When Don Fletcher graduated from The University of Memphis in 1997 with a degree in civil engineering, he never imagined he would one day be working in construction. Now, some 20 years later, Fletcher serves as the director of quality control at Lehman-Roberts Co., a leading Mid-South construction firm.
How Fletcher came to work at Lehman-Roberts, he says, was a situation of being at the right place at the right time and with the right people. Fletcher found himself out of work in 2008 during the economic downturn of what would later be known as the Great Recession. He then worked on and off at consulting jobs for three years until a chance encounter at a Memphis Grizzlies basketball game led to an unexpected career change.
“A guy I went to college with called me and asked me to go to the Grizzlies game,” Fletcher said. “I always say it was divine intervention because he didn’t even know I was out of work at the time.”
The friend was John Paul Finerson, a higherup at Lehman-Roberts who now serves as vice-president of production and manufacturing. When Finerson learned of Fletcher’s situation, he was able to offer Fletcher a job overseeing a $43 million project to rebuild a section of U.S. Route 78. This section runs from Memphis to Holly Springs, Mississippi, and the job was the largest project Lehman-Roberts had ever undertaken at the time.
Over the years, Lehman-Roberts and its sister company Memphis Stone & Gravel Co. have completed extensive construction projects in the greater Memphis community. These types of projects, Fletcher said, involve working for the community as much as working within the community.
“Our materials are in every slab of concrete that’s poured in the city,” Fletcher said. “We have probably paved every road in this city at least once. We feel that we are a big piece of this community because we help provide roads so everyone can get to work or wherever they need to go safely. Our motto is to help communities where we live and work to thrive, and we really believe that.”
While Fletcher enjoys playing an integral role in the maintenance of the community’s infrastructure, he acknowledges that it is not often a celebrated job.
“We do thankless jobs,” he said. “Everybody hates the inconvenience [of road construction]. We get treated horribly. People see the yellow vests and know they may get slowed down. We are a big part of the community whether people realize it or not. If you don’t have a road that’s passable, we get blamed for that.”
Celebrated or not, this is the work Fletcher wants to do. “We try not to impact people. We do a lot of work late at night, and we try to make as little impact as possible because all we really want to do is improve people’s circumstances.”
Even though working in construction was not Fletcher’s original career plan, he is thankful that circumstances led him to leadership with Lehman-Roberts. Likewise, Fletcher hopes that young professionals new to the workforce or students preparing for graduation would consider construction and its capacity to evolve in the coming years.
“Construction is years behind in the technology curve,” Fletcher said. “So, what that means is there is so much room for us to catch up, to begin using better technology.” He said incorporating certain technologies, such as GPS technology, into the type of work done by construction companies is only now starting to become widely used.
“People who are getting technology related degrees, or even computer science, should not rule out working in construction just simply because they do not think it is a tech savvy area,” Fletcher said. “I see potential for this to be a real money-making area because it’s not in our work right now. It could be billions of dollars added to the construction industry using technology and automation in our industry.”