Once Homeless, N.Y. Contractor Now Owns Multimillion-Dollar Construction Business

Jordanne Waldschmidt Headshot
Updated Jun 17, 2024
Andris White, owner, AM Equipment LLC
Equipment World

Ew Coy 2024 Am Equipment LlcAndris White has faced a number of struggles – struggles that would have beaten many people down.

He dropped out of high school at age 16, and his adoptive parents both died of cancer when he was in his early 20s.

His first three construction businesses failed. The first was due to youthful inexperience, the second to a predatory contract that led to bankruptcy, and the third to a partner’s embezzlement from the business. 

The pressures of the business failures led to three divorces. At one point, he was homeless and living out of his truck with his dog.

But Andris persevered, stayed positive and kept working hard. 

After all that, he formed AM Equipment, which has been going strong for 15 years.

Today, the company has 20 employees in two locations. The Ipswitch, Massachusetts, location performs heavy highway, concrete, paving, and site prep, while the Hogansburg, New York, office focuses on building construction. AM Equipment is one of 12 finalists for Equipment World’s 2024 Contractor of the Year awards program.

“I’ve always had a positive outlook,” Andris says, reflecting on it all. “I always look for the good in people, and I always give back to my community. There’s always going to be bad people, and I’ve run into more than my fair share, perhaps, but I know I love the game. I love the excitement of a new job and seeing happy customers.”

Img 2319An unbelievable journey

Andris’ parents were living in a communal basement of iron workers in Boston when his mother found out she was pregnant. With no place of their own to bring a child home to, they put him up for adoption.

At 3 months old, Andris was adopted by Latvian immigrants with a patriarch who had a “Depression-era work ethic.”

He told me, “If you’re old enough to go to school, you’re old enough to work.” So, Andris started running heavy equipment at age 6 with wooden blocks strapped to pedals so his feet could reach. By 11, he was already a seasoned operator.

Andris loved learning but hated school, so he dropped out at age 16 to start his first construction business in northern Massachusetts. The naive teen thought he knew everything there was to know about construction work. The business failed within two years.

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“I learned very quickly that I didn’t know that much after all,” says Andris. So, he took a job as a field engineer with a local company.

But two years under someone else’s thumb was enough, and Andris got the itch to go out on his own again. He started out as a small residential contractor, surviving the recession of the late '80s and growing to become a union contractor by the '90s. 

During the same period, both of Andris’ adoptive parents died of cancer, so he set out to find his birth family. After a lot of research on Native American tribes and several court cases later, Andris had his adoption papers unsealed and was able to reunite with his parents and siblings on the Akwasasne Mohawk Indian Reservation in Hogansburg, New York, in 1995.

By the early 2000s, he had won his biggest deal yet – a multi-million-dollar project doing Division 2 sitework and Division 3 concrete work. But it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.  

“There was a clause in the contract that said if you didn't respond to a request for a change in price within 24 hours, it was deemed to be zero,” says Andris. “My first day on the job, my office called me and said six faxes came over asking for price adjustments. This continued through the first couple of months of the project. I couldn't respond to them fast enough.”

The subsequent change orders piled up, and the predatory contract forced Andris into involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2002. He moved to the reservation to let the dust settle in 2003.

Over the next five years, Andris got married and started a new construction business on the reservation. Things were looking up until 2007 when he was dealt another devastating blow.

Andris recalls sharing “a teary moment” with his CPA after learning that his attorney had embezzled $1.2 million from his business accounts. Unable to bring himself to file for bankruptcy again, he vowed to pay back every cent of the $2.5 million he owed.

Despite another major stumbling block, Andris’ persevered. He started his fourth construction venture and current business today, AM Equipment, in 2009.

After eight years of putting everything he had toward debt, he was finally able to purchase a used Cat excavator in 2016. “And then it goes from there,” he said. “Then I bought a truck, a trailer, a skid steer, a dozer and so on, until we got to where we are today.”

Since then, Andris has grown the company to $6 million to 8 million in annual revenue between its building division in New York and its heavy highway, concrete and utilities division in Massachusetts.

He credits past Contractor of the Year finalist MacKay Construction with giving him his big break as a subcontractor on DOT projects in Massachusetts.

