In wake of father’s death, a son takes family construction business to new heights

Marcia Doyle Headshot
Updated Feb 22, 2018

Coy0218To say that Richard Preston grew up in the construction business is an understatement.

“I was always on the jobsite with my dad,” Richard says. “As early as elementary school he would have me straightening things up.”

As Richard grew older, his responsibilities at Preston Construction increased, including superintending jobs in his parents’ brief absences during summer breaks from college.

This boots-on-the-ground construction knowledge helped when Richard’s world was shaken with the unexpected death of his father, John Richard (Dick) Preston Sr., in 2001. Richard was just about to graduate with an architectural degree from the University of Tennessee.

“I had Dad’s phone, and I started getting calls,” Richard recalls. “It was one of those decisions that I don’t think I put much thought into. I just knew it was my responsibility to come back and keep those guys busy. I graduated on a Saturday, and on Monday, I was on a jobsite.”

“Richard had some huge shoes to fill when he helped his mother take over a general contracting firm,” says David McKinney, with mechanical contractor S. B. White Company, Johnson City, Tennessee, a subcontractor and friend of the family. “Even with the tough economic times we’ve all endured, he’s more than quadrupled the size of the company over the past 10 years and has built Preston Construction into one of the most well-respected and viable commercial general construction firms in the area.”

“I was going to go back to architecture,” Richard now says, “but it never happened because I enjoy construction so much.”


Critical assistance

Richard’s mother and partner, Claudia Preston McCord, who joined the company in 1974, was by Richard’s side throughout, serving as vice president and chief financial officer, a role she continues to this day.

Richard also credits great mentors, including his father, who taught him business management, work ethic and integrity. By working as an apprentice under key employees early in his career, he learned carpentry, concrete, masonry and how to operate machinery.

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Another assist along the way: solid relationships with area architectural firms, including Reedy and Sykes Architecture and Design, and Beeson, Lusk & Street. “They were huge in helping me get credibility because they believed in me,” Richard says.

Unlike many contractors, the Great Recession was a time of growth for Preston Construction. The company successfully bid on a state maintenance and renovation contract, a job that put Richard in touch with multiple contacts who liked Preston crews’ work.

Diversification has been another key to the company’s growth. Richard has expanded beyond the company’s homebuilding and commercial building markets that were core during his father’s tenure, and now the firm does a variety of jobs for East Tennessee State University, area school districts, industries and churches.

Preston Construction won CenturyLink’s Faith in the Future Award in November 2017. The award recognizes what a company does to keep faith in the future during hard economic times. Preston Construction was spotlighted for its willingness to serve the community, for motivating and inspiring others, and for being innovative and forward-thinking.


Client appreciation

Clients have noticed the company’s emphasis on quality work. “We are always excited to know that Preston Construction will be our contractor because we know the completed project will be a quality project, completed on time and on budget,” says Robert Reedy with Reedy & Sykes.

Reedy goes on to say: “When my wife and I added on to our home, we only considered using Preston Construction.”

Adds Pete Tackett with Antioch Baptist: “For 30 years, I have worked with growing churches and construction companies on projects, big and small. Our work with Preston Construction was so positive that it made all others pale in comparison.”

On August 31, the company marked its 50th anniversary with a celebration lunch attended by around 200 people, including past and present clients, subcontractors, architects, other affiliates, friends and family. They showcased the company’s history with old tools and photographs throughout the years. “It was a humbling event to see how many came out and supported the company,” Richard says.


Compact fleet

Preston Construction uses primarily compact equipment, and the company’s fleet includes compact excavators, skid steers, compact track loaders and a forklift. “We keep our equipment busy,” Richard says.

The company also uses short-term rentals, although Richard likes to put machines under a rental purchase option whenever it makes sense. “I hate to put money away on rent and not get anything back,” he says.

Although his father always had a backhoe on hand, Richard says he converted to compact excavators after a confined-space job showcased that machine’s maneuverability.


Multi-talented crews

But in the end, it comes down to his people. “Our guys are multitalented,” Richard says. “With our crews, we can do a little bit of everything.” That approach, he adds, makes him more cost effective than subcontracting out portions of a job, and helps the company maintain a competitive advantage.

Looking back at his start in the industry, Richard recognizes the wisdom of those crew members with years of experience under their belt. “These guys have done it for years. I might not agree with how they do it, but you’ve got to give them some space to do their thing.”

Richard likes to show his appreciation to the team by providing lunches and team outings. “Getting out of the office and jobsite throughout the year helps build comradery with the team.” One recent such outing was a guided quail hunt.


The Lord first

“We strive to put the Lord first, our families second and our business third,” Richard says. “We seek to honor God in our resources, the way we perform our work and the manner in which we interact with our employees and partners. We want each person to know we care about them – not just during the work week – but long after a project is finished.”

Because of client requests, Richard is considering getting back to what his father was doing when he started the company: housing construction. The company has the skilled tradespeople, and housing is something that can be tackled outside of the schedule demands of the firm’s school-related jobs.

Above all, Richard wants Preston Construction to continue his father’s legacy of building, impacting and honoring. “To us, our long-term relationships are just as important as the finished product,” he says.