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Fifth generation takes helm

Rufus Judson is reminded of the history and legacy of his family business, the Pike Cos. Ltd., every morning when he goes to the office.

In a sitting area before one gets to the executive offices on Circle Street hang portraits of those who previously led the company. The majority are Judson’s family members.

Following the Civil War in 1873, John B. Pike—Judson’s great-great-grandfather—became a carpentry contractor and built the foundation for today’s Pike Cos. John D. Pike and Thomas F. Judson would follow in leadership roles.

Thomas F. Judson Jr. began as president in 1975 and today serves as chairman. In 2011, Rufus Judson, his son, was named president. Last spring, Rufus Judson, 39, was named the Pike Cos. CEO.

The Pike Cos. ranked second on the most recent Rochester Business Journal list of commercial builders. It operates two construction companies: the Pike Co. Inc. and LeCesse Construction Services LLC.

The Pike Cos. has roughly 600 employees and logs sales of some $500 million.

Judson is not only proud of the family heritage at the firm, he also is focused on continuing to grow the business. He believes those before him provided a good start to meet that objective.

“This fifth-generation family business was built on a rock-solid foundation,” Judson says. “It’s a really good place to be.”

Judson grew up in the Victor, Ontario County, area and attended Allendale Columbia School before going to boarding school in Connecticut. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in managerial economics at Union College in Schenectady in 1999.

Start at Pike
He started working at Pike in the early 1990s and went to work there full time after graduating from college. He started as a tradesman and spent roughly five years in the New York City area working on projects.

Over the next 15 years, Judson would expand his duties. His previous jobs have included serving as an estimator, assistant superintendent and project director.

In 2006, Judson earned his MBA from the University of Rochester Simon School of Business.

He would switch from a focus on individual projects to overviewing the company once being named president and later CEO.

Judson recalls that his father was always open to his son working for the family business but did not say it was required.

“It was my decision to make,” Judson says.

Andrew Hislop, president and CEO at LeCesse, first got to know Judson on a plane trip to an industry board meeting. After the plane landed, they went out to dinner and became fast friends.

They further cemented their business relationship a couple of years later with the merger of Pike and LeCesse in early 2013. The deal brought together two of the area’s largest commercial building firms.

The firms kept their names and workforces but share some services, particularly in training and human resources.

The deal also added to Pike Cos. expertise in health care construction and expanded its service area into the Midwest and Southeast.

The Pike Cos. provides construction services to nonresidential markets across the Northeast. Its projects locally include the Amtrak Station in Rochester and a cancer center at Noyes Health in Dansville, Livingston County.

LeCesse, in business since 1952, provides construction services to the multi-family residential market, focusing on senior housing, apartments and student housing as well as cultural centers. Its projects include renovations at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Rochester Inc. and at St. Ann’s Community.

Hislop describes Judson as an energetic and hard worker.

“When you have talent combined with passion you can’t help but have a winning formula,” Hislop says.

And while some family businesses may be accused of nepotism, that is not the case at Pike, Hislop says.

Judson is the first one to roll up his sleeves and work to get a job done, Hislop says, adding it is common for Judson to call on the weekend and bounce ideas off him.

“That’s not someone who feels entitled; that’s someone who’s engaged,” Hislop says.

Judson likes to begin his day with a workout. On the job, he is focused on communicating with employees about projects, responding to clients and visiting job sites.

He also has been focused on a growth strategy at Pike and often turns to his father and Hislop for counsel.

Judson works closely with Tayloe Call, LeCesse’s chief operating officer, and William Tehan, Pike’s COO. Judson also works with his brother-in-law, Mauricio Riveros, who is Pike’s chief innovation officer.

“We have so many great resources here to draw from,” Judson says.

He calls his father a mentor, saying he taught the importance of hard work, building relationships and doing the right thing. Thomas Judson Jr. was inducted into the Rochester Business Hall of Fame in 2009.

“He’s given me all the truths in life,” Rufus Judson says.

Malcolm Wolcott Jr., managing director and vice chairman of the Northeast region of JPMorgan Chase & Co., is Judson’s godfather. He has watched what he calls his well-earned rise in the family business.

Judson’s extroverted personality helps his business success, Wolcott says.

“He has a tremendous drive for excellence,” Wolcott says.

And Judson’s focus on growing the business is as strong as his commitment to Pike employees, Wolcott adds.

“Rufus treats everyone the same—and with respect,” Wolcott says. “Those are skills not everyone comes by easily.”

And Judson says he has always enjoyed solving problems and collaborating.

“I enjoy communicating what I am passionate about,” he says.

That passion includes the housing, factories, hospitals and other buildings Pike constructs. It also involves the relationships and partnerships he has established over the years.

“All of these things come together in my passion for running the business,” Judson says. “Some were obvious and got me hooked right away, and others I have learned to appreciate along the way.”

As a leader, Judson says he relies on his collaborative skills.

“Ours is a large, complex organization, and you can’t be afraid to make the tough decisions,” he says, adding Pike has a valuable resource in its employees, some of whom have worked for the business for 40 years.

“I enjoy an awesome relationship with all of them and I am fortunate to be able to tap into such greatness,” he says.

The best part of the job is being a part of the family business that started as John B. Pike & Son Inc., doing custom millwork for the interior of fancy homes, including those of early Eastman Kodak Co. president Henry Alvah Strong at 293 East Ave. and Jell-O creator Peter Cooper in LeRoy, Genesee County.

It was during the Genesee Hospital project nearly a century ago that the company expanded into general contracting, with masonry and other construction components coming into the firm.

“We are in such a good spot,” Judson says.

The toughest part is succeeding in an industry that is so commoditized—based on offering the lowest price. Navigating the tough environment is one of the major focuses of the firm’s strategy, he says, adding that building long-term customer relationships is key.

And while top-line growth is a key driver at Pike, it is not the only one.

“Our plan is a value strategy,” Judson says. “We are focused on getting better for our clients.”

Off the job
Judson and his wife, Amy, live in Rochester with their family. They have two children: a son, Thomas III, 4, and daughter, Maggie, 2. The couple are expecting their third child in May.

When not working, Judson enjoys activities such as golf, skiing and racket sports. Spending time with his family is a top priority.

Judson is also active as a community volunteer, serving on several boards, including the George Eastman Museum and Greater Rochester Enterprise Inc. as well as the Associated Contractors of New York State.

Moving forward on the job, Judson is focused on rolling out and executing a new strategy at Pike. He calls it a customer-focused plan for the next generation.

“We are done with the plan; now the hard work starts—execution—and we are ready,” he says. “I’m excited to see what unfolds next.”

Rufus Judson
Title: CEO, the Pike Cos. Ltd.
Age: 39
Education: B.A. in managerial economics, Union College, Schenectady, 1999; MBA, University of Rochester Simon School of Business, 2006
Residence: Rochester
Family: Wife, Amy; son, Thomas III, 4; daughter, Maggie, 2
Hobbies: Golf, ski, racket sports
Quote: “This fifth-generation family business was built on a rock-solid foundation. It’s a really good place to be.”

4/22/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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