Join us in supporting Austin Hatcher Foundation

EMJ Corporation is proud to support the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer this holiday season with Hatch’s Giving Trees in our EMJ Chattanooga and Signal Energy offices.

EMJ employees and visitors to our offices this December will be able to choose an ornament from our Christmas trees and fulfill the donation request listed on the ornament. Each ornament represents a specific need for Austin Hatcher families, ranging from baby wipes and snacks to gift cards and monetary donations.

We also encourage our clients, friends and colleagues outside of our offices to consider joining us in this worthy cause by purchasing items on Austin Hatcher’s Amazon Wish List.

Established in 2006 by Amy Jo and Jim Osborn in memory of their son, the Austin Hatcher Foundation’s mission is to erase the effects of childhood cancer and optimize each child and family member’s quality of life through essential specialized interventions.

In the 1960s, the five-year survival rate for the most common childhood cancer, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), was 4%. Today, it is approaching 90%. Though this is promising for families affected by this devastating disease, patients, parents and siblings are often unprepared for the psychological and emotional effects of cancer survival.

40% of childhood cancer survivors report neuropsychological late effects which makes survivors 10.5 times more likely to have severe cognitive dysfunction than their peers.

The Austin Hatcher Foundation provides services to cancer patients and their families to help prevent and minimize these effects through Industrial Arts, Diversionary Therapy, Psycho-Oncology, and Healthy Lifestyle Education.

The Foundation serves families across the country and is the official charity of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA).

Learn more about Austin Hatcher Foundation’s services in the video below and visit

Thank you for joining EMJ to support this deserving organization!


Let’s create a supply chain of gratitude

“If we magnified blessings as much as we magnify disappointments, we would all be much happier.” —John Wooden

A recent story on LinkedIn talks about a math teacher who wrote the following on her chalkboard:

When she turned to her class, the kids were snickering. She asked, “What’s so funny?” The students quickly noted that her first math fact was incorrect.

The teacher responded, “Sure, but I got 9 out of 10 problems right.” Her lesson that day was about far more than math. It was a lesson to prepare her students for the world, and that one mistake can outshine 9 successes.

Her message wasn’t that they should work harder and never make a mistake. It was to never let the negative get in the way of the positive and to never get discouraged—to have grit.

So how do we change our perspective and put more emphasis on the positive? One way is to give thanks.

Expressing gratitude for a colleague’s contribution, even the small things, is a great way to emphasize good work and harness strengths.

Studies show that simple acts of gratitude encourage feelings of increased well-being and reduced depression. Affirmations also build confidence and trust and are proven to increase performance and job satisfaction and improve culture as employees pay their gratitude forward.

It’s a good time of year to reflect on all that we are thankful for, but let’s not stop there. Let’s intentionally express our appreciation for those that positively impact our life and work each day.

In his book Thanks a Thousand, author A.J. Jacobs chronicles his effort to thank every single person who made his morning cup of coffee possible, which turns out to be hundreds of people around the world including farmers, chemists, presidents and artists.

Much like the folks behind Jacobs’ cup of coffee, sometimes in a business setting, the steady, consistent performers can get overlooked, simply because they are getting their work done. Stop and consider your supply chain of positive, and express thanks day in and day out for the large and small contributions.

As Coach Wooden said, let’s magnify our blessings today and every day.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Recommended Reading:

This is the Most Underrated Way to Be a Better Leader

The Importance of Saying Thank You in Business and Beyond

Thanks A Thousand by A.J. Jacobs

Thank you to our EMJ military veterans

Today, EMJ honors U.S. military veterans across the nation. Thank you for your incredible service and sacrifice for our country.

We are especially proud of the 25 active and retired members of the military employed by the EMJ family of companies. Your service to our country exemplifies our EMJ values to be selfless,  trustworthy and gritty, and we are honored to have you on our team.

In recognition of Veterans Day,  we asked a few of our extraordinary veterans what their service taught them and how it applies to their work at EMJ.


Rashard Minnis served the Marine Corps as Infantry Unit Leader, Drill Instructor, and Small Craft Commander for 15 years prior to attending The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he is pursuing a second degree and serving EMJ as a co-op.

“The experience and values I learned while serving in the Marine Corps helped shape me and has a great impact on my daily work here at EMJ for several reasons: attention to detail, providing the best service you can to clients, knowing when and how to be a leader, and work ethic.”


Office Manager Kami Clark served the Air National Guard for six years prior to starting her career. It was during her service that Kami realized the power of grit and the ability to persevere through challenges.

