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Continuing legacy Fort Worth construction firm builds on family foundation

🕐 7 min read

R.D. Howard LLC

3863 South Freeway

Suite 102

Fort Worth 76110

817-921-1401

www.thinkhoward.com

It all started 70 years ago with a small set of concrete steps that cost $40.

Leroy Howard, a foreman in the construction industry before World War II came along, returned home to Fort Worth in 1946 after serving in the United States Army. He got a job back with his former employer but when an elderly woman hired him to pour a set of concrete steps for her, Howard saw an opportunity to launch his own concrete business.

Over the next almost four decades, the late concrete contractor grew his company to serve residential and smaller commercial customers across the Fort Worth area.

Today, known as R.D. Howard LLC – the full-service construction provider has operated under several different names as the company has expanded its services – the firm does commercial contracting, construction management and project management in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. With 30 to 40 employees, many of them longtime workers, the company generates annual sales of between $7.5 million and $10 million. The firm’s list of corporate clients reads like a who’s who: Lockheed Martin, Bell Helicopter, Fort Worth Independent School District, Tarrant County College District, the cities of Fort Worth and Dallas, American Airlines, General Motors-Arlington, BNSF Railway, Acme Brick, Wal-Mart, Texas Department of Transportation.

What are the reasons for the company’s lasting success?

“A good foundation from my dad and my mother. Being blessed with some good employees – and long-term employees. The close friends and vendors who believed in us over the years. To have people with that kind of faith in you keeps you going,” said Randle Howard, the 56-year-old president and chief.

His father began the business, but he credits his mother, Mary Lois Howard, with playing “a major part of our success and survival.”

Randle and his brother, Rickey L. Howard, grew up working for their dad summers and weekends. Rickey, a career aircraft engineer, now runs the company’s separate roofing division.

“Our friends would be out playing and riding bicycles and we’d be pushing wheelbarrows,” Randle said. “We got way more exercise than we wanted. We got several shades darker with tans.”

Randle Howard took over the company from his father in 1983. He had graduated from Texas State University with degrees in business management and business marketing. He then worked two years as a sales representative for Motorola before deciding to join the family enterprise.

“My dad worked very hard to make sure my brother and I got an education,” he said. “He really made a tremendous sacrifice to make sure we had an opportunity to get an education. That gave us the option of going into business, carrying on the business and taking it to a different level, or doing something else if we chose not to do that.”

The younger Howard often watched his father seal deals with a simple handshake. He was, his son says, an example of working hard and being honest.

“Your word has to mean something. You don’t cheat people, you don’t beat people. You be fair and treat people like you would want to be treated. All of those things have carried over into our business and personal lives. Those are the principles we live by,” he said.

Howard will never forget his first day on the job.

“At Motorola, I had a company car, wore a suit and tie every day, took company trips. My friends all thought I was doing good. First day on the job, we were over here on Mississippi [Avenue], off of East Berry Street. There I was on the side of the road with a shovel. I thought, ‘Man, I sure hope my friends don’t see me,’” he said, with a laugh.

“There wasn’t any office job, not any expense account. I decided that first day I’m going to build this business to where I don’t have to do this work unless I want to do it. We’ve been blessed to grow the business. We don’t do the physical part of it anymore,” he said.

Howard often talks to local school children on Career Day and shares with them another reason he joined the family-owned construction business.

“There have been six businesses in my family,” he tells them. “I’ll ask the kids if they’ve ever ridden in a Ford car or eaten Campbell’s Soup or a Snickers bar. If you turn over the back of a Snickers bar it says Mars Inc. Mars was a family name. Campbell was somebody’s name. Ford was a name before we knew it as a car. Those are sixth, seventh, eighth generation businesses that have grown bigger and bigger.

“There were six businesses in my family and they never made it to the second generation,” he said. “I wished that my dad had carried on the candy business that his dad had had – Howard’s Candy Kitchen. Even though I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of carrying on a construction business – it wasn’t quite as glamorous as a candy business – I decided to take this business and build it up. Me, personally, I’ll take candy any day of the week.”

Building for the future

When Randle Howard began running the firm 33 years ago, he shifted the focus of the business from residential to commercial contracting. The company is now focused on construction management and project management, often in joint venture projects with other companies.

In 2012, R.D. Howard partnered with Austin Commercial, E.J. Smith Construction and ROC Construction in the $130 million contract to tear down and rebuild the Terminal A Parking Garage at DFW Airport. In 2013, R.D. Howard became a partner in Turner/Omega/Howard Joint Venture, serving as construction manager overseeing most of the $1 billion to $3 billion projected to be spent over the next 8 to 10 years at DFW Airport.

“We fill a niche and whenever we’re asked to be a partner with somebody we want to be sure we earn every dime they pay us,” Howard said. “It’s very important that we earn our way and that we carry our part of the load.”

In May, DFW Airport honored R.D. Howard with a Champion of Diversity award. The airport reported that $1.2 billion is contributed to the North Texas economy by engaging disadvantaged, small, minority- and women-owned businesses, according to a study conducted by The Perryman Group. Each year since 2012, the airport has awarded more than 35 percent of its business contracts to D/S/M/WBE firms.

R.D. Howard has embraced diversity almost from its inception. The company was one of the first firms to hire women in the construction industry and it also gives ex-offenders a chance to work.

“Randle has a passion for helping other minority business owners like me succeed by learning from his mistakes as well as his successes,” said Tracy Green, president of metal fabricator TinMan Enterprises LLC, located on Fort Worth’s East Side.

Howard says the company has evolved since that $40 set of steps.

“We’ve grown up,” he said. “We’ve had some very tough times, especially during the recession when the economy was so flat and we weren’t making any money. There were times when I’ve wanted to quit. I look back at the people who had faith in me and who invested in me, who believed in me. That really motivates me. To show enough trust and confidence in me, I want to be able to be successful to pay them back and pass on to the next generation.”

The company’s potential third generation includes Randle’s son, Randito, 13, and daughter, Camila, 8. Isolina, Howard’s wife of 15 years, is not involved in the family business but is an administrator in the Arlington Independent School District. She’s an attorney in her native Colombia.

“I’m encouraging my kids to at least think about it,” Howard said. “I’m not going to put any pressure on them but I’d like for the business to grow to where it offers them an option. If they want to they can continue it. I want it to survive and prosper and be something that would be attractive for them to at least consider.

“My dad also passed on to us a good name. That’s so important and I strive very hard to protect that legacy because I know how long and hard my dad – and also my grandparents – worked to give us a good name. We defend that. It’s a good name to pass on to my children.”

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