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Adroit leaders hand over the company reins

ASHLAND — The next generation has stepped onto the bridge, assuming responsibility for Adroit Construction's future.

A decade after putting a transition plan into motion, owners Bob Mayers and Steve Lawrence are turning over ownership to CEO Tom Walker and President Jason Stranberg.

"By design, we wanted it to seem seamless, for our clients, employees and subcontrators," Walker said. "It was important for us to maintain the culture of the company. We felt like a slow transition of responsibility and leadership would be more helpful for the company than sudden change."

Mayers and Lawrence won't exactly ride off into the sunset as they hand off the ownership over the next couple of years.

Mayers said he will work on business development for another two or three years, while mentoring a young project manager and two project engineers.

Lawence will effectively serve as a general superintendent, working with project superintendents.

"We'll kick back a little bit and quit working 70 hours a week," Mayers said. "We only work 50 now."

Ownership transition will be final sometime in 2019 or 2020.

Walker, 44, and Stranberg, 42, were Ashland High athletes, something Mayers said, along with their local background, reflected competitiveness that carried into the workplace.

"You know how to win and how to lose when you're an athlete," Mayers said. "You don't win every day, but the next day you have to get up and try for the next job."

With encouragement from Walker and Stranberg, Adroit has expanded its horizons and tripled its revenue.

A $45 million student housing project in Eugene, completed in 2015, was the biggest the company has done to date.

"Tom and Jason stretched the limits of what we thought was possible," Mayers said. "Jason managed that project for 18 months, and other than being a Beaver having to work in Eugene for 18 months, everything went great."

Walker went on to the Air Force Academy and Stranberg studied at Oregon State University. They reconnected in Corvallis, while working on construction engineering management degrees. Stranberg worked for Peter Kiewit Sons’ Vancouver, Wash., office before returning to Ashland in 2002. Walker was with Swank Construction, a road and bridge builder in Pittsburgh, prior to returning to the Rogue Valley in late 2003.

Both were ambitious 30-somethings when they signed a career-shaping deal in April 2007, on the eve of what became the Great Recession.

"I'd be lying if I said I knew the ins and outs and details of what we were getting into when we started the venture," Stranberg said. "But from the standpoint of expectations, we had a pretty good sense there would be a lot of hard work. We trusted in the relationship and the four of us stuck with it."

The Great Recession had gut-wrenching consequences for many, but Adroit's management picked its way through the turmoil.

"There are always changes in the economy for good and bad," Stranberg said. "But anything like that in life makes you stronger personally, and it does in business, too."

Walker is the son of former Talent Mayor Jim Walker, who owned Jim's Better Buys Used Cars and Trucks.

Working in his father's wrecking yard helped chart his future course.

"I always knew I liked construction and engineering — how things worked and building things — because at the end of the day, you're seeing something accomplished," Walker said. "I had hands-on experience in the wrecking yard, learning to weld, using a blow torch and learning to operate equipment."

Although he had found a niche in his desired field, when the opportunity to return to the Rogue Valley came along, he didn't hesitate.

"I wanted to be in ownership and run a business," Walker said. "I was determined to make it happen, I just didn't know when or where. I never expected it to happen back in Oregon, so it was a pleasant surprise how it all worked out."

He knew construction was cyclical in nature and expected things to slow down.

"But I don't think anyone saw (recession coming) as strong as it was," he said. "But Bob and Steve, to their credit, had created a strong company that was able to weather a three- or four-year downturn and come out the other side."

 — Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.