“Outside of being a mother, to this day my proudest moment was the day I graduated from Basic Training. It was all about pushing myself beyond what I thought I was capable of accomplishing. I realized then, and it applies everyday at EMJ, that with the right kind of guidance, I am capable of anything I put my mind to doing.”


Superintendent Tom Smachetti (left) and his best friend during their retirement ceremony.

Superintendent Thomas Smachetti is a retired Navy Platoon Commander and Senior Enlisted for Delta Company. He served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

Tom says that his service taught him to never give up because “you can get it done no matter what,” and to embrace differences in the best interest of a team.

“No matter who I work with I learn to work with them and set aside differences just as we did during the time of war. We have a job to do and finish it in a timely manner. The Seabees motto is ‘CAN DO: The difficult we do now, the impossible takes a little longer.’ I am reminded every day of that phrase, and it pushes me to get it done.”


Robert Mazza, Project Engineer, currently serves as a platoon leader of a horizontal construction platoon in the Tennessee Army National Guard.  A member of the EMJ team since 2016, Robert says his military service has taught him the value of teamwork and the key role it plays in the success of an organization.

“Something that the military has really reinforced in me is the concept of working together as a team to achieve a common goal, placing the success of the team above the wants of the individual.”


These are just a few stories of the outstanding servicemen and women who make EMJ great.

On behalf of each and every employee within the family of companies, we thank every veteran who has served our nation. Please join us in celebrating their service.

EMJ Veterans:

Ray Alamo
Joe Bethel
Ken Boyd
Kami Clark
Terry Dill
Bob Elliott
Chris Fisher
Gary Gibson
Joe Guerrero
Ryan Jarvis
Craig Jordan
Bill Manuel
Robert Mazza
Rashard Minnis
Greg Pawson
Ed Pontis
Evan Rector
Jeremy Richards
Robbin Russell
Karl Schadlich
Thomas Smachetti
Brian Tiehen
Matt Uebler
Mike Williams


Are you an EMJ veteran and want to share your story? Let us know on Facebook, or email us at

The Construction Industry Has a Communications Problem

Construction is complex business. It takes dozens, often hundreds, of people to build a commercial structure. That equals a lot of room for error.

According to a recent FMI survey of 600 construction leaders*, poor communication and poor project data account for 48 percent of all rework on U.S. construction projects, totaling $31.3 billion per year in avoidable construction costs.

Software platforms such as Procore, Cosential, and Viewpoint are helping the industry make strides in real-time information collection, knowledge management, and historical data capture, but poor communication presents an entirely different challenge, a human one.

Everyone in the industry comes from a different background and brings a unique perspective, training, experience, and style of delivering and receiving messages. Being mindful of that and more intentional when communicating can make a big impact.

Here are a few communication best practices that universally apply to all facets of life.

Focus on the one thing.

Consider the goal of your communication, whether it’s a meeting, a phone call, a presentation, or just an email. What is the one thing that you need the other party to know? Identify that and make that the focus of your message. Start with it, end with it, and follow up on it.

Cut to the chase.

Know your audience and consider what’s on their mind. Construction and development move fast. Be direct and clear in communicating your need, and the action required on the other person’s part. Also, consider what is the most efficient means of communication.  A quick, impromptu phone call might accomplish the same thing as a meeting.

Keep it simple.

It’s awesome that you know every term in the construction dictionary, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to use them. Again, consider your audience. If you are speaking with engineers or technical trades, then use the most specific terms you know. If speaking to a more general audience, avoid technical terms, phrase your key message in a way that is more broadly understood.

Be specific.

Instead of telling your owner that you will need to cut off power to a portion of the site sometime in October, tell them you will be cutting power off to buildings A, B and C on October 8th. This applies to communicating with colleagues as well. Don’t ask them to “take care of the paperwork.” This assumes they share your sense of urgency. Instead say, “please have the paperwork completed and on my desk by 5 p.m.” This is good management 101.

Be inclusive.

Anyone with a stake in the project should have a seat at the table. Just because the individual seated across the conference room from you doesn’t speak up during the project meeting, doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have a valuable role in the outcome of your project. Engage everyone because more input provides more knowledge, and more knowledge builds better projects.

Follow up.

Don’t assume your message was heard and understood as you intended. At the end of a meeting or after you have sent an email, follow up with the other party to ensure your message was received as it was intended. You can do this by reiterating your key message, asking questions, or sharing detailed minutes or notes from your discussion.

Be responsive.

