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ROBERT CLARK
president & CEO, Clayco

BUILDER OF BUILDINGS — AND A LEGACY

By Pam Droog

“Buildings are complicated. Each one has a story,” says Bob Clark, chairman and CEO of Clayco. Having constructed more than 500 of them in nearly two decades, Clark has an impressive collection of stories. However, his own personal history is the most interesting of all.

As a boy growing up in Bridgeton, Clark says he always was fascinated by buildings and construction. “When other kids were getting toys for their birthdays, I got books on design and architecture,” he recalls.

His father was in the painting business, so Clark had the chance to visit many construction sites. After high school he planned to go to architecture school, “but when I found out I was not going to be able to pay my bills as an architect, I went into business for myself,” he says.

He founded a successful equipment company, and then in 1984 started Clayco. “I wanted to be in the construction business in the worst way, even though I didn’t know that much about it,” Clark says. “As you can imagine, the first few years were difficult, trying to find our way. But we had some lucky breaks.”

One of those was doing interior finish and small construction projects for Sverdrup Corporation. Another was constructing banks on a design-build basis for Mercantile. “We developed the design/build model we use today,” Clark says. That model attracted the attention of Linclay Corporation, which hired Clayco to eventually construct more than 13 million square feet of new design/build construction.

Clayco went on to build the campus expansion at Mary Institute and Country Day School, the Busch Student Center at Saint Louis University, the Plaza in Clayton next to the Ritz-Carlton, several buildings in CityPlace in Creve Coeur and the wavy-roofed building at the Highlands on the former Arena site. “I didn’t like the building at first, but now I love it,” Clark says.

In 1989 Clark formed Clayco TiltUp, which has become the leading site-cast architectural concrete contracting company in the country. As the company grew, it opened offices in Chicago, Dallas and Detroit. Now most of Clayco’s business is out of town. “We have a proven method to develop and build a building anywhere in the United States,” he says.

As a result, Clayco currently has projects under construction in 25 cities across the United States and this year will deliver more than 16 million square feet of new construction. Since 1990, Clayco has completed more than 60 million square feet of design/build construction. The company employs about 500 people, including 35 at Forum Studio, a full-service architecture and interior design firm Clayco formed four years ago.

The self-described “early riser and late finisher” says he’s “very hands-on. I go see a project just about every day. Every project has one of the five key partners involved as a project executive,” Clark says. His philosophy is, “We’re in this for the long haul, so we try to have a five-year outlook on every decision we make. It’s a very strategic thinking company, and a young company, full of ambitious, bright people who want to prosper.”

Clark also works with bright, ambitious people on another front. Last year he took a partial sabbatical from Clayco to become acting executive director at Central Institute for the Deaf as the institution completes its merger with Washington University. Clark has been involved with CID as a board member and officer for several years; his wife, Ellen, attended the school as a child.

Clark also is active in numerous professional organizations and serves on the boards of the RCGA, Forest Park Forever, Saint Louis University, the Regional Business Council and LaBarge Inc. He’s also involved with the Young Presidents organization. Clark’s good works on behalf of the community recently earned him the America Jewish Council’s John D. Levy Humanitarian Award, the March of Dimes’ Lifetime Achievement Award (given to Clark, his father Harold and brother Mike) and the Princeton Alumni Association’s Community Service Award.

In fact, the entire family, including Clark’s four children, is community minded, he notes, having built several houses for Habitat for Humanity, along with Clayco employees. And they have fun, too, skiing at their vacation home in Aspen, “the closest place to Utopia,” Clark says. He also plays golf, poorly, he adds.

For now, Clark says Clayco “has done all the heavy growing we’re going to do,” more than 40 percent in nine out of the last 16 years, with $300 to $400 million revenue range. He plans to devote the next five years to developing “the Clayco brand.”

For him, Clark says he’d like to become more active in the community using Clayco as a vehicle. “We are very focused on minority opportunities. I personally believe that private companies must take the initiative to develop minority business and our minority labor force.” Clark is setting a valuable example of supporting minority entrepreneurship by working with the Legacy Building Group, headed by Todd Weaver, Clark’s foster son of 20 years.

The construction industry, he concludes, is “a tough business, but very rewarding. It has allowed me to become interwoven in the community and has afforded my family and me opportunities to do a lot of things we feel good about.”


Pam Droog is a frequent contributor to St. Louis Commerce Magazine.
 

 

 


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