Bob The Builder

Since 1969, when Bob Lord’s father co-founded E.F. Wall & Associates, the company has encouraged family participation

Bob Lord Jr. (right) and his brother Kevin (center) are president and vice president of E.F. Wall & Associates Inc., the Barre >construction company co-founded by their father, Bob Lord (left), in 1969. Lord is retired, but joined his sons for a photo session.

by Rosalyn Graham

EF. Wall and Associates is a family-owned business, but the only “Wall” is hanging on the wall in the conference room. When Frank Wall, Bob Lord and Bob Lamphear founded their construction company in 1969, it seemed logical to name the new company for the oldest and most experienced of their triumvirate.

Today, after almost 37 years of retirements and passings of the baton, the owners are Kevin and Bob Lord Jr., the sons of Bob Lord. As they sit in the conference room with their cousin Greg Lord, a senior manager of the company, and look up at the portraits of the founding fathers, they agree there has never been any inclination to change the name.

“E.F. Wall enjoys a good reputation in the industry,” says president Robert P. Lord Jr. “We have not felt the need to change it.” Kevin, vice president, and Greg, director of marketing and business development, nod in agreement.

Since the three founders of E.F. Wall left Kelley Construction in Websterville, eager to spread their entrepreneurial wings, the company has always been in the general contracting business. The owners describe themselves as commercial, industrial and institutional contractors, and the projects they have built fill all those categories. They have built supermarkets, laboratories and office buildings, arenas, courthouses and schools, and factories for the production of such items as railway cars and auto parts.

The roots of the company are firmly planted in Central Vermont although the scope of their work covers Vermont from end to end and well into New Hampshire. Bob, Kevin and Greg were born in Barre and raised in East Barre, where their fathers and grandfather had an excavating business, B.E. Lord & Sons.

According to Greg Lord, Karla Jurentkuff, contract facilitator and project management assistant “is ... everything that gets done.”

In 1977 when Bob graduated from Vermont Technical College and Kevin graduated from Spaulding High School, the brothers joined E.F. Wall & Associates. Greg went to Bryant College in Smithfield, R.I., and worked in public and private accounting in Rhode Island, Brazil and Saudi Arabia before returning to Vermont and joining them in 1987.

Taken in decade-long increments, the changes in leadership and ownership were rather logical and measured. Soon after Wall, Lord and Lamphear began their company, Lamphear retired due to ill health. Wall was president from 1970 to 1983 and Lord was his partner.

When Wall, who is now in his late 80s, retired, Lord became president and son Bob and Joe Bordas became partners. When Lord retired in 1994, Kevin became an owner and Bordas was named president. When Bordas retired in 2004, Bob became president. He and Kevin now own the company.

“There aren’t many businesses that have so many members of a family involved,” Bob comments. Their brother Nelson is the warehouse manager, and their brother-in-law Dave Beland is a project superintendent. “It’s fairly remarkable, as I understand it, that we get along well and are as successful as we are,” Bob says. Each Lord has a role in the company that suits his experience and talents. As president, Bob is responsible for overall management of the business and heads up estimating and project management.

“I enjoy that,” he says. “I’m a hands-on manager, involved with being sure the jobs get estimated and set up correctly; though we are starting to structure things so I can do more looking ahead and forecasting. We’ve been around long enough that we’re strong financially, and after 36 years have things pretty well figured out.”

Kevin runs the field end of things, supervising the on-site superintendents, a not inconsiderable juggling act with as many as 12 to 15 projects going on at any one time. His practical experience is key to making staffing decisions, planning equipment and scheduling, and allocating resources.

Greg says, “My responsibility is to handle aspects of projects before they become projects. I do business development, based on understanding what a customer needs to serve his purposes and what we have to do to get the opportunity to handle the project.”

To do those projects, they call on the expertise of a work force of about a hundred to 150 people. These include designers and financial people, who work in the company’s office building on Wall Street in an industrial complex on South Main in Barre, and a team of experienced supervisors and skilled tradespeople. They work in central Vermont and throughout the geographical area the company serves. That decentralization guarantees a prompt response time, which pleases clients.