Unresponsiveness often conveys disrespect or lack of concern for others’ needs. Responding is always productive. When in doubt, a good fall back is, “I don’t know, but I’ll find the answer.”

Be honest.

This may be the last item on this list, but it’s the number one most important practice in effective communication. If you want to be heard, you must be worth listening to. If you are not trustworthy and accountable, you will lose your audience. Deliver both good and bad news as soon as you get it. Remember, the earlier you discuss an issue, the faster the team can resolve it.


While communications may be a significant problem for the construction industry, it is also one that is easy to overcome through consistent and diligent efforts to improve. Collaboration and good communication result in not only more successful construction projects, but also enjoyable construction experiences.

Learn more about how EMJ approaches client relationships and construction projects at

* In April 2018, FMI Corporation partnered with PlanGrid to survey nearly 600 construction leaders and decision makers to discover how teams spend their time while on a job site, challenges associated with poor data management practices and miscommunication, and their technology investments. Read more about the study on


Dottie McCallen has more than 16 years of experience in strategic communications, public relations, and content marketing. As EMJ Communications Manager, Dottie directs the internal and external communications for the company and provides executive counsel on organizational and operational communications. 

The universal principles of client experience 

This August, my wife and I welcomed our third son. After his arrival, I was charged with bringing our two oldest sons to the hospital to see their mom and meet their new brother. Little did I know that it would be a lesson in client experience.

Entering the hospital, I was nervous. It was hot. The boys were tired, and as excited as they were about their new brother, we were worried about how they would adjust to the change. It was a lot to process.

As we passed the reception area, I treated it like we were trying to slip past an old East German checkpoint—act like you belong, walk with a purpose, and don’t make eye contact. We were almost home free, when the receptionist shouted, “Wait, your boys need identification bracelets.” She left and returned with bracelets that said “Big Brother.”

The impact of this gesture was immediate. The boys were ecstatic, and seeing that, I was at ease. Undoubtedly, the hospital staff had seen thousands of weary dads in the exact same situation. They were taught to recognize it and empowered to engage with families to help alleviate stress.

What does this have to do with commercial construction? More than you might think.

Providing our clients an exceptional experience is at the heart of everything we do. By doing the little things, day by day, our employees strive to make the construction experience better and to provide value to our clients.

It doesn’t matter if you work at a hospital delivering babies, or if you’re a superintendent overseeing the construction and delivery of the hospital itself, the principles of a great client experience are the same. It’s as simple as every single employee paying attention to clients, empathizing with their situation, and taking actions to improve their experience.

Learn more about EMJ’s approach, designed to produce significant benefits for our clients and make the experience enjoyable.


Deron Smith leads the marketing and communications team in internal and external marketing and communication strategy. He has 20 years of experience as a consultant and in-house communications and marketing professional. Before joining EMJ in 2015, Deron served as the National Director of Communications for the Boy Scouts of America and held positions with notable public relations firms Edelman, Publicis Dialog and The Gooden Group.

Remaining Human in 2019

In college, I gave a speech about remaining human after graduation. I really wish I had saved a copy to see if my 2019 self would agree or possibly challenge some of my conventional wisdom at that time. If I were to take a stab at what the crux of my message was it probably revolved around kindness, being considerate, looking for the good in others, and appreciating others.

Flash forward to now, all of these ideas still hold true but technology has changed the playing field. Why call someone if you have a problem with this individual – compose a public tweet to call her or him out on it? Does it need to be true? Nahhh…just publish. Worry about a retraction or apology later.

How about a desperate job seeker looking for an opportunity? No sooner has the person entered their information into an ATS, an auto-reply comes back and says that the company is moving forward with other candidates who are more qualified. Seriously – all of that from resume keywords? Not even a phone call to see if the person has heart, grit, passion, and determination?

If I were to give a speech now about remaining human, I would mention all of things I did 20+ years ago but would add:

Think about what your social media posts say about you as a person. Do they portray you in a good light? Do you come off as impulsive? Do you have all of the facts or a whole story to even offer an opinion? Is your goal to be uplifting or just bash/trash/crash as many people and events as you can?

Be deliberate and intentional. If you have a disagreement with someone, think through your response. Take others’ feelings into account. Or, as the old adage goes, put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Practice giving people grace. Former President George W. Bush famously said, “Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples – while judging ourselves by our best intentions. And this has strained our bonds of understanding and common purpose.” That is so true. We have no idea what goes on in someone’s life outside of work. Sure, colleagues share things but usually not the really painful or bad things. You may not know if they have a sick child or parent, financial hardships, or a spousal/significant other problem.

