight of the recession, have suffered from a decline in demand.

Goodrich is unfazed. LeChase Construction, he says, is diversified enough, in vertical markets, locations and partnerships, to weather the economic downturn. And over the course of the company’s history, it already has seen enough to know what to expect.

In part it was to guard against down cycles that LeChase Construction expanded over the last 12 years, in areas such as Albany and in Durham and Raleigh, N.C., which today do serve to supplement work that is in lower demand elsewhere.

LeChase Construction also has grown from one office to seven in a hub-and-spoke style of expansion. The process unfolded carefully, Goodrich notes. While performing work in peripheral territories, the company purposefully extended its reputation, getting a feel for the area before opening a new office or, in the case of the Durham market, making an acquisition.

In Albany, the firm spent two to three years doing projects and observing the market differences before opening an office. The company had spent 10 years working in Charlotte, N.C., before going into Durham.

"If Rochester is a hub, the spoke goes down to the Southern Tier, which goes down to Ithaca, so then that became a hub," Goodrich says. And the next spoke is down in Corning, and that became a hub, and then Binghamton and Albany.

"It’s more of a methodical growth pattern, where we’re reaching into areas that can still be controlled by the management. We’re not looking to go across states and head into the west side of the continent, as an example."

The industries LeChase Construction targets are diverse from a vertical standpoint. Health care, industrial and K-12 education, for example, have proved to be strong markets in North Carolina.

That horizontal and vertical diversity, combined with the company’s flexibility to move resources efficiently into stronger performing areas, keeps LeChase growing despite the recession, Goodrich says.

It is not easy, though, when 30 competitors show up to bid on a $40 million job, as happened in Charlotte last summer. Goodrich says he has never seen such a turnout. Under normal circumstances, he says, a project of that size might attract a dozen to 15 bidders.

So while contractors get hungrier for work, Goodrich is watching closely. If companies stretch too far, the industry could see some fallout, particularly when contractors’ decisions do not make sense in the long haul, Goodrich says. That fallout might not occur this year, but perhaps in 2010, he predicts.

Managing change
One thing Goodrich’s career has taught him: "Do not press the panic button."

"Change is constant; change is imminent. So we’re constantly in transition. I’ve been with the company for 25 years, and we’ve been in transition since I got here, and that’s OK. I think that’s healthy," Goodrich says. "That’s the growth motivation that keeps us energized. We’re constantly looking to improve.

"With this most recent economic cycle, it acted as a catalyst to evaluate all of the internal procedures and processes that are in place, and we’re evaluating and modifying everything. What we’re trying to do is become more efficient, simplify some of the processes, because it’s a different world today than it was 25 years ago," Goodrich says. "There’s much more expectation on documentation, liability and risk, but how do we manage that?"

Another factor increasing the company’s ability to withstand changing markets is the partnerships it has accumulated.

In a partnership with Conifer Realty LLC, a spinoff from Home Properties Inc. that focuses mainly on affordable housing, LeChase made a foray into residential projects, which proved to be a good bet in this economy, he says.

It is one area of the housing market that is showing demand. The growth has prompted LeChase Construction, he says, to reinforce its resources within the partnership, Conifer LeChase Construction.

"Because of the success of the partnership relationship, we are continuing to look at strategic alliances with other firms. And it falls in line with the mergers and acquisition strategy we have as well. So I can foresee in the future that there may be a few more that we can talk about in a year or two," Goodrich says.

At the center of the LeChase response to the economy are its people, he says. And people are the part of the job that Goodrich finds most interesting.

"We’ve invested in training and development. You certainly need to have the technical abilities to actually build a building. That’s a prerequisite," he says. "But the leadership development is equally if not more important at all levels of the organization: That’s something that we’ve made a conscious priority. That’s what I believe is important."

LeChase supplies leadership coaching to the top 50 managers across the company. In the early 2000s, Goodrich sought coaching for himself, and since 2005 he has gotten fellow executives to follow suit.

The way to communicate the family culture is to ensure that company leaders represent it. And the way to cultivate good leaders, he says, is to provide good models for employees.

John Engels, founder and president of Rochester-based Leadership Coaching Inc., is responsible for the job, which he says is really about teaching presence, self-knowledge and an ability to discern and trust the strengths of others.

Making LeChase managers clearer in their awareness and more present in the moment-in any situation-helps not only their family at work but their family at home, Engels explains.

"Whatever we do shows up at home as well as at work. It’s one of the most satisfying things about (coaching), that we’re building happy families," Engels says.

At work, people do their job with an enhanced sharpness, he adds. The team is really into it.

"This company has really made the transition from a well-run, smaller family business that’s very efficient and does high-quality work to a professionally managed company with Bill Goodrich at the top of that," Engels says. "I know they pay a lot of attention to how people are treated."

"It’s not a garden-variety construction company. It’s very inspiring to see what’s happened there," Engels adds. "I have a lot of respect for Bill. I don’t think filling Wayne’s shoes is any easy thing to do, and I think it’s a very rare person who can do it, and he seems to have that mix of qualities."

