J.T. Turner Construction: How Two Generations Combined to Survive a Recession

April 26, 2012

By Mary Carr Mayle

For the Savannah Morning News

Take an unwavering set of core values, an innovative approach to reorganization and a succession plan that solidifies buy-in from the next generation and what do you get?

You get a family business that’s not only surviving, but thriving, in transition.

“Change is inevitable — a necessary part of any business,” said Tripp Turner, chief operating officer of J.T. Turner Construction, the company his father, J.T. Turner Jr., founded more than 35 years ago.

“But the things that should never change are your core values. My dad grew this business by focusing on relationships and the core principals of quality, service and dependability,” he told the crowd of businesspeople gathered Wednesday for the BiS Forum sponsored by Hancock Askew & Co., Abshire Public Relations & Marketing, HunterMaclean Attorneys at Law and Business in Savannah.

“No matter how much things change, we don’t ever want to lose that.”

The local, family-owned construction company has managed to make it relatively unscathed through the last five or six years — tough economic times that have swallowed up many similar-sized homebuilders and remodelers.

Turner credits that to his father’s work ethic, foresight, attention to business basics and planning.

“A dozen years ago, my dad decided we needed a recession plan,” Turner said. “I’m not sure what he saw coming that the rest of us didn’t, but he set out to put together a detailed, four-stage plan that ranged from minor cost cutting to a worst-case scenario that pared the company down to the two of us, a computer and the phone.

“Fortunately, it never came to that.”

But it was in the planning that both father and son learned valuable lessons.

The elder Turner began by putting his ideas on the table, garnering buy-in and suggestions companywide.

“That resulted in the development of companywide strategies for doing things more efficiently,” the younger Turner said.

At the same time, his father began putting together a succession plan, one that involved his son learning the business from the ground up.

“I started working summers when I was 13, cleaning up job sites and such,” he said. “From there I moved up to carpenter’s helper, then carpenter and so on.”

When Turner, who majored in construction management at Georgia Southern University, finished school, he joined the company full time as a superintendent, working his way up to project manager.

“I think one of the most significant things my Dad did for me was to give me the tools, the training and then the flexibility to find my own way to run the company,” he said.

When the recession hit, Turner said, the company was ready to weather the storm by combining the foundation and principals built by his father and his core group of managers with innovations that came from the second generation.

“For example, the recession taught us we needed to chase bigger jobs, so we partnered with other companies to grow our resume, which also helped our subs and suppliers grow their resumes,” he said.

Today, he said, J.T. Turner Construction is back on the upswing.

“For the first time in four years, every facet of our company is busy,” he said. “And it’s only going to get better from here.

“Next year has the potential to be our best year ever.”