As much as you can, be someone who listens, can keep a confidence, and provide resource ideas to those that need it. Use technology for what it is. It is a tool. It should be one tool in the box. Don’t rely on or hide behind it. Remember to pick up the phone, or better yet, go and deliver news face-to-face instead of by email or text. A little human TLC goes a long way in breaking any kind of message to others.

Above all, we should all look for the good and positives in all situations, instead of immediately jumping to the negatives and worst-case scenarios. How do you plan to remain human in 2019 and beyond?

As Senior Vice President of People, Heather is a member of the executive team, providing leadership to departments within the corporation that directly impact EMJ’s culture, including benefits, learning and recruiting. Heather has more than 20 years of experience in employee resources-related fields. She is a national member of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) and is designated as both a SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) and a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). Heather is a DDI-certified trainer and an accomplished speaker. She lives in Chattanooga with her husband and three children.

Values: Know them. Say them. Live them.

At a recent luncheon, a retired Lieutenant General asked the audience, “What are your values?” Everyone sat silently for a moment or two letting that question sink in. No one dared to shout out an answer—either out of intimidation or maybe because we don’t really think about them often enough to verbalize (in front of a decorated general) much less live them.

I thought about my personal values for the rest of the day and how they impact my interactions with others and how I view myself, my job, and those close to me. What I value most includes: integrity, humility, honesty, respect, grit, passion, selflessness, trustworthiness and creativity. All of them are important to how I want to live and how I want to be viewed. I don’t think I would be comfortable with forsaking one for another—they are all in my DNA and how I want to conduct myself.

My challenge for all of you is this—if you were asked over lunch to verbalize your values, would you be able to? Would the list be accurate, not just words that someone wants to hear, but what you truly believe and how you carry yourself? Are you passionate about each one? Would others use the same words to describe you?

Values are important, and we should never forget or abandon them. We should be able to call upon them in any situation that we encounter during our work and personal time. They should be unique to each of us, and we should appreciate others’ values as much as our own.

Click here to learn more about EMJ Corporation and its values.


As Senior Vice President of People, Heather is a member of the executive team, providing leadership to departments within the corporation that directly impact EMJ’s culture, including benefits, learning and recruiting. Heather has more than 20 years of experience in employee resources-related fields. She is a national member of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) and is designated as both a SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) and a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). Heather is a DDI-certified trainer and an accomplished speaker. She lives in Chattanooga with her husband and three children.

Celebrating 50 Years: Daring to Diversify

A message from Burt Odom, CEO & President, EMJ Corporation

Thirty-five years ago this month, I began my career at EMJ as a preconstruction manager. A month after me, a new project manager named Jay Jolley joined the team. Little did we know that we would both serve as CEO of the company. But that wasn’t the only thing we didn’t know. There were many things about construction, business, clients, leadership, and, quite frankly, life that we had yet to learn, and we continue to learn more each day.

During those first few years at EMJ, I learned the value of deeply understanding your client, their motivations, and their concerns. This not only prepared me for future partnerships, but also laid the foundation for EMJ’s future.

By the early 1990s, EMJ’s reputation for collaboration and client service brought new opportunities, and again the opportunity to learn and grow.

In our fifth excerpt from EMJ Corporation: The First 50 Years, we share how EMJ began to diversify its portfolio and established its presence in Texas.


While EMJ and CBL enjoyed shopping malls’ heyday, change was afoot for the general contractor by the 1990s. The impetus for that change actually began when Jim Sattler [then CEO] and John Foy, chief financial officer of CBL Properties, began collaborating on some smaller neighborhood strip shopping centers in the mid-1980s.

An Opportunity Presents Itself

The decision to consider the neighborhood center opportunities was part of Jim Sattler’s overall vision for EMJ, which involved a desire to diversify. Projects he pursued with John Foy were just the beginning and allowed him, along with Bill McDonald, to develop a direct relationship with Food Lion—one that would take EMJ into an entirely new realm.

For the first time ever, EMJ completed work for a client outside of the CBL relationship; the company built several stores in South Carolina directly for Food Lion, and that firsthand experience opened the door to new opportunities throughout the Southeast. “We were able to establish a relationship because of our professionalism and commitment and ability to complete things on time,” Sattler says. “Food Lion took notice, and they came to us just after those three stores opened and asked us if we’d be interested in doing a warehouse for them in South Carolina. And that led to another 10 million square feet of warehouse space over a period of time.”

