R.L. Baxter Building Corporation

R.L. Baxter picR.L. Baxter combines family values and strong growth strategies to thrive in New York’s Hudson Valley.

By Chris Kelsch

In retrospect, it probably wasn’t that much of a leap of faith for Robert Baxter to turn the reins of his company, R.L. Baxter Building Corp., over to his children in 2009.  His son, Eric, had grown up in the business, taking jobs at various worksites in the company his father started in 1985. Robert Baxter’s daughter Amanda, now the company’s president, had also worked various jobs within the company since she was in high school. Their combined experience plus R.L. Baxter’s solid reputation in and around New York’s Hudson Valley ensured a fairly seamless transition.

For Eric Baxter and his sister, managing that leadership transition was effortless. “While Amanda has focused more on the accounting and the human resources side, I focused on the operations and sales side, working on networking and bidding different projects,” he says. “The transition was manageable for us because our father already established a great reputation.”

Strong Growth

Though the leadership transition was smooth, no one could have predicted a massive growth spurt, which has seen revenues grow from just around $1 million in 2009 to an expected $30 million in 2017. Baxter attributes this growth to three factors. “The first is the reputation of my father has of treating this as a service industry,” Eric Baxter recalls. “In the end, it’s a tree branch, and we have to realize that if you do a job well it may branch out into five other jobs.” R.L. Baxter already had established its name in small residential work, property management and some development work, but has really started to thrive in general contracting, with its Mill House Brewing project in 2013 and the recently (2016) completed Scribner’s Catskill Lodge project, a 38-room ski resort which has opened doors in the lodging sector for the company. R.L. Baxter box

The second was the realization that if the company were to grow, it would have to rely on placing non-family members in key management positions. Baxter started hiring knowledgeable, experienced industry veterans to take over some key positions. “In 2014 we hired our first project manager who wasn’t part of the family,” Eric Baxter recalls. “Anthony Petruzzelli came aboard and brought a wealth of experience in coding policies and procedures and really helped with our bidding process.” Others were also brought on board in senior project management positions such as Bill Manfredi, who had actually retired but had a wealth of experience in upper management positions at his own construction companies. Cary Hart was also brought on board in 2015 to lead Baxter’s hospitality division, overseeing projects in that sector. Jerry Walker, Baxter’s General Supervisor, has also made a huge impact as head of all field operations, overseeing every project.

The third reason for the company’s growth is overall building growth in the Hudson Valley. Large healthcare providers such as Vassar Brothers and Northern Duchess Hospital, both affiliated with HealthQuest, have greatly expanded their roster of clinics within the area, allowing Baxter to gain traction within that sector.

In addition to those reasons, the Hudson Valley has experienced strong population growth in recent years, owing to an influx of residents anxious to move out of New York City. “We’re seeing a lot of people getting pushed out of New York City due to rising costs,” Eric Baxter explains. “We are starting to see a lot of growth in smaller suburban communities up and down the Hudson River. These people don’t want to live in a big city, but they do want the feel of a sizeable, thriving community.”

Such growth in the area and the company has led to it taking on its largest project to date: a $9 million, 46-unit apartment building in Beacon, N.Y. The foundation was poured in 2016 and the steel is in place. So far, the building process has gone well.

“I don’t want to say bigger projects are easier, but some projects at a larger scale are easier,” he says. “On larger projects, there is more time between sequencing, which gives you time to plan around challenges.” Again, because Baxter has made a strong effort in hiring strong talent, the project has gone well. “All of our guys come from larger companies where projects like this are common, so their experience has been invaluable.”

Staying Local

Though growth in the Hudson Valley has been strong, R.L. Baxter doesn’t necessarily envision branching too far out of the area. “We want to grow larger but we want to keep the local touch,” Eric Baxter says. “We realize the people who are giving you jobs are the ones who interact with us on a daily basis. We want to keep doing what we’re doing and if it takes us beyond this area, we’ll go there. We’re seeing success with our philosophies.”

Being so immersed in the community remains vitally important to the Baxters as well as their employees. “Mike Davis, project executive, is deeply involved in the Family Partnership Center, among others,” he adds.

As the company has grown, the challenge of keeping valuable employees is never far from Baxter’s mind. And while he realizes that some turnover is inevitable, he has strived to create a culture where workers feel valued. “We put a gym in our office building, and we want people to be happy to work for us, and to take ownership of their work,” he says. “We want to be a company that employees want to work for.”

Eric Baxter also realizes if he focuses on the process, good things will come. “If you’re doing the right things day in and day out, all the other things like money and rewards will come,” he says.

Doing the right things also includes taking care of stable and consistent subcontractors working in the area. “It goes back to our internal philosophies,” he adds. “We think they’re part of our team, and we like to fight for them and consider them part of the Baxter family.” That philosophy includes not squeezing every dime out of every project, and keeping customers happy with strong quality and serviceability.

As growth continues in the Hudson Valley, R.L. Baxter remains well positioned with an ideal mix of youthful energy and industry experience, plus a well-known name. “Hats off to my father for giving us the reins and trusting us,” Baxter notes. “It was his leap of faith.”

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