Update: ‘Graduation day’ for mentor/prot

December 2000: The idea is simple: pair small, women- or minority-owned construction companies with larger, more established firms. Through a formal working relationship, a mentor from the larger firm offers business guidance to the owners of the up-and-coming company. The hoped-for result: a higher-than-average survival rate for the protégé companies.

Ron Stempel, who served as contracts and procurement manager for the Port of Portland from 1989 until his death in 1996, is credited with the plan, and there are around 10 such programs in the United States. We highlighted one of these programs, the Community Mentor/Protégé Initiative in Austin, Texas, in our Reporter section.

Today: Adrian and Harrietta Neely’s relationship with Chris Murray is in its third year, and the Community Mentor/Protégé Initiative is telling them it’s time to move on. “We’re saying, ‘What do you mean, graduate?,'” says Murray, president, Tremur Consulting Contractors of Austin, Texas. “No one can kick us out of our relationship,” agrees Adrian Neely, president of jobsite janitorial service Triad Maintenance, also in Austin.

CMPI came about five years ago when the Austin Independent School District began exploring ways to involve small, local minority construction firms in its $365 million bond program. Steve Swanson of Steven R. Swanson Consulting and CMPI chairman, encouraged the Neelys to sign up.

“We wanted to learn more about the business end of our company,” says Neely, “including how to maintain good books and understand contracts.” He calls his relationship with Murray “a good match. He started out like us, with no backing.”

In addition to being on call to the Neelys, Murray helped them computerize their certified payroll and even sent his office manager to their company to work with them for a day. “Austin and I have talked about contract verbiage and anticipating what can happen on a job, including worse case scenarios,” says Murray, whose company is a general contractor with in-house divisions in site work, site utilities and hauling. “And I’m going to go with him to visit another general contractor in the area who’s not paying him in a timely manner.”

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“The CMPI has been a meaningful and powerful program,” says Swanson, who helped spearhead the program with the local Associated General Contractors chapter. “This month, we’ll celebrate our first mentor/protégé successful teams. We don’t want to call it a graduation, because we don’t want them to feel like they’re leaving the relationship, even thought they’re moving beyond the formal program.”

“If I had had a program like this when I was starting out, I could have been where I’m at now 10 years ago,” says Murray, an AGC member who plans to take on another protégé while still maintaining his relationship with Neely.

“Our ultimate goal is to be a mentor ourselves,” says Neely. “Everyone should have someone they can turn to. We’ve learned a lot. When you have so much to draw on, you can’t go wrong.”

To learn more about establishing a mentor/protégé program in your area, contact Stu Megaw with AGC at (703) 837-5321 or [email protected].