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Venice construction company founder to sell firm to 3 employees

Owner Jeff Charlotte has partnered with three of his employees to take over his construction business.

The owners of J.E. Charlotte Construction include David Haggerty, Jeff Charlotte, Michael Butler and Oliver Huff.
The owners of J.E. Charlotte Construction include David Haggerty, Jeff Charlotte, Michael Butler and Oliver Huff.
Photo by Lori Sax
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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When a 22-year-old interviewed at a Venice construction company seven years ago, he was offered more than a job on the team. The owner of J.E. Charlotte Construction told him he was looking for a successor, too. 

Founder Jeff Charlotte has been “planting the seed” for years, says Oliver Huff, who is now 29. He is now one of three employees at the company in the process of buying it.

Charlotte, who founded J.E. Charlotte in 2007, says he plans to transition out of the business by 2026.

“I really want to spend time with my grandson,” Charlotte says of the 9-month-old born to his daughter, Sabrina, a teacher at Lakeview Elementary School in Sarasota.

“I want to enjoy life,” says Charlotte, 63. “Whatever time I have left, I want to make it less stressful than running a construction company.”

Charlotte and his wife have three daughters, but their passions lie outside the construction industry, he says. So he looked beyond his family for a successor.

In a recent interview at the company's Venice office with the trio of new owners, Charlotte detailed the transition — and his strategy to get there. While there is an entire industry dedicated to helping business owners work out succession plans and exit strategies way in advance, Charlotte didn't need much coaxing to get on with succession. He was thinking about it for years — what he needed was the right people.

“Finally there was a group of guys that wanted [to explore] the entrepreneurial side of the business instead of just being an employee,” Charlotte says. “There’s a big difference there. There’s guys that want to make a salary and there’s guys that want to be an owner. These three guys showed that interest.”

The three new owners of the company are Michael Butler, David Haggerty and Huff. Each has the title of vice president. 

“I’ve always wanted to be a business owner,” Haggerty says. “I’m probably our self-appointed dreamer. I see a ton of potential in this region and in this company, and I firmly believe we will have a significant impact on the landscape.”

Charlotte started planning in 2022 for the three-year buy-sell takeover, which took about a year to put together and looks like this:

  • In January 2023, Charlotte retained 85% of the business, while Butler, Haggerty and Huff each owned 5%.
  • At the start of 2024, Charlotte owned 70% of the company, and each of the trio owned 10%.
  • In 2025, Charlotte will own 55% and the three will each own 15% of the company. “They’re going to take a couple months to finish the financials for 2025 and then they’re going to get a loan,” Charlotte says.
  • By the first quarter of 2026, Charlotte says he plans to be out of owning the company.

“I just felt overall like the three of them could grow the company a lot better than one guy. I think they’ll have a better chance at meeting the demands of our area and scaling the company,” Charlotte says.

J.E. Charlotte Construction focuses on commercial construction management. Some past clients include Venice window and door maker PGT Innovations, for which the company built the connection between two buildings; Bayside Pet Resorts, described by Charlotte as “monoliths” and the “Ritz Carlton for dogs” and cats; the Humane Society of Sarasota County; and Centerstone Behavioral Hospital.

Charlotte says it was important to him to select partners already embedded in the company for its future.

“I really felt strongly about working with people that were a part of the culture," Charlotte says. "When you do succession planning and the culture changes, that’s usually when it fails.”

Revenue spike

The company has 12 employees and posted nearly $25 million in revenue for 2023, up from just over $12 million in revenue in 2022, Charlotte says. J.E. Charlotte Construction expects to do close to $20 million in revenue this year.

The spike in 2023 may have been “somewhat of a one-off year” because of inflation post COVID-19 – “a lot of our products went up 35 to 40%, if not 50%,” in cost, Charlotte says. Now, “inflation in construction materials has leveled off.”

For years, the company has been on an upward trajectory. When the Business Observer spoke with Charlotte in 2015, the firm had $8.8 million in revenue for 2014, up 86% from the previous year. “We’re in a whole different revenue structure than we were in eight years ago,” Charlotte says, noting in 2016 the company was still coming out of the economic downturn.

Future plans

One of the three new co-owners is already looking toward the future and sees plenty of opportunities on the horizon.

“I think where we will see growth is where we kind of clarify our lines of business,” Haggerty says. “We have a really strong resume in light manufacturing, and there’s quite a bit of that on the Gulf Coast. Figuring out who those folks are and letting them know who we are and what we’re capable of, I think, is the key.”

"Medical light" facilities — such as mental health, medical office buildings and veterinary establishments — are also areas where Haggerty says J.E. Charlotte Construction shines. “We would love to get into the surgery suite business,” he adds.

David Haggerty, Oliver Huff and Michael Butler are vice presidents and co-owners of J.E. Charlotte Construction.
Photo by Lori Sax

Identifying potential clients will be a new arena for the co-owners.

“Getting the jobs in the door is the part we just don’t have the most experience with,” Huff says. “Once the job’s in the door, we have a proven track record.”

For Charlotte, well known in the community inside and outside of construction, sometimes work opportunities appeared through networking and nonprofit work. For example, a job creating new buildings at Island Village Montessori School in Venice “came as the result of volunteering [for] something totally unrelated to what it is we do,” Charlotte says. He was helping organize a tribute event in Sarasota for a community member who died from cancer when the CFO of Island Village Montessori School asked if he would look at some master planning for the school.

“I’m out there doing something else, and somebody notices we’re a general contracting firm,” Charlotte says. “That happens more often than not when you’re volunteering. You get opportunities that you never would have thought.”

Nonprofit work is important to the new partners as well.

Butler says Charlotte has “been really good at instilling that in us,” stating he is on the board of the Loveland Center, Haggerty works with My Warriors Place, and Huff is getting involved with the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange.

If business opportunities arise from his network while he is in retirement, Charlotte plans to steer them to his new partners. “The calls, if they come to me and I’m not here, I’m going to direct to these guys,” Charlotte says. “I hope they tear the cover off the ball.”

Staying involved

While Charlotte plans to retire from the day-to-day stress of owning a construction company, he says: “I would like to maybe work out an arrangement” to stay involved in some way. “But I’m not going to run the day-to-day operation or be paid a salary to do that.”

Says Charlotte: “We’ll work something out. I want this company to succeed. Obviously, it has my name attached to it.

Jeff Charlotte founded J.E. Charlotte Construction in 2007.
Photo by Lori Sax

Charlotte says he may go into real estate development or own and rehab real estate, using J.E. Charlotte Construction to help him. But “I have no desire to open up another construction company,” he says.

Butler, who is the youngest of the three new owners, at 27, says taking over the company is “exciting.” Says Butler: “You’ve got to take some shots, I think, and the best time to fail is when you’re young. It’s a great opportunity not a lot of people get.”

Charlotte agrees that being young is the optimal time to make changes.

If he could have a do-over, Charlotte says, “I would’ve started earlier,” in coming up with a succession plan. “It’s just much easier to scale the company when you have multiple partners. I just never found the partners."



Elizabeth King

Elizabeth is a business news reporter with the Business Observer, covering primarily Sarasota-Bradenton, in addition to other parts of the region. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, she previously covered hyperlocal news in Maryland for Patch for 12 years. Now she lives in Sarasota County.

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