John A. Caddell is remembered as a leader in the construction industry with a passion for the work with the vision, courage and know-how to take on landmark, risky projects from which competitors shied away. Founder of Montgomery, Ala.-based Caddell Construction, he died March 27 at age 93.
Caddell’s connection with construction dates to his childhood, when he worked for his father in the family's floor-refinishing business, according to a statement from the company.
He started the current company in 1983, with his wife Joyce, in their home in Montgomery, after being asked to retire from contractor Blount Brothers, where he went to work directly after graduating from Georgia Tech in 1952. Mentored by firm founder Winton M. "Red" Blount, Caddell was named its president and CEO in 1969, leading the company through its greatest period of growth and profitability, from $67 million to more than $600 million in annual revenue, according to Caddell Construction.
Caddell CEO Eddie Stewart says that when he came to work for “Mr. C” in 1978 at Blount Brothers, the man was already a legend. “Mr. C was my mentor from the very beginning,” he says. “He had an incredible construction mind, and the ability to take the most complex situations and break them down into simple terms.”
“I give him credit for really having built Blount to be what Blount was,” says Stewart. “Then at 53 years old, he turned around and started all over again, and built Caddell into a multi-billion-dollar company.”
A 1979 ENR cover story details Caddell’s key role in securing almost half of the work in a $3.4-billion contract for the University of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, part of a year of aggressive bidding that saw Blount’s operating divisions and subsidiaries bid 81 jobs worth about $3.1 billion.
Caddell told ENR that hiring sharp people takes the construction business out of the realm of gambling. He said, “If you know the business and you’ve got people that know the business, it’s not a roll of the dice.”
Stewart came to work at Blount while the company was bidding the University of Riyadh project, which was awarded to Blount as part of a joint venture in 1980. He says Caddell was an avid bidder, a businessman whose ability to break down complex problems allowed him to bid on risky projects others would not take on, including a $400-million contract for the U.S. State Dept. in Kabul, Afghanistan, several years ago. The project eventually grew to a total value of over $800 million.
“Mr. C looked at the situation and said, ‘I think we’ll be OK,’” Stewart says, even though challenges came up during the project, such as a closed border with Pakistan that required the company to move construction materials into the Afghanistan through its border with Turkey instead.
“That’s the kind of challenge Mr. C took on readily when others would say it’s too risky,” he adds.
Overseas work made the well-traveled Caddell light up, and completing that contract and getting company employees out of Afghanistan before the Taliban took control is one of the company’s big accomplishments, according to Stewart.
“John Caddell had that penchant for risky jobs overseas,” he says. “More risk, more reward. He wasn’t afraid of anything.”
Another tricky project, in the 1980s, was for the U.S. Navy, when Caddell oversaw construction of submarine enclosures in Norfolk, Va. that prevented satellites from taking photographs of the subs while in dry dock.
Caddell found a solution: construct them in modules, ship them to the location via barge and assemble them over the submarines.
“Everybody kind of walked away from it and said, ‘I don’t know how you do this,’” Stewart says. “Early on [Caddell] saw there was nothing to it … He just had that knack for being able to break down complicated, complex projects.”
Stewart says Caddell had an incredible construction mind and a passion for estimating, the lifeblood of any construction company, and was a very hands-on manager who loved bid day and was all about bidding work and getting work.
“That’s really John Caddell in a nutshell: brilliant construction mind, love for business, he knew and loved everybody and was respected by his peers,” Stewart says.
Caddell Construction, which ranks at No. 107 on ENR’s latest Top 400 Contractors list, absorbed the remaining construction operations from Blount in 1994 and now has a broad portfolio of projects across multiple sectors. The company has since opened three offices in Georgia, Arkansas and Florida. The company now does about $1 billion in work annually, says Mac Caddell, president and COO, and Caddell’s grandson.
“In high school … all I ever heard was how great of a guy he was and how smart of a businessman he was,” says Cadell. “As a grandfather, I was in awe of him, but I did not personally experience the business side until I was out of college.”
The company expanded from its historical roots of federal contracts in 2017, and completed a transition from family-owned Caddell Construction Inc. to employee-owned Caddell Construction LLC in 2018. The contractor has more than $16 billion in projects across the U.S. and in 36 nations.
Caddell and his wife Joyce, who died in 2017, were active in numerous civic and charitable organizations, including establishing scholarships at multiple universities, as well as the John and Joyce Sculpture Garden at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and the John and Joyce Caddell Building at Georgia Tech.
“He was small in stature, but I tell you when he spoke, people listened,” Stewart says. “He carried a lot of weight.”
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