An Interview: David, Rick, and Scott Forrester
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A few weeks ago we did a simultaneous chat with the three top execs of major contractor Davis Construction, and you always helpful readers told us you liked the informality and banter of it. We figured we’d try a little sensitivity session like that again, canvassed for something fun, and realized right under our nose are three other up and coming stars who aren’t just close fellow execs running a construction firm…but are actually brothers. And amazingly, they still talk to each other! David, Rick, and Scott Forrester are on a tear, doing 50 projects at the moment around the region, with about 200 employees and $230 in annual revenue. Forrester does work all around the region, but is based in Rockville and adding an office in Northern Virginia. It was established in 1988, relatively recently as construction firms go. In these days of construction giants like Clark, Whiting Turner, and Davis, it’s nice to know you can still make waves as a new kid on the block.
Bisnow on Business: Well, I can’t tell you apart. Explain who you are and what you guys individually do.
David: I’m president of the company and responsible for the long-term strategic planning and the leadership of the company on a day-to-day basis.
Rick: I’m the vice president of estimating, preconstruction and purchasing for the company. We do all three functions within our group.
Scott: I oversee the project development for the company.
Where’d you guys grow up?
David: We were born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
How did you get here?
Scott: That’s a good question.
David: Different routes I’d say.
Scott: Different routes. I moved here in 1982 and have been here ever since.
Why did you move here?
Scott: When I finished undergrad college at Mississippi State in Starkville, I had an opportunity to come here and work for a large landscape development company and just stayed. Then Rick came up a couple of years later.
Because he had to be where his brother was?
Rick: That was it. I finished up in school and actually went back and worked in the oil industry for a number of years with a large manufacturing and construction company in Baton Rouge, then decided I wanted to see a little bit more of the world than Louisiana. So I called around, spoke with Scott, and it was really busy here at that time. And I came up here in 1983, had a lot of interviews, and ended up taking a job with a large multi-billion dollar company, Whiting Turner.
David, what’s your excuse? How did you get here?
David: Oh boy, I have a bad excuse. I ended up going overseas for about 10 years and I spent eight years in France, two years in the Middle East. I was in Paris and the south of France involved in international finance, doing mergers and acquisitions for a small M&A firm.
So you saw the world. You didn’t need to come here.
David: Yes, but I decided I wanted to come back home. So I came back in 1996 to join Rick and Scott in the business. They’d started the firm in 1988.
Who’s the oldest brother?
Scott: That would be David.
David: You’re getting all the stuff that we don’t put in print anywhere.
What’s the age difference?
Rick: Our parents were on the two-year plan. Actually, about a year and nine months apart, each of us.
Do you have any other siblings?
Rick: We have one other brother who lives in Boston.
Well, what’s his problem? Why isn’t he in this company?
Rick: He was smart. He didn’t get into this business. He’s in investment banking.
Oh, you could go join him.
Rick: We keep asking. He keeps saying no. We’re all ready to move into his pool house one day. [Laughter.]
Did you guys used to get along when you were younger?
Rick: Yeah, we regularly beat the hell out of each other.
David: You can quote Rick on that.
Okay, I will. Did you play a particular sport together?
Scott: No, we actually all had different athletic interests. David was a swimmer, Rick was a…
Rick: I did a little bit of everything.
Scott: Sumo wrestling if I recall.
Do you guys get along now?
What’s it like to be brothers in a business? And not just two brothers but three!
Scott: The great thing about being three brothers is they’re only two possible outcomes. Three to zero, and two to one.
That’s funny. So what happens when it’s two to one?
David: One guy usually leaves yelling.
Do you have nicknames for each other? Crude, embarrassing nicknames?
David: Only when we’re at private meetings.
How many employees do you have now?
David: Just a round number, I’d say 200.
And what do they do roughly?
Rick: Forrester is a construction management firm, general contractor and design builder. And so our construction professionals are involved in overseeing and managing the development and construction of commercial projects.
And what does construction operations mean?
Scott: Construction operations is the direct on site management of the actual projects. That usually consists of our superintendents, our project managers, project executives, senior project managers, field engineers. And about 70% of our staff is directly involved in that part of our business.
And what do the others do?
Scott: They’re in support groups. So it consists of everything from our accounting department, project development, and marketing, to estimating, preconstruction and purchasing.
And for whom do you work?
Scott: The way we’re structured, we have specific business units or what we call vertical markets. One group is focused on public works, so we work with a lot of the public agencies. And then we have another group that does private commercial buildings with a lot of the major commercial developers. Then we have another group that does educational work that does K through 12 as well as university projects. We have another group that’s focused on interiors, so they’re doing nothing but law firms, not-for-profits, corporations, that sort of tenant work. Due to growth, we’re opening a Northern Virginia office this fall. Finally, we have a group that does special projects, heavily weighted toward hospitality work.