Focus on learning
Goodrich does not stop trying to enhance those qualities, no matter how long he has been in the business, says Daphne Bruce, his former professor, an assistant professor of business in Robert Wesleyan College’s organizational management program.

Goodrich earned a bachelor of science degree in business from Roberts Wesleyan, where Bruce met him five years ago. One of his research projects, she recalled, was looking at ways to motivate senior managers.

"He is very eager to learn and to make his organization a learning organization," she says.

Goodrich’s parents were teachers, and two of his grandparents were a Latin professor and a physics professor. Though he pursued civil engineering instead of education, he loves to learn, he says. Sociology in particular fascinates him, and running a company provides ample opportunity to study it.

"We have over 600 people, which means 600 different personalities and 600 different opinions on any decision, and I find that very interesting and dynamic-a challenge, certainly, but exciting," Goodrich says. "That’s what makes it fun, the interaction with people. At the end of the day, we’re a service organization. We don’t make a product. We build a product. The common denominator is people, in all that we do."

People around Goodrich sense his interest, Bruce says. When Goodrich returns to Roberts Wesleyan to participate in panel discussions about leadership and company culture, most of her students leave the room wanting to work for LeChase.

Both optimistic and realistic, Goodrich is a visionary, Bruce says, and personable. When he asks you how you are, he listens to the answer. Few CEOs do, she adds.

"He’s very self-aware and very interested in increasing his self-awareness. He’s open to feedback from any source," Bruce says.

Striving is something Goodrich is compelled to do. After joining LeChase in 1985, Goodrich became an owner and vice president in 1995, chief operating officer in 1997, president in 2002 and CEO in 2007. It seems, he says, that aside from the additional travel now, he has always worked as hard as he does now that he is CEO.

He considers himself a servant of the company. Part of what results from that management style is a culture in which people help each other and want to help each other.

"On paper, I’m at the point of (organizational structure) because ultimately I need to make the decisions. However, in practice, how we manage is that we invert that, which means that I’m working for everyone else," he says.

Instead of a dictatorship, the culture promotes family and teamwork, a tone that has to start at the top, Goodrich says. He sees the results in the LeChase employees who want to help other people achieve their goals, and do so.

"I think it’s genuine, but it needs to start at the top. You need to promote it and live it. So words are one thing, and plaques are another, but action speaks louder than any of those," he says.

He wants people to know each other’s spouse’s name. He wants their families to be part of LeChase.

His wife, Rhonda, he says, is a part of that family too. She provides a compassionate perspective that widens his own.

"She really helps ground me and gives me that perspective and viewpoint that I don’t always see. I’m blessed to have her as someone who can give me that other idea that I haven’t thought of. And she does it very effectively," Goodrich says. "Some of those decisions come down to compassion and doing the right thing. And she can help with that and has been influential on certain decisions relative to people that we have made as an organization."

Understanding the limits of any single perspective is one reason Goodrich is observant of others and himself.

He enjoys learning and improving, Bruce and Engels agree.

"Ten years ago he was considered young, and he was young, but he’s really put a lot of time in, learned a lot, very intense. He’s quite driven, and he gets a lot done. He’s gained a lot of respect," Engels says. "I’ve worked with a lot of company leaders in this community; that’s my job. I think Bill enjoys wide respect among people who see him and know him."

That is most likely for his honesty, says Michael Goonan, chief financial officer of the University of Rochester Medical Center. Because of various LeChase projects with URMC, Goonan has known Goodrich for 10 years.

"Professionally, he is terrific to do business with, because you always know where you stand with Bill," Goonan says.

Off the job
Outside work, the Fairport resident spends all the time he can with his family, especially with his daughter Courtney, 18, who started college this year. Son Kyle, 16, is still in high school.

"We make it a priority to be involved with all of their activities, which are plenty," Goodrich says. "We get down to (Keuka) lake and enjoy boating. We enjoy a lot of outside activities: water skiing to snow skiing. We like traveling together."

Goodrich has an exercise plan and tries to stick to it. Otherwise, he listens to music or reads, especially about people and their effect on society. Sociology, the way people deal with each other, he says, is a longstanding interest of his-along with teaching.

"I think it’s probably more observational, but I think there might be an interest long term to get into some type of teaching role. I don’t know exactly what it would be. There are a lot of avenues there," he says.


William Goodrich
Title: President and CEO, LeChase Construction Services LLC
Age: 45
Home: Fairport
Education: Studied business at SUNY Buffalo; B.S. in business from Roberts Wesleyan College; A.A.S. in construction engineering technology from the SUNY College of Technology at Alfred
Family: Wife, Rhonda; daughter, Courtney, 18; son, Kyle, 16
Hobbies: Spending time with family at Keuka Lake, traveling or skiing
Quote: "It’s always been busy. I became COO in 1997; became the president in 2002, vice president in 1995 and an owner, and officially the CEO in 2007. It’s really just been a progression. It’s been an exciting journey."

10/30/09 (c) 2009 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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