Skip to main content
Business Observer Friday, Dec. 12, 2003 18 years ago

Constructing Change

Dooley & Mack Constructors, the largest construction company in the Sarasota-Manatee region, explains its recent leadership and corporate structure overhaul.

Constructing Change

Dooley & Mack Constructors, the largest construction company in the Sarasota-Manatee region, explains its recent leadership and corporate structure overhaul.

By Kendall Jones

Senior Editor

As of Oct. 15, Sarasota-based Dooley & Mack Constructors, one of the largest construction companies in the Southeast United States, dramatically changed the internal function and ownership of its company, and added two new major divisions as well. Until then, the company operated separate, essentially autonomous divisions in Sarasota, Fort Lauderdale, Nashville, Atlanta and Dallas.

The Florida divisions and the Nashville division were held under the Florida corporate name; the other offices have had a separate corporate identities and control. Each of the three Florida corporation divisions had separate executive vice presidents running them with separate sets of books. Bill Dooley served as CEO and chairman of all the divisions under the corporate name. Ken Smith served as overall president and Wendy Mack was secretary, treasurer and CFO of the entire company.

But things have changed. The Florida corporation is consolidating the operations of the Sarasota, Fort Lauderdale and Nashville divisions. As of February, the Florida corporate headquarters will be in the company's new $3 million, 27,000-square-foot Lakewood Ranch office. Atlanta and Dallas are now more formally separate corporate entities, under separate control.

Mike Bruner, formerly executive vice president of the Fort Lauderdale division, became the new president of the entire Florida corporation. Joe Vislay, formerly executive vice president of the Sarasota division, became chief operating officer of the Florida corporation. Mack continues in her role as overall treasurer, secretary and CFO of the Florida company. Over the next 10 years, Bruner, Vislay and Mack will succeed Dooley and Smith as the company's majority shareholders; they have already bought out control of the company.

The construction firm is also starting up two new ventures: Homes of Distinction by Dooley & Mack, a builder of luxury homes and estates, primarily waterfront homes; and Clover Development LLC, a commercial land developer.

Dooley and Smith are not disappearing. They are not even retiring, though they are setting themselves up to head in that direction. Instead, they will remain stockholders and key advisers and refocus their roles. Smith will focus on business development for the company. Dooley will help the new ventures get established.

Bruner, Vislay and Mack sat down with GCBR to explain why and how this dramatic leadership shift and corporate reorganization was accomplished.

Why did the company make these changes?

Joe Vislay: It was time. The company has been around for 27 years, it has grown from a small company with less than $30 million in projects to a major company that has done more than 3,200 projects valued at more than $2.2 billion. Companies have life cycles, a natural progression. After a period of time, in order to ensure continued success and stability, a lot of companies need to assess the organization. Also, Ken and Bill, while they are not retiring, want to prepare for that in the future; they needed an appropriate succession plan.

Mike Bruner: It's actually very healthy for a company to do this every so often. It gives you a chance to address any inefficiencies.

Wendy Mack: We've been planning this business succession plan seriously for three years now. It was really important to us to do it right and slowly if we needed to, to ensure a smooth transition without a loss of revenue, cash flow, projects or customer confidence.

Were there organizational problems that this fixed?

Bruner: Well, it certainly makes a company more efficient to bring all the organization, the finances and the administration for three divisions under one roof, to centralize those functions in one place.

How did the company decide who would step in as the new leaders?

Vislay: We hired consultants who assessed all of the company executives to determine who had the best leadership skills, who would be the best people to succeed company leadership and take it into the next 20-plus years. The consultants worked with Ken and Bill's input, and they ultimately chose us because of the proven performance of us individually and working together as a team, as well as the proven performance of our staffs.

Is that why Mike Dooley (Bill Dooley's son) left the company to form his own firm in Jacksonville?

Vislay: Actually, he was originally tapped to be part of this leadership succession as well. He wanted to go start his own company, and he's doing very well.

Why are the Sarasota, Fort Lauderdale and Nashville divisions separating from the Atlanta and Dallas divisions?

Bruner: They were already operating separately from the rest. Terry Dooley, Bill's brother, really owns and runs the Atlanta office, and the Dallas office is related to that. These three divisions are one cohesive company, and they really always have been.

How are the roles of the new chiefs divided?

Vislay: Mike (Bruner) will be handling all pre-construction aspects of the company - business development, estimating, bidding, that kind of thing. I will handle operations and safety - the actual construction aspects. Wendy will continue to serve as CFO, handling accounting, human resources, information systems and legal.

How can a company run efficiently with essentially three chiefs?

Mack: We are fortunate in that there are three of us, so there is always a tie-breaking vote. Plus, the three of us have very clear lines of responsibility. Ken and Bill will remain intimately involved with the company and we will rely on them as resources for decision-making. I've worked with Mike for nine years now; Mike and Joe and I have all worked together effectively for the past four years. We have a track record of proving that the three of us work well as a team.

How have your employees responded?

Vislay: Very energetically, and very positively. What they previously saw as a family-oriented company has transformed into a TIGHT family-oriented company. We all meet on the last Friday of every month to share everything that is going on both at the company and in our lives - that town meeting is now dominated more by the employees than by management.

In the last couple of years, there has been some questionable sentiment out there about Dooley & Mack, particularly related to the Van Wezel and the Sarasota County jail. Is this an effort to put that behind you?

Bruner: The purpose of this business succession plan was to ensure creation of a more efficient company that will endure into the future. Some may see the bad perceptions as potentially behind the company as the result of this, but that is not what this is about. That's not why we did this. This is not about lumping blame on Ken and Bill and pushing them out the door. They are still very much involved with the company, integral to continued company operations and decision-making. We still need them, and we will maintain the business philosophy and values they established for this company.

Vislay: And by the way, if you ask Ken Smith which project was landmark for Dooley & Mack, he will tell you it was the Van Wezel.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in making this transition?

Bruner: Exactly what we are talking about - making sure the public and our customers understand our purpose. It is too easy for people to assume the wrong thing. It's important to make sure everyone understands that we are planning for this company's future certainty and stability in a careful, well-planned way.

Why should the public care about these changes?

Vislay: Because they need to understand that our purpose is to make sure that a strong Sarasota company stays in Sarasota into the future. As a private company, if we don't plan for succession like this, the future of the company could be threatened in the event of incapacity or death of existing owners. This plan ensures that we will be around and continue to contribute to the area.

That's important because we employ 235 families out of the Florida company. We run $150 million through the banks of Sarasota each year. That generates a lot for the local economy. Every project we do, we pick 30 to 40 contractors to work on the job, almost all local contractors. We make a lot of civic contributions to this community as well, both as a company and through our individual employees. The community really needs Dooley & Mack to continue to be here, and that's what we're ensuring.

What kind of performance are you expecting from the new and improved Dooley & Mack in the next couple of years?

Bruner: We forecast continued growth over the next five years to be 10% to 15%. That's driven both by the markets in which we participate and the changes in our organizational structure.

Related Stories