Derrick Wallace has built everything from schools to the Hulk and Spider-Man rides at Universal Orlando Resort.
However, the chairman of Orlando-based contractor Construct Two Construction Managers Inc. says he owes his success to a big firm, Centex Construction (now Balfour Beatty) taking a chance on his little company. Centex not only brought Wallace into a Walt Disney World hotel project, but also taught him how to structure and build his company.
“It wasn’t about a few dollars,” Wallace said. “It was about how you really run a construction company.”
Wallace said the lessons learned on that project proved invaluable and catapulted his company to landing bigger projects. In fact, with $8.67 million in Central Florida revenue, his 31-year-old firm now is ranked No. 8 on Orlando Business Journal‘s list of the region’s largest minority-owned businesses.
Meanwhile, in order for the construction industry to become more inclusive, he said it needs to continue to help black-owned business like his beyond just providing job opportunities.
Here, Wallace spoke with OBJ about how to make the construction industry more inclusive, his advice for others and more:
What does the construction industry need to do to help more black-owned businesses succeed? It takes an owner willing to give work to contractors who are willing to work with small minority-owned firms. That’s how my business grew. I built my firm around Centex Construction through the Disney project. It was like a steroid shot.
Why is inclusivity even more important now? After what happened last year, everyone’s trying to solve this issue of inclusivity, and they’re throwing a lot of money around. But for small construction firms, many of them can’t go from building a house to a $1 billion project. You have to have programs that provide good support systems.
What’s the business climate like now for black-owned firms versus when you started in the 1980s? It’s similar. When I got into construction, everyone was being conscious about having minorities on their teams. Now, after [the May 2020 killing of] George Floyd, it’s brought more attention from corporate America to help minority firms. I would say from the 1990s until the late 2010s, they stopped caring. Right now is the time to take advantage of corporate America’s willingness to solve this issue.
What do you like about the construction industry? The relationships. Everything I’ve done has been based on relationships. To be called by Centex to participate in that first project — when I had $300,000 revenue — was a game-changer. I like the challenge of getting projects done, too, in terms of winning a project.
What’s your advice to black-owned businesses starting up now? Make sure you have a solid foundation. Lot of firms know how to lay a block, but sometimes they don’t have financial statements. They can’t track costs or schedules. That’s where the support groups come in. Most new construction businesses think they just need a truck and a job to lay a block. But if you’re not running your organization administrative-wise, you’re subject to fail.
Chairman of Construct Two Construction Managers Inc.
- Education: Florida A&M University
- Hometown: Orlando
- Favorite project: $50 million renovation of Jones High School in Orlando
- First paid job: Picking oranges locally for $15 a day on Saturdays and Sundays
- Hobby: Traveling
- Favorite genre for TV/movies: Westerns
- Contact: Derrick Wallace Derrick@constructtwo.com