Mike Williams: Entrepreneur of the Year | Published in SpaceCoast Business Magazine

About Mike Williams

HOMETOWN: Fort Lauderdale, FL

BORN: August 17, 1953

FAMILY: Wife, Theresa; Children: Andrea (31), Michael, Jr. (30) and Matthew (26)

EDUCATION: University of Florida, B.S. in Civil Engineering (1976)

HONORS INCLUDE:

  •  SpaceCoast Business ‘100 Most Admired Businesspeople’ (2012)
  •  EDC of Florida’s Space Coast – Volunteer of the Year (2011)
  •  FLORIDA TODAY – Volunteer Recognition Awards: Business of the Year (2007)
  •  Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame Laureate (2006)
  •  Small Business Person of the Year for Melbourne/Palm Bay Chamber of Commerce (1995)

When recessionary economic cycles wreak havoc on business sectors, corporate Darwinism thins out the playing field – the weak perish while the strong hunker down. Ultimately, the survivors emerge stronger as does the industry itself which has purged its most fragile entities from its being. Brevard’s construction industry has certainly witnessed its share of “survival of the fittest” over the past few years as new building permits dropped dramatically behind the crushing global declines of the banking and real estate industries.

Not only have homeowners and residential builders felt the constriction of the market, but so too have those players in the commercial building sector. While many of the familiar names in the industry seemed to drop off the radar screen over the past few years, one company has construction signs all over town – an indication of their continuous activity and market share – including current projects at BCC’s Melbourne campus, WFIT Radio at Florida Tech and the new ndtHOST data center in Rockledge.

In fact, many of the Space Coast’s most recognizable buildings – including Health First corporate headquarters (Rockledge); Lexus of Melbourne (Viera); Florida Tech’s Aquatic Center, Panther Dining Hall, Commons, and Harris Center (Melbourne); 21 Riverside Drive luxury condominiums (Cocoa); Mercedes Homes corporate office (Suntree); Holy Trinity Academy (Melbourne); Riverside National Bank (Titusville); Trinity Presbyterian Church (Satellite Beach); and Accudyne manufacturing facility (Palm Bay) – were built by M.H. Williams Construction Group over the past two-and-a-half decades under the supervision of its founder and president, Mike Williams.

While Williams humbly credits his business success and longevity to taking a conservative approach and keeping his company liquid, others recognize him for his outstanding character as a local businessman and community leader. “As great as Mike is a businessperson, he’s even a better person. He’s an excellent family man, has the highest degree of integrity of anyone I know and is one of the top leaders we have in our community,” said Scott Sorensen, chairman/CEO of the Sorensen Corporation.

It’s for this reason and others that the Founders Forum has named Mike Williams as its Entrepreneur of the Year for 2012. “We are so pleased to honor Mike Williams! Over the span of his career, Mike has exemplified a true entrepreneurial success story,” said Julie Song, regional manager of the Florida Manufacturing Extension Partnership and board chairperson for Founders Forum. “Mike’s dedication to furthering growth in Brevard County, helping local citizens, and building a thriving business embody the principles on which our organization is built.”

Pouring a Solid Foundation

Mike WilliamsWilliams, who recently celebrated his 59th birthday, has been a staple of the Space Coast construction industry since 1983, when Stinson-Head, Inc., a Boca Raton-based commercial contractor, decided to establish a satellite office in Brevard County. “All the local contracts were being awarded to outside contractors,” explained Williams. “Stinson-Head believed a local presence would be a competitive advantage in the bidding process.” Their decision proved correct, and the small, local team headed up by Williams soon began securing projects, including contracts to build the Ocean Walk Condominiums in Indian Harbour Beach and the Oaks Mall in Melbourne.

By 1986-87, the U.S. economy had shifted from a “rapidly growing recovery” to a “slower growing expansion.” Construction companies’ optimism shifted to cautiousness and Stinson-Head, wanting to focus on their core South Florida business, requested that Williams return to the corporate office in Boca Raton. But by then, Williams had grown to love the Space Coast and moving south was something neither he nor his young family desired. So, like many entrepreneurs before and after him, Williams determined the timing was right to venture out on his own.

Hanging out a Shingle

“1987 was a tough year for construction … and especially tough for a startup business,” Williams recalled. But companies formed in lean times often learn valuable lessons about managing capital and conserving resources for more prosperous times. “The big contracts weren’t there so we did a lot of warranty and remodeling work. Stinson-Head was going to construct the HBCA [Home Builders and Contractors Association of Brevard] building on Eau Gallie Boulevard, but graciously turned the project over to us,” explained Williams.

Those early days at M.H. Williams Construction were typical for most young companies. Williams was forced to wear many hats besides his construction hard hat. “My background was construction and engineering, but I was also bookkeeper, banker, lawyer, etc,” recalled Williams laughing. The office consisted of Williams and Randy Trent, who started with Williams at Stinson-Head as a carpenter and today serves as Vice President of Operations for M.H. Williams.

For many organizations and especially startups, cash flow is a challenge. “I recall one particular incident where we had completed interior work at a downtown Melbourne office building,” Williams reminisced. “We were owed $40,000 and the client was slow to pay. If we didn’t get paid soon the entire company was at risk of closing down. I called the client and very sternly said, ‘I’m coming down to pick up my check in full tomorrow!’ Fortunately we got our money, but it was a scary time.”

An additional hurdle for many young companies, lacking sufficient working capital was a roadblock for Williams at first. “I started the business with $17,000 that I borrowed from my life insurance policy,” recalled Williams. “Moving from Stinson-Head to my own company meant transitioning from bidding big jobs to smaller jobs.” The banks required a bond or the financial backing of a large company before issuing a construction loan, which precluded the young company from bidding on a number of larger projects.