A measure of the strength and stability of the company is the fact that the key personnel, including owners, project managers, superintendents, administrative staff and designers, have an average of 24 years of experience and an average tenure with the company of 15 years.

“We pride ourselves on being a contractor’s contractor,” Greg says. He says of his cousins, “Both of these guys started out in the field and worked their way up. They paid their dues and now manage some of the biggest on-site projects.

A hundred to 150 people are employed by E.F. Wall & Associates — designers and financial people, and a team of supervisors and tradespeople, some in Central Vermont and others scattered throughout the area the company serves. Peggy Welch is accounts payable specialist. Bruce Hudson is corporate secretary-treasurer and business manager.

“For example, when we were doing the Alumni Hall renovation and addition at Norwich University, we did a $6 million project in 11 weeks. It was phenomenal. Kevin was there seven days a week, Bob was there, and I found myself working in the carpenter shop.

“It’s whatever is necessary to get the job done. It has enabled us to be successful and it’s integral to our success.” “At higher-education institutions, our projects have tight schedules, and E.F. Wall is one of the few companies that understand that there is no room for a late schedule,” says Bizhan Yahyazadeh, director of facilities at Norwich University. “Traditionally renovations and additions have to be completed while the students are away, from mid-May to early August. That’s 80 to 83 working days. It’s very fast-track, and it has to be done when the students come back. “They are a bunch of professional folks at E.F. Wall and they definitely have a true Vermont attitude. They make sure the job is done on time and on budget, time after time.”

Bob explains the strategy that makes them successful on jobs with aggressive schedules and gives them the flexibility to react quickly on small jobs for old clients. “We have a deep resource of employee tradespeople,” he says. “We manage subcontractors, but it is recognized that because we have our own skilled people we can respond quickly.”

Whether it’s a bank that needs an ATM installed on the weekend, or water damage at a rest area on the interstate, or the flood of 1993 in Montpelier, the company is set up to move fast. Because employees are on the job by 7 in the morning and customers know they can find them that early helps, too.

Mutual respect and easy communication with lots of good humor are evident as the three partners pass the conversation about the business around the conference. How do they get along so well? Kevin says, “My take on that is that we all recognize what everybody else can do, and what they’re good at. Bob knows every number that goes out; Greg does his part; and we can go out and get the work done and get repeat customers.”

Key personnel — owners, project managers, superintendents, administrative staff and designers — have an average of 24 years’ experience and an average tenure with the company of 15 years. Troy Sumner, left, is a project manager/estimator. Don Ennis is a project manager and the safety director.

Bob attributes the good working relationship to that mutual respect and to the fact that all have the same drive. “We’re all pretty good workers, and we’re successful. When you’re not successful it adds another level of stress.”

He also points out that they have the same goals. “If Kevin wanted to drive Ferraris and I was content with my Chevy that might create problems,” he says, “but we all have the same drive, everybody works hard and nobody feels guilty. We don’t begrudge a golf game occasionally, because we all put in our 60 to 70 hours a week — and we enjoy what we’re doing.”

Open communication is another important element, according to Greg. “There’s no ego, everybody has confidence in each other, and if something has to be said it gets said.”

A Monday morning 7 o’clock meeting around the big conference table has been a tradition since the company was founded. It is the place for asking questions, and bringing everyone up to the minute on projects and priorities. It is also the time for asking for help.

As Bob says, “We don’t expect anyone to have all the answers. People are confident enough to say, ‘I have a problem here.’ Probably someone in the company will have the answer.” In a company where family connections and tradition are important, the question of the involvement of the next generation of Lords prompts smiles from the managing generation.

Bob’s youngest child is 11 and, he says, “I’ve got two stepsons who are out in the work force and a daughter who isn’t involved in the business.” Greg’s oldest child has just turned 11. Kevin’s two sons have worked with the company in the summer, but, he says, “We’ll see where the path leads.”

Greg says, “You can’t impose it, you have to just extend the opportunity.”