Len Hester is a project manager for Grinder Haizlip Construction Co., a general contractor that specializes in industrial and commercial projects and has worked on high-profile projects such as the Wright Medical Technology Inc. headquarters in Arlington, New Ballet Ensemble, the Grizzlies Sportsplex and the renovation of Memphis Theological Seminary.
Hester grew up in the construction business, though on the residential side, working summers with his father’s company, Tupelo-based Danny Hester Home Improvements.
He left Tupelo for Mississippi State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in management of construction and land development, returning home to work for his father the year following graduation.
“I decided that I wanted to try something different, came up to Memphis, and Grinder Haizlip gave me the opportunity to work for them,” Hester said. “I started learning the ins and outs of the commercial side of things; instead of a hammer in hand, I’ve got a pencil in hand now.”
That was eight years ago and, though he said it was a challenge becoming acclimated to managing commercial construction projects, he’s risen to the task and looks at himself as “a business inside of a business.”
“I’m responsible for my own projects; I’m responsible for the well-being and success of my project and, in turn, I’m responsible for the profitability that the company wants me to have,” Hester said.
Those projects lean to the commercial side and have included renovation of the Cordova AAA Auto Care Center, Dobbs Nissan, Dobbs Honda and other car dealerships. He’s presently at work on a Porsche/Volkswagen and an Audi dealership for Gossett Motor Cars on Covington Pike.
Chris McDermott is vice president of Grinder Haizlip and has 13 years with the company under his belt. He’s thrilled with the manager Hester has become.
“We caught him right out of school, and I’ve taught him everything that I know,” McDermott said. “I always tell Len if you unzipped him, I’d come out in terms of the way he writes, the way he estimates, the way he manages. It’s been fun molding Len from what he knew from college to what he knows now.”
As project manager, Hester’s workday doesn’t consist solely of visiting construction sites to check on progress and budgeting; he also has to think about the next job and sell himself and the company to prospective clients. McDermott said that most companies break out such tasks, but at Grinder Haizlip, one must bring a “multi-set of tools.”
Selling at any time is a challenge and was specifically where the pinch was felt during the economic downturn as more companies vied for fewer jobs.
“Absolutely, selling yourself is the most challenging,” Hester said.
With “the economic issues like we’ve been faced with over the last few years, you’ve got to come smarter and more creative,” Hester said. “In an economic downturn there’s not much work out there, which means everybody’s looking at the same stuff, so you’re working twice as hard to keep the same amount of work.”
He credits company leaders and their foresight to diversify with enduring the crisis.
With an eye toward the future, he’s recently completed the exam to become a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Green Associate, gaining the credentials needed to be certified to manage construction of green buildings. Though he hasn’t worked on any yet, he’s “more aware of the effect construction has on the world.”
He worked with the family business in Tupelo, and he feels he’s found a family here in Grinder Haizlip. It’s also rewarding to be able to meet the needs of repeat customers and “the satisfaction that comes with the completion of a construction project, to take a step back upon completion and know that I was a part of making it happen.”
Hester and wife Christina are parents to 2-year-old Meredith, and he enjoys time away from work as an avid outdoorsman, fly fishing, duck and deer hunting. He’s also president of the American Kennel Club-affiliated Mid-South Hunting Retriever Club, an organization 50 members strong working to promote and train the retriever breed.
Hester was weaned on construction and is building his own career now on a foundation rooted in Grinder Haizlip’s simple yet focused mantra: “Do quality work on time and within the client’s budget.”