Born to Build

Entrepreneur Sundra Ryce’s gutsy leadership has cemented SLR Contracting’s reputation as a player in the construction industry

While Ryce says her entrepreneurial experience has been positive, it’s not to say that she hasn’t made a number of missteps along the way. Ryce admits that while investing in the business she did not use her money wisely. “Early on I worked with a consultant company.

They came into the business, looked at it, assessed everything that was wrong, and wrote procedures to advance the company,” she says. “In retrospect, it was not beneficial at the time; I should have invested the dollars [about $40,000] back into the business. I believe in working with consultants, but I also believe the timing has to be right.” Despite that, the company has achieved significant growth—when be profiled SLR in 2003, revenues totaled $1.8 million.

Growth During Lean Times
As is the case in most industries, the business climate for construction companies has been brutal to say the least. For example, total revenues for Engineering News-Record’s annual top 400 Contractors list fell 23.3% in 2010 from 2008’s record high of $338.38 billion. Only three contractors among the list’s 30 largest firms enjoyed increased revenues in 2010.

But unlike many in the construction industry, SLR continued to grow through the recession, as government agencies—which make up 50% of its revenues—kept spending through the downturn. However, that doesn’t mean the company remained unscathed.

Parts of SLR’s supply chain—contractors and other vendors—were not so fortunate. Ryce recalls one of its subcontractors, a masonry company, going out of business in the middle of a project for the Navy, leaving SLR high and dry. Fortunately, the subcontractor was only paid for completed work. “At the end of the day when customers hire our company, we are responsible, so we put another contractor on the project to complete the work.” SLR was able to bring in a new team and complete the project on time and within budget. “It was not a loss financially for us, which was great.”

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