Turning luck into opportunity
I sat at the large conference room table with William S. Parrish Jr., president and CEO of NobleStrategy L.L.C. With him were members of his dream team, one of whom was wearing a blue chambray shirt that matched the paint on a wood-trimmed wall. Another member of the team was connected by telephone.
This was no dejected group.
Six-year-old NobleStrategy provides construction management services to public and private clients in the New York/New Jersey area and in Florida. Don’t be fooled by the hushed voices and subdued tones of the third-floor, walk-up office in South Orange, N.J. In the middle of the worst recession since the 1930s, NobleStrategy’s annual revenues climbed to $2.3 million in 2008, up from $1.8 million in 2007 and $749,000 in 2006. The firm is growing while others are cutting back. The staff that began as six now numbers 30, for example.
How did NobleStrategy come this far? The African proverb “Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today” fittingly describes the contrarian yet fortuitous path Parrish took to establish the company.
In the beginning
Parrish grew up in East Orange, N.J., and was always fascinated by the construction industry — not so much by the man in the hole doing the hard labor as by the guy in the tie who carried a clipboard and all the plans and papers. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in building construction technology from Hampton University, where he met fraternity brother Ceylon Frett, and a master’s in management of technology at Polytechnic University of New York. Prior to launching NobleStrategy in 2002, he headed the Newark Public Schools’ Office of Design and Construction, where he created an implementation strategy for the school district’s long-range facility needs. He also executed school construction programs for the NYC School Construction Authority, where he managed the planning and construction of two public schools in Queens.
With all that experience — and a golden Rolodex full of contacts — Parrish branched out on his own, inviting a few friends to join him.
The dream team
For the young upstart with big dreams, investment in human capital —be it trades people or executive staff — is critical to the success of his company.
Parrish surrounds himself with individuals who demonstrate an entrepreneurial spark and who are able to understand his ideas and move with him in seemingly synchronized steps toward success. He met each member of his “dream team” at pivotal moments in his career and brought them on board when the time and funding were right.
Johnnie B. Harris Jr. was a former boss of Parrish before he joined NobleStrategy as director of construction services. “I was very impressed with his enthusiasm and drive,” Harris says of the small company with the big dreams. He didn’t mind the reversal of roles when Parrish asked him to join the firm in June 2006. “Our relationship is very special and I felt I had to work for Bill,” he says.
Frett came on board in February 2007 as director of business development. He was followed by Todd W. Jones, director of planning and development for New York, who works out of the firm’s Long Island City office.
Parrish recognizes that the expertise each member of his team has could have earned them executive posts and comfortable corner offices at larger firms. What binds them and moves them forward as one at NobleStrategy, he says, is their entrepreneurial spirit and drive. That’s what drew Douglas Bush to the company last November. “I was very excited to work with a bunch of guys who are driven and have an entrepreneurial mindset,” explains Bush, who is the company’s director of planning and development for New Jersey.
Clearly, Parrish is the visionary and driving force whom is able to see opportunities on the horizon and steer the company accordingly.
Although NobleStrategy handles both residential and commercial projects, its bread and butter is its public-sector work in the K-12 school market.
Experience in that market helped the firm secure contracts with the New York City School Construction Authority, for which it also develops and trains minority and women subcontractors through the agency’s construction-management mentor program and with the Dormitory Authority State of New York for technical assistance projects involving three New York City colleges.
“The K through twelve sector is a good one for growth because there will always be a need to upgrade school facilities, or expand them,” explains Parrish. Moreover, the standard two-to-five-year implementation period for these projects gives Parrish time to ride out the current recession.
When the construction industry went Green and began to focus on sustainable products and methods, Parrish [and his company] became a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) 2.0 Accredited Professional with the U.S. Green Building Council in 2004. Aside from putting an important feather in the firm’s cap, the accreditation helped them secure work on several large, Green building projects in New York and New Jersey.
Armed now with K-12 project experience and competence in sustainability practices, NobleStrategy is perfectly positioned to benefit from the economic stimulus bill that President Obama signed into law in February. The bill earmarks $44.5 billion for schools to modernize and repair their facilities and $4.5 billion for state and local governments to increase energy efficiency in federal buildings.
When NobleStrategy bids on contracts, invariably it is on the short list alongside majority companies competing for larger projects. “We used to not be able to get a meeting from some of these companies,” says Frett. “Now we’re the first ones they call.”
Achieving short-list status requires persistence, constant follow-up and relentless networking. Frett’s role is to be the face of the company at networking events, to go out and “kiss babies,” as he likes to say. The hope is to make a chance connection that can lead to a great opportunity, says Parrish.
In 2007, NobleStrategy received a call from Tishman Construction, the development company tasked with constructing One World Trade Center (formerly Freedom Tower), inviting it to bid on several related projects coming down the pike. It took a year of submitting proposal requests before the firm was short-listed for certain projects. The firm did not win any of those, but it won the bid on the sustainability component.
In February, NobleStrategy was selected to provide LEED construction-consulting services for the $1.8 billion project. “Tishman was not required to offer this project to a minority firm, so we competed against majority firms and were hired for our LEED expertise,” says Parrish, proudly. “It took us three hours to sign the contracts.”
Being on the short list facilitates access to capital. When he started NobleStrategy, Parrish was unable to get financing from commercial banks and had to turn to microlenders, accounts receivable financing and his own personal savings to get the venture off the ground. Since then, he’s turned to small community banks in New York and New Jersey, which now compete to give him loans, he says. And with President Obama’s temporary elimination of fees on loans provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Parrish now has a third attractive option for financing.
Vision for growth
Parrish is pleased that the stars seem to be aligned in his favor, but he’s not one to rest on his laurels. His vision is to expand the company into a global firm with revenues of $100 million within the next five years. In preparation for that growth, the third-floor walk-up with the blue walls soon will be left behind for a three-story, 3,300-square-foot stand-alone building in downtown Newark.
The company will also open an office in Harlem in July to tap into what Parrish believes is his next growth area. By the end of the year, the goal is to create a development arm of the company that will not just serve as consultants, but will hire a construction crew and build the buildings themselves.
“We’re not interested in window dressing,” explains Parrish. “We take opportunity to the hilt and raise