Darren Woody

In 1969, the year of Woodstock and President Richard Nixon’s inauguration, C.F. “Paco” Jordan founded a construction company in El Paso.

Today, CF Jordan Construction is one of the largest construction companies in Texas, building high rises, stadiums and highways.

But last week Jordan closed a deal, part of a succession plan, that brings together two of El Paso’s top businessmen and has the potential to make the company a major national player, observers say.

Jordan, 76, has partnered with El Paso oil tycoon and philanthropist Paul Foster to form a new company, called Jordan Foster Construction.

Jordan Foster Construction has adopted all of the old company’s operations and its new projects.

As for CF Jordan Construction, it is finishing the work it has under way right now, including El Paso’s Triple-A ballpark and the University of Texas at El Paso’s campus transformation makeover.

“As I began making investments in the Mills Plaza District in Downtown El Paso and then the Fountains at Farah lifestyle shopping center, I gained a great respect for the construction industry and became interested in that part of the building business,” said Paul Foster, who founded Western Refining, in a statement.

In charge of it all is CF Jordan Construction’s long-time CEO Darren Woody, who is now president and CEO of the new company, Jordan Foster Construction. Woody is also a partner in the new company.

Essentially, everything remains the same for the employees of the old CF Jordan Construction, Woody says, except for the company’s name, and its new high-powered partner.

Woody, 53, was born in El Paso and attended Coronado High School but traveled a lot growing up as his father was in the Army.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Texas at Austin and a law degree from Texas Tech University in 1985.

In El Paso, he was a partner in Krafsur, Gordon, Mott & Woody, a law firm specializing in real estate law and business acquisitions, and joined CF Jordan Construction in 2000.

He is also on the board of Helen of Troy, one of three publicly traded companies in El Paso, and a managing member of Equity Realty Investors, a private investment fund that invests in multifamily and senior housing and retail, primarily in Texas.

Woody sat down with El Paso Inc. to discuss the big deal, the construction business and the latest on the ballpark.

Q: What does this deal mean for the company?

Paco (Jordan) and I have been talking for some time. Paco’s 76 years old and we had a succession plan but it wasn’t a great one. So we’ve been trying to figure out what to do to ensure, for our employees, that if Paco decides at some point in the future he wants to retire completely, that this is a continuing, sustainable entity.

Both of us have been friends with Paul (Foster) for a long time. Paul’s looking at different businesses to diversify his holdings and we approached him about being a partner.

What we’ve told our employees and clients is that it’s really business as usual, under a new name – all the employees are keeping their jobs, everybody has the same duties and responsibilities. Essentially, we are just bringing in a new partner.

Q: How does it expand the types of projects the company can do?

I don’t know that it does immediately. But, obviously, it helps the company from a financial standpoint. It will help us grow and be a larger company long-term.

Q: For example, does it increase the firm’s bonding capacity and give the company access to projects it didn’t have access to before on a national scale?

In the long run, it will. We are not trying to expand substantially in the short term – we are pretty busy right now. However, we have plans to grow substantially over the next 10 years.

Paul is an extremely smart businessman, and he has a lot of resources, so it can’t help but leverage us up to the next level.

Q: How long has the deal been in the works?

This deal, not that long. Paco and I have been talking about the succession plan for some time, but the actual transaction began a few months ago.

Q: What does this mean for Jordan? For all intents and purposes, it sounds like he is considering retiring and Foster will be stepping up to take his place.

Paco is still fairly active in the company. We did an old company/new company structure so that CF Jordan Construction will still continue. It will finish all of the jobs that it has, which will take about two years. Then it will stay out there to handle warranty claims and anything that comes up.

Paul, Paco and myself are partners in the new company. New work will go to the new company. Paco will continue to be a partner in the new company so he will still be involved, just maybe not as involved on a day-to-day basis.

One of the other reasons why we did the old company/new company structure was that there are certain jobs that would be a conflict for Paul. We’ve got the University of Texas at El Paso campus transformation project and then the ballpark. We’ve made it real clear those jobs are staying in the old company and Paul doesn’t have any involvement at all in those jobs.

Q: It would be a conflict of interest because he is vice chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents and an owner of the Triple-A baseball team that the ballpark is being built for.

Right.

Q: Despite Foster having no part in the old CF Jordan, how concerned are you about even the appearance of a conflict given the level of controversy surrounding the ballpark?