“Andris has a heart of gold and is a man of his word,” says MacKay estimator Kyle Annutto. “His crew always meets our goals, performs the work that we need and anything else. They are strong on safety and always look presentable on the jobsite.”

AM Equipment employees huggingEquipment WorldPeople first

Andris’ hardships have given him a deep appreciation for his team and his community. “So many people gave me so much without asking for anything in return when I had nothing.”

He currently has 20 employees between his two divisions. He works with the local unions to secure talent and provide skills and safety training, a relationship that has worked well for all parties.

“Before I was union, I found it really hard to find good people,” says Andris. “I knew it was going to make me more expensive because I was doing predominantly private work, but the union had a lot to offer. They send you the people when you need them, and they constantly send me projects to look at that I might be interested in.”

Andris’ union representative Matt Osborne notes, “He’s been a big asset for me up here in northern New York. He gets lots of residential projects and keeps employees working full-time. It’s been fun to watch him grow from this little company to a medium-sized company that is doing phenomenal.”

Even though his employees are union, Andris works hard to build a tight-knit culture and incentives to keep team members engaged. He pays above union rates, offers additional paid holidays, a Christmas bonus and vehicle allowances.

“It’s like a family business in a sense – and that’s my favorite part,” says longtime employee Josh Vanname. “We’ve taken on some big jobs, and I’m always happy to see at the end that we’ve exceeded all of our customer’s expectations.”

CanAmerican SoilKing Extreme Stone Spreader feeds asphalt to a Weiler paverAM EquipmentApples and oranges

Andris says the two divisions of his business are “apples and orange,” but it keeps things interesting.

He primarily uses older equipment on his building construction jobs in New York but gets the latest and greatest machines for his heavy civil projects in Massachusetts.

“In New York, we run machines as long as their service life allows since we don’t use them that much,” he says. “In Boston, we can’t afford downtime. It’s about quick, responsive performance, so as machines age, we upgrade them to something newer and in pristine condition. Different markets have different requirements, and we’re happy to be that company you can call 24 hours a day, and we’ll show up to get the job done.”

One of his recent purchases includes a CanAmerican SoilKing Extreme Stone Spreader. Operated by remote control, the truck can precisely place material in trenches or feed asphalt pavers on tight urban jobsites. Andris says the truck has reduced the number of machines and laborers needed on projects while also minimizing cleanup. “The truck just moves along, and it’s all automated from the back by one guy with his remote control with no one in the cab.”

The rest of his fleet is composed primarily of Cat skid steers, excavators and pavers. For anything he doesn’t own, he rents.

AM Equipment’s relationship with MacKay Construction extends beyond projects to fleet management in the Greater Boston area. Andris rents space in MacKay’s yard to store his equipment and taps their mechanics to assist with maintenance and inspections. “It’s hyper-convenient. I move my machine 300 feet, and there’s a Cat-certified mechanic right there,” he says.

In New York, the company recently purchased an out-of-commission firehouse with four truck bays, which it will remodel into a full-service shop and storage facility. One of AM Equipment’s operators also serves as a mechanic at that location. “He greases a machine more than you might need to, always keeps the cabs clean and sands and repaints equipment just to keep it looking perfect,” Andris says. “Everything we have is spotless.”

AM Equipment operator on a Cat RollerAM EquipmentNo slowing down

Despite turning 60, Andris doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. Work is picking up in the Massachusetts office, revenues are growing, and Andris is working toward becoming a general contractor through the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) certification program. The 9-year program is designed to help disadvantaged businesses get federal contracting opportunities.

“What I’d really like to be is a standalone GC bidding my own MassDOT projects,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, I like being a sub for the companies I work for, but that’s not my long-term goal.”

“I can’t envision a time where I’d want to retire,” he continues. “I can envision a time where I don’t work 70 hours a week, but I still feel young in my head. I’m still perpetually 30, and I get excited every day that I wake up. It’s just a passion that’s never gone away. It’s no different now than it was 40 years ago.”

The Contractor of the Year program, which has been sponsored by Caterpillar since its inception, recognizes contractors who display the highest standards of business acumen, equipment management expertise, attention to safety and community involvement. Each year, 12 finalists receive an expense-paid trip to Las Vegas to participate in roundtable discussions and an awards ceremony. Apply by September 27 to be considered for our 2025 program: https://www.equipmentworld.com/contractor-of-the-year.