If you live in Memphis, you’ve used Rick Moore’s work.
You probably haven’t heard of him or his company, but in his 46 years with Lehman-Roberts Co., Moore has facilitated the construction and rehabilitation of countless roads in the Memphis region. His company employs 350 people and is a stalwart of Memphis’ Soulsville community.
Moore has helped lead the 75-year-old paving company since 1997, but that all changes in April when the 71-year-old steps aside.
The question is: “How will Lehman-Roberts adapt as its longtime leader steps aside?” The answer could have wide-reaching impacts for the numerous people Lehman-Roberts touches in the Memphis community.
Moore’s decision to retire wasn’t made recently — not even close. A believer that companies work best when they’re owned and managed by the same people, Moore started transferring the company’s ownership to the younger generation of the company’s leadership six years ago.
It wasn’t long after then that Moore transitioned into a role as chairman of the board, allowing his son-in-law, Pat Nelson, to ascend to the presidency. But, even with the change in title, Nelson said he has leaned on Moore heavily over the last five years.
“On the managerial side, one of the biggest gifts [Moore] ever gave me was he knew how to relinquish the reins enough for me to get into a little bit of trouble and then he would nudge us back into the middle of the road,” Nelson said. “I’ve already made him promise [that after he retires] I can still ask the ‘What would you do?’ questions.”
Nelson is part of the fourth generation of family leadership of the company, a rarity in the construction business where most family-owned companies are sold after the founder dies, Moore said.
Moving forward, Nelson said he expects the company to, along with acquiring companies in its same field, start branching into other industries, especially ones that are profitable during winter.
“The winter time sucks. So you’re always looking for ways to smooth out your cash flow,” Nelson said.
Nelson’s generation has also focused on making the company more empirically driven, Moore said, which is something they will continue to do after Moore steps away.
“They recently overhauled the IT system. … That allowed us to get … measurement and accountability. Folks now know that they’ve been given the tools and are responsible for how they use them,” Moore said.
Maintaining the legacy
Even with the changes Nelson and his peers are making, Nelson made it clear a major goal of his is simply maintaining the legacy Moore has left behind — primarily the company’s culture.
Nelson and Moore described the company’s culture in familial terms, and said the quality of the culture has been proven in the tenures of its employees. For instance, the company has given out three 50-year service awards, all of which went to people who worked on outside road service crews.
“That mantra of family values that Rick and his wife left on this organization is a great gift and responsibility,” Nelson said.
Moore, though, isn’t worried about how Nelson will do upholding what he built.
“[The younger generation] are doing a fabulous job. … They are doing it better than it’s ever been done,” Moore said said.
Lehman-Roberts Co. is currently working on multiple prominent highway projects in the Mid-South, some of which are listed below.
- About 16 miles of I-269, primarily in DeSoto County
- About 7 miles of I-55, from the I-240 interchange to President’s Island
- About 8 miles of I-40, from its I-240 interchange to Davies Plantation Road (joint venture)
This article originally appeared in the Memphis Business Journal and was written by Jacob Steimer.