I don’t know what there is to be concerned about other than there will always be some people who are just against anything that has to do with the ballpark, no matter what. You know, what can you say?

Paul will have no involvement at all with the construction of the ballpark. It’s totally Paco and the old company. There’s just no crossover at all – clear and simple.

Q: What does the deal mean for Foster? What is his role in the new company?

Paul’s role will be to help us with strategic direction. He’s a smart businessman and has people on his team who are extremely bright. They will be there when we need them. I will report to the board of managers as CEO, so basically all the day-to-day operations will be my problem.

Q: Why Paul Foster?

Paul and I have been friends for a long time, and I have a very high respect for his business acumen, and I like him a lot as a person. Our values are very similar. Both of us are very committed to El Paso. Even though we have offices in other cities, we are committed to keeping our headquarters here.

Q: CF Jordan Construction bid on the massive, Paul Foster-backed Fountains at Farah shopping center project some time ago and lost to an out-of-town firm. I’m guessing things will be different in the future now that Foster, in a sense, has his own construction company.

Paul has different partners sometimes on different deals, and to the extent that he has other partners, it is going to be necessary for us to be competitive. I’m sure other people will look at the work, but we like to think we can compete with anybody.

Q: Is Jordan Foster Construction launching with any signature projects?

We do have four projects we’re in the process of executing right off the bat. It would be about $100 million in new work. I don’t want to tell you what they are yet because those contracts aren’t signed, but all of the jobs are outside of El Paso. We hope to have those contracts executed in the next week or so.

Q: What are some of the more significant projects the old CF Jordan Construction is finishing up right now?

We have three main divisions. We have our multifamily group, which builds apartments, and it’s very active. Last year, we were ranked the seventh largest multifamily builder in the country.

We have a highway and civil construction group, which does work for the Texas Department of Transportation, primarily in West Texas and the Central Texas/Austin area.

On the commercial side, we’ve got projects going on all across the state. We have a 40-story high-rise being constructed right now in Houston and we are pricing several other high-rise projects. We just started three projects in Midland, which is booming with the oil business.

We’re primarily Texas-centric but we have done a lot of work in Hawaii over the years for the Navy in Pearl Harbor. We’ve got a job in Oklahoma City right now and one in Tallahassee, Fla.

Q: How many people does the company employ?

It goes up and down, but we have about 600 employees – a lot of those are here in El Paso. In every market we are in right now, we need to hire. It’s really a good time for the construction industry in general and our company in particular.

Q: Why is that?

The last few years have obviously been rough for the construction industry, but construction tends to be a lagging indicator to the rest of the economy; real estate in general lags the economy and construction lags real estate. But over the last several years in Texas, which is our primary market, there hasn’t been that much built but, at the same time, hundreds of thousands of people a year are moving to the state.

On the infrastructure side, that growth in Texas cities, including El Paso, is really stressing our local infrastructure. The roads are beat up, they are undersized, so there is lots of work that needs to happen.

Q: When did the market hit bottom for you guys?

For most of us, it was probably in 2010, because we all had backlogs that carried us through 2008 and 2009. CF Jordan was fortunate because at the same time the commercial business went down, the multifamily business really exploded.

Historically, about 400,000 new multifamily units a year are built in the United States. Since 2009, there have only been about 150,000 or 200,000 units built.

At the same time, you’ve got people who either don’t want to or can’t buy a home anymore. At the year Baby Boomers turned 25, I think it was, there were a million units built in this country – the most ever. But now you have the Echo Boomers, which are Baby Boomers’ kids, reaching that age where they are starting to hit the market.

So the fundamentals for multifamily housing are extremely strong. They’ll get overbuilt in some markets, but the fundamental dynamics are very, very strong.

Q: Is the company back to pre-recession levels?

We are. 2013 looks like a pretty good year. 2014 and 2015 look very, very positive. Now, there is a lot of competition, but I think we are well positioned to pick up some market share.

Q: What is the latest on the ballpark construction?

We’re going fast. We’re going very, very fast. Steel shows up mid-September and they are going to be working 24/7 to get that up.

Q: So next month we’re going to start seeing the ballpark come up out of the ground.

Right. A lot of work has been done, but it has been foundations and underground utilities and retaining walls and that type of thing.

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Email El Paso Inc. reporter Robert Gray at rsgray@elpasoinc.com or call (915) 534-4422 ext. 105.

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