Contenders

These companies are battling with competitors to move up the ranks and, possibly, get a title shot

Hispanic agency to partner with or acquire that would give us an authentic platform with Hispanic consumers,” says CEO Kent Matlock.

In the sport of boxing, sometimes a good fighter has to take his lumps and learn from mistakes. In fact, a loss can produce a smarter and stronger competitor. Richard Copeland is hoping that’s the case for his company, Thor Construction Inc. His firm (No. 93 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $33.8 million in sales) suffered a 23% decline in sales as it shifted its focus from construction management, which consisted of heavyweight contracts but flyweight margins, to general contracting-a lower-volume business with much better returns. CEO Copeland, however, insists Thor’s in fighting shape. “This year we are going to be over $60 million,” he says. “We’re seven months in and we are over $35 million already.”

William G. Mays, CEO of Mays Chemical Co., is employing a similar strategy. While the company (No. 27 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $152 million in sales) posted a 4.4% decline in revenues on rising fuel costs, he says profitability actually increased due to a strategic decision to back away from low-margin business. For instance, he turned down a $15 million General Motors contract because the profit margin was only 3%. Mays also restructured pricing, adding a fuel surcharge to customers, and expanded joint ventures and international business from 5% to 10% of total business to lessen dependence on the lackluster automotive sector. “The strategies that we are using going forward will increase revenues,” says Mays.

No business is more exposed to the downturn in the automotive industry than its dealers. For Bowling Green, Kentucky-based Martin Automotive Group (No. 4 on the BE AUTO DEALER 100 list with $386 million in sales), the number of vehicles sold was down 5%. However, declining sales were offset by a 5% rise in revenues from service, parts, and body work. The company sold 15,631 vehicles; two-thirds were new models while the remaining one-third were used. All domestic manufacturers are represented within Martin’s mix of 15 auto dealerships. Lincoln-Mercury models did worst, while Saturn and Chevrolet did well. Kia, Martin’s only import, grew. “We’d certainly like to get some foreign brands in our organization in the near future,” says CEO Cornelius Martin.

Following the lead of an industry heavyweight is no small feat. Michael B. Russell, CEO of Atlanta-based H.J. Russell & Co. (No. 16 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $316.9 million in sales) realizes this fact better than most. Russell replaced his father, Herman J. Russell, an icon in the construction industry, as chief executive in October 2003. The company’s revenues remained relatively flat last year, increasing by 4.2%. “I think it has been important for us to show the continuity and growth of our organization as the founder stepped out of the spotlight,” explains Russell. “At the same time, part of my mission is to recognize that being a great organization starts with great people.” Russell made some key leadership appointments,

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