How’s your growth been, and what’s your strategy?
David: We’ve enjoyed very healthy and at the same time steady growth since our inception, 18 years now. And our strategy has always been that we want to focus on great clients, and to make sure we don’t take on any more work than we have team members to support. That might be a little different than some of our competitors.
That’s interesting. As a layman I wouldn’t think contractors would do that. Not to sound naïve, but do some purposely take on more than they can handle? Kind of like overbooking on an airline or in a doctor’s office?
David: Well, I think there’s a tendency for people, given that there’s so much work out there and this market is so vibrant, to take on more than they can really digest properly.
So what happens?
Rick: Poor performance.
David: Reputation suffers.
Rick: I think that this industry especially is one where you need to place a prime focus on matching your resources to the projects. And because we’re not cranking widgets off a manufacturing line, projects start, then complete, and there’s spikes in work and slow periods. And the real challenge is to match your resources with your project opportunities.
What do you want to do differently in the coming years?
David: We’re in a mature industry, and we want to continue to focus on our team members. It’s no secret that the marketplace is extremely competitive for top-notch personnel. And so our growth is dependent upon our being able to continue to attract the best in the industry. And so really our strategy is to focus on slow and steady growth, doing a good job for clients, but most importantly making sure that we continue to build a great team.
What’s a couple of examples of projects you’re excited about?
David: We have about 50 projects of all different kinds going on at the moment, and we’re excited about them for different reasons. But one example is the Green Roof Project located on the roof of the American Society of Landscape Architects headquartered in DC. In fact, we have an in-house sustainable program, along with half a dozen LEED certified team members who work with owners and architects to identify environmental opportunities and requirements to achieve LEED certifications for clients.
Scott: I’ll give you some of examples. One we’re pretty excited about is the new Washington Christian Academy campus project. It’s a design/ build project for the Academy, which purchased a tract of about 80 acres in Northern Montgomery County for a 400,000 square foot campus. We’re working with them to master plan and design the entire campus. It has a very extensive preconstruction process, and we’ll work with them to build it out in a phase development over many years. Another exciting one I’d mention is a consolidated testing laboratory for the state of Maryland. It’s also a design build project, from ground up, approximately $30 million. And we’re doing the Anacostia Gateway Office Building, which is the first new office building to be built in Anacostia in 50 years. It represents the revitalization of Anacostia.
How did you get that job?
Scott: We were interviewed by DRI and selected for it. It’s around $18 million and 120,000 square feet of office, parking, and some retail.
You mentioned you do educational projects?
Scott: We’re doing the Edmund Burke School on Connecticut Avenue in Northwest. About 40,000 square feet for a second building of classrooms, auditorium, and so forth. We’re reskinning Mazza Gallerie. We’re doing the renovation of the King Hall Dining Facility at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, which is where they serve 12,000 meals a day to all their midshipmen. We’re also building the New Rockville Town Center Building Library. We’re doing a hand full of charter schools in the District. Just finished a science and research facility at Episcopal High School down in Alexandria, which was LEED certified, state-of-the art.
What’s the common denominator of these that gets you excited?
Scott: What gets us excited are difficult projects where we can add value to the process. For some of these design build projects, the clients have asked us to assist them specifically because the projects are really difficult. They are not your run of the mill simple buildings. They have perhaps very complex mechanical electrical plumbing systems. Preconstruction costs may be hard to estimate. Rick has a masters in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech. We love these kinds of challenges.
Why do you think clients choose you? What differentiates you?
Scott: I think the way we’re viewed in the marketplace is we are a firm that is not a multibillion-dollar firm. We’re a local firm where decisions are made here locally by the team. We’re not owned by a parent company based in Germany or Norway or somewhere like that. We’re not chasing 100 million dollar projects. We’re really looking at the under 50 million dollar projects. So we’re a great alternative and we’re going to place a high degree of focus and importance on those projects and I think that’s the way we’ve been viewed by the marketplace
Even though you’ve been around 18 years, do you feel you’re up and comers?
Scott: You know what they say. For a software company that’s old. For a commercial construction company it’s young. We think our company has a lot of momentum and our team members sense this kind of vibrancy and momentum. It’s not like we’ve been around for 100 years or something like that.
Rick: Our company attracts a lot of people who come from these 800 pound gorilla type companies and they’re looking for a little bit more flexibility and a little bit more opportunity to be able to have a true impact on what they do and to make a difference. :)