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Building is in this leader’s blood

James Taylor did not have a typical birthday celebration this year. Instead of a big blowout party, Taylor was in Kenya on a mission trip, spending 18 days to help build a boys dormitory at an orphanage.
 
The trip, one of several he has taken to places including Mozambique, Peru and the Gulf Coast, allowed Taylor to indulge in two of his passions: helping others and building.
 
"It was a phenomenal feeling, very humbling," says Taylor, CEO of R-J Taylor General Contractors Inc., which does business as Taylor, the Builders.
 
The 53-year-old also enjoyed the physical work.
 
"Construction is in my blood," he says. "I love to build things."
 
Taylor, the Builders, employs roughly 30 people. The general contracting company handles a variety of projects, including current jobs such as the Legends at North Ponds, a 114-unit senior lifestyle community in Webster, and a 7,640-square-foot biological field station at SUNY College at Oswego.
 
Recently completed projects include Dorschel Automotive Group’s new Mini of Rochester facility in Henrietta and a child care center for Heritage Christian Services Inc.
 
Taylor declined to disclose sales figures but said the business, whose fiscal year ends Oct. 31, is expected to grow 15 percent over last year.
 
Taylor learned the construction business at a young age. His father, Richard, had his own firm and the younger Taylor worked there during summer vacations, sweeping the floors, mixing concrete and running jackhammers.
 
He graduated from East Rochester High School in 1977 and took some college courses at St. Lawrence University and St. John Fisher College in marketing before deciding that was not the direction he wanted to pursue.
 
Instead, he followed his college sweetheart-now his wife-to Texas and took a job in the construction business.
 
He learned not long after taking the job, however, that it did not have much room for advancement. Since he was headed toward a career in the industry, Taylor heeded his father’s encouragement to move back to the Rochester area and work for him.

Starting the firm
When his father had a falling out with his business partners, Taylor and his dad started R-J Taylor in 1984. The younger Taylor was named president in 1986.
 
In 1992, Taylor bought out his father’s interest. The elder Taylor stayed involved with the business for several years and still gives some project updates. James Taylor remained company president until 2006. Today, Karl Schuler is the president and Taylor’s younger brother, Jeff, runs the firm’s site work division.
 
The company began in Brighton and moved to a few other locations before settling in Penfield around 2000.
 
Taylor is responsible for the oversight of marketing and administrative operations, including finance, legal and insurance matters and new market development. He uses his experience in project programming, budget forecasting and value engineering services to build the business.
 
In addition, he has a background in private development and works as project liaison for the owner, municipalities and lending institutions on many projects.
 
The bulk of Taylor’s jobs are in the Rochester area, but the firm does some work around the country. One growth area is the Southern Tier.
 
Energetic, enthusiastic and fast-talking, Taylor says he requires little sleep-roughly four and a half hours a night-and likes to keep busy.
 
Taylor begins his morning by exercising, usually with a five- to six-mile run or 30-minute cycling trip. He started distance running at the age of 45 after his oldest daughter got him interested. At other times, he heads to the Midtown Athletic Club.
 
After that, his days vary depending on the work. He can have a breakfast meeting or check in at a job site or touch base with customers. He has regular meetings with his project managers.
 
Taylor prides himself on listening and meeting his customers’ expectations. The firm’s goal, he says, is to "go beyond the drawings."
 
"Face time is most important," he says.
 
Claude Wright, president and CEO of Henrietta-based Wright Wisner Distributing Corp., has worked with the Taylor family for more than 30 years. The family has been involved in building and renovating some 545,000 square feet of space at Wright Wisner’s various locations.
 
Taylor is helpful when dealing with engineers and architects on a project and finds an efficient way to get the job done, Wright says.
 
"He works with you," Wright says, adding that Taylor is not only a strong businessman but a staunch community supporter. "We have come to depend on him to be an adviser as well as a general contractor."
 
While he understands the importance of the job, Taylor also believes one has to enjoy the work, as well.
 
"Work is work, but you have to have fun with it," he says. "I can’t imagine a job where you have more fun."
 
To achieve that, the tone at the office is light, but Taylor strives to hire the right employees.
 
The variety of the work is what Taylor enjoys most. The worst parts of the job are that many things beyond his control: weather, soil conditions and project changes.
 
Taylor, however, relishes the challenge.
 
"The worst parts of the job are the things that make it the most interesting," he says. "There are so many variables, and we are thrown lots of curves each day. If it were easy and rote, that could get old. Instead everyday is fresh."
 
As for business role models, Taylor does not have to look beyond the Rochester area.
 
He is impressed with the region’s leading entrepreneurs-Thomas Golisano, Philip Saunders and the Sands and Wegmans families-who either built a business or took a successful one to another level. He also admires their dedication to giving back and helping the community.
 
Taylor is just as impressed with his own customers: business owners who have worked and sacrificed to build their own companies.
 
"They just keep going and keep at it," Taylor says. "They are great success stories."

Upbeat leader
Fritz Odenbach, vice president of Rochester-based Dolomite Group Inc., has known Taylor for more than 25 years. The two met through business and became friends.
 
Odenbach praised Taylor’s humanitarian work and described him as organized.
 
He also spoke of Taylor’s buoyant nature.
 
"Jim is one of the most upbeat guys you will ever talk to," Odenbach says. "You can be all doom and gloom, but Jim will always be positive."
 
Taylor and his wife of 31 years, Amelia, live in Pittsford and are new empty nesters because youngest daughter, Hannah, 18, just left for college. They have two other daughters: Abigail, 23, and Rachel, 21.
 
In addition to distance running and cycling, Taylor enjoys skiing, golfing-he is a member of Oak Hill Country Club-and gourmet cooking. He often cooks meals at home and likes to smoke a turkey or have a cookout for company employees.
 
He is also a community volunteer, working as a certified first responder for the Pittsford Volunteer Ambulance corps.
 
Taylor also serves on area boards and works with his staff on community projects, as well.
 
He believes strongly in giving back and worked hard to instill that belief in his daughters, whom he describes as well-grounded. The family has completed mission projects together over the years.
 
"We live in one of the greatest cities in the most wonderful country in the world," he says. "It’s important to keep what we have here in perspective. Pittsford, New York, isn’t always reality."
 
Moving forward at work, Taylor says the firm will continue to stay on top of industry changes. A focus is on education and multifamily housing, two areas where Taylor is seeing growth. Retail is making a comeback as well, he says.
 
The company also will continue to expand its geographic area and grow by continuing to invest in its workforce.
 
"Our raw material is our people," Taylor says. "We focus on helping them grow and learn."
 
One thing that will not change is the closeness the company maintains with its customers.
 
As a result of the time spent on a project, Taylor often ends up becoming friends with them.
 
"How can you find a better job than that?" he says.

James Taylor
Position: CEO, R-J Taylor General Contractors Inc., which does business as Taylor, the Builders
Age: 53
Education: East Rochester High School, 1977
Family: Wife, Amelia; daughters Abigail, 23; Rachel, 21; and Hannah, 18
Residence: Pittsford
Activities: Running, cycling, skiing, golfing, gourmet cooking, community volunteer
Quote: "I can’t imagine a job where you have more fun."

9/21/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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