Page Inman had no intention of joining the family construction business, but 20 years and a couple $40 million construction jobs later, he has no regrets.
Cyclical economic changes and the need for competitive diversification are par for the course in an industry that depends on the availability of capital to survive.
“When I joined the company it was pretty slow and it got slow again around 2003 and then again about three years ago,” said Inman, executive vice president of Inman-EMJ Construction.
“Economic factors are beyond my specialty, but there’s been a lot less demand for commercial construction. It’s very cyclical. It ebbs and flows with things like lending practices and state tax collection that keeps the coffers filled for big projects.”
Inman-EMJ Construction is the result of the 2010 acquisition of Memphis-based Inman Construction by EMJ Corp., a general contractor/construction management company with several subsidiaries across the country. EMJ is headquartered in Chattanooga.
Inman Construction was started by Inman’s father Frank and his uncle George in 1970. The business has always focused on commercial construction, namely hospitals, medical office, assisted living and nursing homes.
Secondarily, the company has built a number of buildings for higher education including the 170,000-square-foot University Center at the University of Memphis and the new College of Pharmacy at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
“Those were both in the upper $40 millions and those were the biggest single jobs we’ve done,” Inman said.
Other noteworthy projects in the firm’s portfolio include AutoZone Park and the Downtown Memphis AutoZone Inc. headquarters, both of which were 50/50 joint projects with the contractor Skanska.
Inman, a Memphis native, went to Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., and then became a pharmaceutical rep in northern Louisiana before joining the company.
In 1991, George Inman retired early to move back to Texas, which prompted a family meeting.
“I came home for Thanksgiving and my father said George was going to take early retirement,” said Inman. “George was the business development guy for the company.”
Frank Inman asked his three sons if any of them were interested in joining the business, but none were at the time. Before the end of the weekend, though, Page decided to give it a try.
“(My father) had never really encouraged us to get into it, because it’s a rough business,” Inman said. “But after doing something totally different, (construction) interested me. I got into it and have been doing it for the last 21 years.”
Frank Inman remained with the company long enough to help negotiate the acquisition by EMJ but is now retired.
Inman said that he and senior vice president Greg Everett still control day-to-day operations of the company, though their projects are much more diverse thanks to affiliating with EMJ.
EMJ was formed about the same time as Inman Construction but grew much faster, opening offices in Boston, Dallas and Sacramento, Calif., in addition to Chattanooga and Memphis. Among its subsidiaries is Signal Energy, which built the West Tennessee Solar Farm on Interstate 40.
“(EMJ) contacted us about five years ago,” Inman said. “We do a lot of health care and they primarily did retail construction – large malls and shopping centers – and were interested in health care. We, conversely, had no connections to the retail world. It seemed like we could open doors for each other.”
And so they have. Recently Inman completed construction of a FedEx facility in San Francisco. Before the acquisition, the company did not work outside of a 250-mile radius of Memphis.
Inman Construction’s revenue ranged from $35 million to $85 million before being bought out; EMJ’s revenues are between $400 million and $800 million. The company employs about 230.
Inman said that currently commercial construction is in a slump, though he has seen it improve incrementally in the last three years. He’s hopeful that that trend will continue as residential construction continues its uptick, something that gives Inman optimism.
“We’re still a local firm with local ties and relationships, but we have access to the national resources of EMJ,” said Inman. “Now that residential construction is picking up, common wisdom is that commercial’s going to follow behind it.”