Born in 1970, the same year as his company, Halfacre Construction, was founded, Jack Cox grew up with the business, surrounded by wise mentoring from his father, the late John Cox, and founder Bill Halfacre. Jack was 14 when his father acquired the company, and at 15 he started working summers, digging foundations and driving a dump truck. He was named president in 2000. Today, he is focused on ensuring that Halfacre succeeds in a difficult economy and that he continues the legacy of his father, who died suddenly two years ago of a heart attack. “I had seen several other successful companies fail in the transition to another family member or another buyer,” he says. “I didn’t want that to happen to Halfacre.”
What was your father’s philosophy? Be able to do business on a handshake. Always live up to your commitments. Remember that the hardest decision is the right decision. Give back to the community in which you work.
Describe Halfacre. We do commercial construction, from the concept through the design, permitting and construction. We have 25 employees in three locations: Sarasota, our headquarters; Punta Gorda and Tampa. Over 40 years, we have built a vast number of buildings. The biggest was 433,000 square feet for the window manufacturer PGT Industries, off I-75 and Laurel Road in Venice. More recently, we built a 160,000-square-foot facility for Gold Coast Eagle Distributing, the Lakewood Ranch facility owned by John Saputo. He is also my wife’s father.
How’s business? We have been able to hire back some of the people we laid off, and annual revenues are improving. Our top year was $42 million in 2007, followed by $35 million in 2008. We dropped to $18 million in 2009 but this year we will do $20 million and we expect $28 million in 2011. We had 30 employees at our peak but had to lay off 10 of them last year. We are now back up to 25.
Climate for commercial construction? It’s very difficult. The biggest challenge is all the available space in the region. Drive down Bee Ridge Road or Clark Road and look at the space for lease. Until that space is taken, there’s no reason to build new buildings. Another trend is that 80 percent of our work in 2006 was for private work and 20 percent for public. Today 80 percent of what we do is public and 20 percent private. Until private construction starts up again, commercial construction won’t improve.
Describe your leadership style. I run it like the military, with a chain of command. But I expect all our employees to act like entrepreneurs. Whether they are in accounting or some other part of the business, I expect them to be part of the sales team so that if they hear something somewhere that might be helpful to us, we know about it. We meet together weekly. I value their opinions, and we make big decisions as a group. A manager who comes in and pounds his fist on the desk won’t be successful.
Your strategy? Don’t wait for the phone to ring.
What would you do over? I would have been an accounting major. I attended Bowling Green State University in Ohio and graduated with a construction degree. My dad worked with me to learn accounting. He was a genius with numbers. You could fit his knowledge of construction on the head of a pin, but he was the right person to talk to when you wanted to put a deal together.