PORTLAND, Maine — The same core values that helped make Wright-Ryan Construction what it is today, more than 30 years after its founding in 1984, guided the company’s thinking as it considered the options available for transition of ownership from the company’s President, John Ryan. “We made team, culture, and clients our highest priorities,” commented Ryan. With this in mind, the company outlined four key goals. Any available option would have to achieve all four goals to be recognized as successful:
- Ensure the long-term sustainability of the company and continuity of the team.
- Preserve the company culture and commitment to a high level of customer service.
- Reward the team that helped Wright-Ryan achieve its success.
- Transition ownership without placing undue burden on the company.
Addressing a Growing Need
But the company didn’t stop there. Wright-Ryan recognized the growing need for new candidates in the trades and the industry overall and realized that an Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP) could help achieve its ownership goals while introducing yet another differentiator and strategy to support the company’s commitment to recruiting and retaining a new generation of builders. “We saw this as an opportunity to think about more than just the sustainability and longevity of our company,” Ryan said. “It was a chance to look at the future of the industry in our region and ask ourselves what we could continue doing to make a career in construction an attractive, viable option.”
Employment opportunities in construction have seen a steady increase since the low of early 2011. Construction employment totaled 6.7 million workers nationally in October according to the Department of Labor, the highest level since December 2008. A workforce outlook report from Maine’s Center for Workforce Research and Information also projects steady demand for construction jobs in the state through 2024. The report ranks carpenters and general maintenance and repair workers in the top 10 for high-wage, in-demand jobs. However, an October 21, 2016 press release from the Associated General Contractors of America discusses how companies industry-wide continue to report challenges identifying interested or qualified candidates. The opportunities exist, but candidates may not realize the potential available to them or they may not have access to the technical training required to develop qualifying trade skills.
Wright-Ryan is working to change that through a three-pronged approach that focuses on (1) educating, recruiting, and retaining new talent, (2) creating and supporting opportunities for women in the industry, and (3) helping ensure that construction is a lucrative career option through unique benefits like the ESOP which provide long term security. This can be a challenge in a place like Maine with its aging workforce and trend of out-migration by trade professionals opting for higher earning potential in neighboring states, but Wright-Ryan is walking the talk. Success will not only help connect candidates with employment opportunities, but also help stem rising costs of construction through an injection of skilled labor into the local marketplace.
Clearing a Path to Opportunity
“The question we ask ourselves all the time is, ‘How do we attract people to the idea that construction can be a career, not just a job,’” shared Andy Seymour. Seymour is a Project Manager for Wright-Ryan Homes who, along with Jeff Heseltine (Wright-Ryan’s Field Operations General Manager), serves as a member of the Advisory Board for the Building Construction Technology program at Central Maine Community College (CMCC). “We want to work with CMCC and other institutions to get the message out there that construction offers a rewarding career, and here are examples of people who were successful and started in the same place you did. We’re starting small and working to build a foundation for success.”
Clearly defined career ladders represent one strategy Wright-Ryan has implemented to ensure success once employees are on board. “We currently have three core career paths outlined for our team members in the areas of trade and craft skills, field supervision, and project management,” shares Suzi Benoit – Director of Human Resources. “We want to invest in our team. Offering paths to advancement is an important way that we do that,” said Benoit.
Bucking the Trend for Women in Construction
Wright-Ryan recognized a while ago that the number of women represented on the team was higher than typical industry figures and has sought to create and support opportunities for women as a core element to fostering the next generation of leaders. Today, the company employs 77 employees, 13 are women in a wide variety of roles. This number, representing nearly 17% of Wright-Ryan’s total workforce, far surpasses the national average.
Key Wright-Ryan team members are acting as advocates and representatives for women in the industry in the local community. This includes company leaders like Alyssa Parker, Director of Commercial Project Management. Parker participated in the 2nd Annual Women in Construction & Project Development panel and networking event hosted by Bernstein Shur earlier this year in May. She has also served as a guest lecturer supporting coursework at the University of Southern Maine.
The Next Level: Wright-Ryan’s ESOP and the Future
Wright-Ryan recently completed its transition to employee ownership, and on Friday, November 4, 2016, the company gathered in Portland to mark and celebrate the milestone. “Before Tom Wright and I started the company, we had a lot of conversations about what made for a meaningful work life,” commented Ryan during the gathering. “We decided that what really made it worthwhile was first finding something meaningful to do that we enjoyed. Next, and probably more important, was finding people that we enjoyed doing it with. Wright-Ryan has been a relationship-based company since its beginning. We wanted to ensure that the same dedication to people first, both inside and outside the company, that got us here would endure long into the future.”
It was important to Wright-Ryan to reward the team members who helped lay a foundation for success while attracting new talent and strengthening the company’s dedication to unrivaled customer service. Ryan shared, “For our team, it means they are now full stakeholders in the company. Their already-present resolve to deliver the highest quality end results and their commitment to customer satisfaction is strengthened by their direct investment in the company’s success.” The ESOP automatically provides employees with a new retirement benefit in addition to the company’s pre-existing and competitive, employer-matched 401(k).
“We already have an ownership culture at Wright-Ryan, with employees operating like owners, and a business philosophy defined by collaboration and transparency. The ESOP takes that to the next level,” Ryan said.
“I hear from candidates all the time describing Wright-Ryan as an employer of choice,” shared Suzi Benoit. “The ESOP offers another strong benefit to candidates looking for the quality work/life experience and company culture Wright-Ryan provides. We’re excited about the role the ESOP will play to attract new talent to the industry in our region.”
Wanting to be clear regarding continuity of leadership, John Ryan shared, “The move to an ESOP is about succession of ownership, not leadership. I’m excited to roll up my sleeves and continue working alongside the strongest leadership team the company has seen in its history to continue to elevate the level of service we provide.”
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About Wright-Ryan Construction
Founded in 1984, Wright-Ryan has delivered construction services of the highest professional standard to clients throughout northern New England for more than 30 years. The firm has expertise in commercial, institutional, and residential construction as well as high-end millwork and furniture. Wright-Ryan employs highly skilled professionals and trades people and has successfully completed some of the most architecturally distinctive and challenging buildings in Maine.
Above: Wright-Ryan team members pictured at the company’s Annual Meeting in April 2016