Starting with a wheelbarrow and a shovel in Scottsdale, Arizona, Pete Jones learned concrete and construction through the “inspiration of desperation.”
With a background in banking, he learned plenty about business operations, having turned around a company that makes fresh-squeezed orange juice from near bankruptcy.
It was out of that success, a bout of unemployment and, above all, a promise to his son that led to Pete's founding Protek Construction Inc., a residential and commercial concrete construction business in Kingman.
While unemployed in 1994, his son Michael came to him with the idea of starting a construction company. Not believing it would ever happen, Pete suggested that if Michael could get the license qualifications, he would put up the money.
Against all odds, Michael came through with the license but died shortly after at age 32. While his son's part of the obligation ended, Pete's was just beginning.
The company started with him and his crew working on driveways for high-end residential homes in North Scottsdale.
“As time went on, we grew a reliable crew, and we started doing commercial work over the next seven or eight years,” he says.
Around 2005, Pete, his wife, and eight crew members moved northwest to Kingman, hoping to become the biggest fish in the pond compared to just another 10-man concrete crew in the Phoenix area.
The move was a success. Pete claims Protek Construction is the largest concrete contractor in Kingman and one of the biggest in northwest Arizona.
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Nearly every job Protek does comes by referral or via former customers.
One general contractor in Mojave County said of Protek Construction: "There's nobody that can touch them.”
Good people, good work
“We believe strongly in hiring good, smart people with character, and then treating them like the good people they are,” Pete says.
Protek Construction never hires in volume. If he’s hiring, it will be to add one or two people.
“We never take a job that we don't have the personnel on hand for right now,” Pete says.
That benefits both his crews and the business. Generally, they, in turn, take care of him.
"They appreciate the fact that we do what we say we're going to do about their benefits and their hours and the way they're treated on the job, the way we insist on management treating the personnel," Pete says.
All employees from general laborers to Pete himself, are treated with dignity and respect.
“When they come to work for Protek, they know that that's what they're going to do, they're going to work,” Pete said. “They're going to be treated fairly, but I expect the same thing of them to me. We don't have people who are slowing the process down; we're very efficient.”
From top to bottom, it's always a quid pro quo. If someone gets sick, Pete doesn't hesitate to help them financially or offer interest-free loans. During the 2008 housing market crash, Pete ensured his crew at the time made enough to keep food on the table for their families.
With a sizable backlog, it’s comforting to the employees that they’re going to have a job both today and tomorrow.
Over time, a nucleus of high-performing employees has formed.
Protek does not have specific duties for individual employees. Everybody does everything.
“If we've got a ditch to dig, everybody does it. If we've got concrete to pour, everyone's involved,” Pete says. “They all get an opportunity to do different things routinely, and I think that keeps the boredom from being part of their deal.”
“They know that they've got to be on their toes because they don't know what they're going to be doing tomorrow, and if they get the opportunity, they want to know how to do it right next time,” Pete adds.
Also, the Protek crews know they’re working in safe conditions.Field Supervisor Carl Zorn serves as the primary safety director for Protek. Tailgate meetings are held weekly based on a variety of different sources.
The have an experience modification rate of just .72.
“We're safety conscious,” Pete says. “We don't mind spending money if that’s what it takes to keep a job safe.”
A piece of advice
“You learn to a high degree through the desperation of inspiration,” he says. “You don't have any choice but to make the damn thing work, so you do whatever is necessary.”
To achieve success, every phone call must be answered because it could result in another job.
“You don’t know where they’re going to come from, so you’ve got to take the call.”
Pete also emphasizes taking care of good customers and employees, and they'll take care of you. He likens it to finding gold.
"When I get a nugget, whatever it takes to make sure they're happy and keep them here, that's what I do, because they're the ones that are going to make me successful," he says. "And that's really what I've done. If I'm going to suggest anything, it's to take care of your people and treat them right."
His other two points of advice are for upcoming contractors to always do what they say they are going to do and to be honest.
“The quicker you learn those life lessons, the easier things are going to get for you. I don't have any problems at all, because that's the way I've lived my life now for 25 years.”
Think about the future
Pete’s opportunity to run the juice company led to his desire own a business.
“The business of running a business, it's exciting, with all the ups and downs," Pete says. "You have to constantly be thinking about what it is that you need to do to keep yourself out of situations that can slow you down."
He's learned that some projects are better left to someone else. “If you sign a contract for that job with the wrong people, now you're spending all your time trying to extricate yourself from a situation versus if you've made the right decision in the first place, you would never get in,” he says.
At 80-years-young, Pete acknowledges he's on his way out of the business.
Dennis Hext, Pete's nephew, joined the company about a year and a half ago, taking on Pete's role of office management and bidding. With Dennis and his two field managers, Carl Zorn and Fermin Nunez keeping things going, Pete knows it is just a matter of sorting out a few financial details.
As it stands, Pete comes into the office when he wants to, leaves when he wants to and, by his admission, doesn't do much of anything when he is there.
“I’m pretty well already retired,” he says.
As he steps away, he wants to ensure the business is identified as Protek Construction, a general contractor and concrete construction firm that has a solid office and field management team to handle all its customers' needs.
Previously, Pete and Protek were identified as the same.
“I've made a real concerted effort over the last several years to make that not the case,” he says. “I want to make sure that people know we've got onsite crews and office administration to handle their needs without me being involved.”