Local developer Coy Clark believed in Williams enough that in 1989 he awarded M.H. Williams Construction the contract to build his Reflections on the River building at 1499 South Harbor City Boulevard (at Hibiscus Boulevard and U.S. Highway 1) in Melbourne. With the help of Clark and his banking relationships, the general contractor was able to build the project without a bond. “Mike brought in the project – and every subsequent project we worked on together – under budget and ahead of schedule,” said Clark. It was not only Williams’ first multistory office building as an entrepreneur but also served as a showcase project for his firm, which ultimately relocated its corporate office there. “Being able to bring clients into the building and show off our work proved to be a major springboard for our company,” explained Williams.

Longevity and Growth

Over the past 25 years, Williams has learned many lessons as an entrepreneur – including those that apply to local small businesses. “It’s a small town and you don’t want to burn a bridge,” advised Williams when recalling how a local bank would not allow him to bid on a beachside branch location, instead opting to allow five Orlando-based contractors to enter bids instead.

Mike WilliamsWith success comes responsibility and Williams has staunchly given back to the Space Coast community with his time, his wallet and through his business. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for United Way of Brevard as well as the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast. Additionally, he serves on the Brevard County Building Construction Advisory Committee, the Board of Overseers for the Nathan M. Bisk College of Business at Florida Tech, the Board of Advisors for the Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC) Space Coast Chapter, and other local organizations.

Williams recently chaired the EDC’s Development Council which produced a groundbreaking program designed to streamline the permitting process in Brevard. The program, called S.N.A.P (Simplified, Nimble, Accelerated Permitting), recognizes municipalities that have adopted permitting best practices as determined by the Council and other participating municipalities (for more on S.N.A.P. refer to the October 2011 edition of SpaceCoast Business or visit SpaceCoastBusiness.com).

Mike Williams“Mike has gone above and beyond in his efforts to improve the Space Coast’s competitiveness. He led the charge with the EDC’s Development Council in partnering with our Space Coast municipalities to develop a streamlined approach to building and site permitting, evolving into SNAP – the EDC’s current best practices model,” said EDC President & CEO Lynda Weatherman. “Mike’s enthusiasm and eagerness to work alongside the public sector has resulted in initiatives and relationships that have enhanced our ability to compete for future economic development projects. Mike’s leadership through M.H. Williams Construction Group has created positive change throughout Brevard County while enhancing our pro-business environment.”

“Mike spearheaded the initiation of the program, and it was the countless hours he volunteered that lead to its success,” added Ken Welsh, the current EDC Development Council chairperson and president of Welsh Companies, a provider of commercial construction and development services.

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING

‘‘Mike Williams is a man of integrity and character. He has achieved success through hard work and an allegiance to his family and faith. He willingly shares his success by giving back to his community through in-kind and  financial contributions. Mike is an outstanding selection for Entrepreneur of the Year!’’

– Daryl Bishop, area president, Central Brevard County, BankFirst

‘‘Mike Williams’ character is beyond reproach. You can always take his word to the bank!’’

– Coy Clark, president & CEO, The Coy A. Clark Company

‘‘Mike has a strong commitment to community and church organizations and this has given him unique
relationships to be successful in business.’’

– Ken Welsh, president, Welsh Companies

‘‘Mike & M.H. Williams are true professionals in their industry. When hiring a commercial builder to handle a large project, being able to have total trust and confidence in the company you’re dealing with is critical – this is the case when dealing with M.H. Williams. When working with Mike and his team, what they say they’re going to do in handling a project always is performed as promised.’’

– Scott Sorensen, chairman/CEO, Sorensen Corporation

‘‘It takes many qualities for a company to be successful over a  long period of time. Many companies have one or two. The best companies have many. Mike has built a company that mirrors his personal character. Regardless of with whom you interact, you get Mike..’’

– Peter B. Rochester, senior vice president, Florida Bank of Commerce

Mike WilliamsA Family Man, First and Foremost

The second of five children born to Mary Ellen and Dr. John Williams, Mike Williams grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, graduating from Northeast High School in 1971. That summer, Williams met Theresa Tardonia and the two began dating until he left for college. A good student who excelled in math and science, he headed to the University of Florida to earn his bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering. “I worked construction during the summers growing up and knew I wanted to be a builder, but my dad encouraged me to pursue an engineering degree because then I could always get a job working for the government if construction jobs became scarce,” recalled Williams.

Three years his junior, Theresa attended nursing school at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville while Williams completed his degree. After graduation, the couple moved back to Ft. Lauderdale – Williams had a job as a field engineer with Intercounty Construction – and were married a year later. Today, they have three grown children – Andrea (31), Michael Jr. (30), and Matthew (26). Andrea and her husband Alex Hart, who reside in Ft. Myers, have blessed the Williams with two grandchildren (with a third due this month). Mike Jr, who is married to Stacy, lives in Indialantic, and youngest son, Matt, lives in Tampa with his new bride, Christie.

Mike WilliamsMike Jr, a project manager now in his fourth year at M.H. Williams, took the Building Construction path at the University of Florida. Is he the heir apparent to the family business? “Let’s just say the succession plan is still a work in progress,” said Mike Williams.

When asked about his legacy, the 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year humbly said, “We’ve been blessed with a lot, much to the thanks of this community. I hope to be remembered as someone who was a giver.” Based on his track record and the friends and colleagues he’s made along the way, there’s no doubt Mike Williams will be remembered for more than just that.