Between the late 1980s and early 1990s, project manager Ron Jobe, who was promoted to vice president overseeing Food Lion warehouse construction and later became executive vice president of the Chattanooga office, and superintendent Jim Self, who later became vice president of construction, led the completion of at least one major Food Lion distribution center project per year, with each site comprising approximately eight hundred thousand square feet of space. It was a massive undertaking, and EMJ achieved great success with the program. Food Lion was so impressed that it offered the company a chance to tackle an even more complex project based out of Dallas, Texas: the construction of 42 Food Lion stores and a 1-million-square-foot distribution center to serve Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.

Jim Sattler pegged Jay Jolley and Burt Odom to relocate to Dallas to spearhead the program. “When we moved to Dallas, we started with nothing,” Odom reveals. “We did not know the market. We did not have any employees except for Jay and me. We were both twenty-nine, so inexperienced, and going to do a project of that magnitude with no office and no people. It was a giant challenge.”

However, with the Dallas market in a financial free fall at that time, Jolley and Odom were able to find willing employees and subcontractors quickly and got the program under way. They also brought trusted EMJ employees, including assistant superintendent Glenard Ratcliff, who retired in 2016 as director of construction, to Dallas to help manage the program. They set up a system that allowed EMJ to streamline the construction process and build multiple stores simultaneously. As Food Lion continued to grow in the regional market, the chain increased the number of requested stores. “In about a two-and-a-half-year period, we built 102 stores and a million-square-foot distribution center,” Odom continues.

“EMJ had built up an organization that could move in a big way with big projects,” says Spencer Storie, vice president of planning and development for Food Lion at the time. “They had good people throughout the whole organization—really great superintendents, project managers, and subcontractors who could fast-track a project. And they accomplished something that no one in the US had been able to do at that magnitude. We couldn’t have done it without EMJ.”

Related stories:

Celebrating 50 Years: A New Name Heralds New Opportunities

Celebrating 50 years: Above and Beyond

Celebrating 50 years: How it all began


Jacob Wadlington joins EMJ Construction

EMJ Corporation is pleased to welcome Jacob Wadlington, Director of Business Development.

Jacob is based in the Dallas office and will report to the Senior Vice President of Business Development. In his role, he will work closely with the Executive Vice President and the Dallas team to build client relationships and pursue new work.

Jacob has extensive experience in the real estate and construction industries and brings strong relationships with clients in a variety of real estate market sectors throughout Texas. Previously, Jacob led business development efforts for an engineering firm.

Jacob earned a Bachelor of Science from Lipscomb University and a Masters of Science from Texas Christian University. He lives in Coppell, Texas, with his wife, Sara and two sons Clark and Peter.

Welcome to the team, Jacob!

Why we ask our employees funny questions

At EMJ, we talk a lot about our purpose, to be people serving people, and delivering exceptional construction experiences to our clients. We know we can’t do that without fully engaged employees who are enthusiastic about and committed to their work.

To make sure we’re developing our employees, we partnered with Gallup, a performance-management consulting firm. Through Gallup, we conduct a regular Annual Employee Engagement Survey, which both engages EMJ employees through feedback and analyzes present engagement through a simple, 12-question survey.

“We partner with Gallup because its surveys are backed by decades of research that prove those 12 questions have direct impact on business outcomes,” said Nicole Gaiser, Vice President of People, EMJ. “The survey allows managers and employees to focus on workplace elements they can directly impact and improve, and that help us deliver our strategic plan.”

One of the questions that Gallup asks our people is, “Do you have a best friend at work?” That can seem like a funny question, and we’ve had some lively discussion about it. But, this article from Quartz at Work, Parents need best friends at work the most, puts it in context. Here are a couple of our favorite excerpts:

“Best friends have an impact on employee engagement that no other kind of friend does.

“Managers can help navigate work issues. Spouses can help think through family stuff. But only a best friend at work can do both, with an abiding concern for the person struggling to sort it all out.

“So to spur genuine friendships, concentrate on engagement. Do it for your company—engaged workers are much more productive and profitable. Do it to meet your own goals—people with best friends at work are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, and get hurt on the job less often. And, maybe, do it for your own social well-being. After all, the best friend relationship you spark may be your own.”

We spend time talking to our employees and asking them funny questions because the answers provide insight into our culture that directly correlates to client experience, productivity and profitability. All of which allows us to deliver unique value to our clients, partners and colleagues.

Click here to learn more about how all of this translates into a great Client Experience. Or, visit our Open Positions page to explore a career at EMJ and how to be a part of our team.