A message from Burt Odom, CEO & President, EMJ Corporation
EMJ was founded fifty years ago with the sole purpose of providing an exceptional construction experience for one client, CBL Properties. But before long, others in the industry noticed how our approach to programmatic work and a mutual understanding of one goal benefited both contractor and customer, and looked to us to serve them in a similar way.
Though we didn’t know it yet, this work provided the foundation for how EMJ serves our clients to this day. It engrained in us the importance of knowing our client and deeply understanding their goals so that we customize our construction approach to exceed expectations. We have built similar programmatic relationships with clients all over the country, from Shaw Industries to Lidl to Public Storage, and we believe that this work is paving the way to a better industry standard.
I hope you enjoy this third excerpt from EMJ Corporation: The First 50 Years, a book developed to share the company’s story and honor those who built EMJ. Printed copies are now available, and look for more excerpts on the blog throughout the year.
Bill McDonald recalled that the transition from Independent Construction Company to EMJ Corporation was seamless. CBL remained the exclusive client of EMJ, and Ed Jolley was more than happy to continue that single-client relationship within the retail construction space. The two companies worked in harmony and grew in tandem.
“They were just part of the team,” says Ben S. Landress, who joined Independent Enterprises in 1961 and currently serves as executive vice president of management for CBL & Associates Properties Inc. “There was no question about who was going to build. [Ed] had to get pricing from suppliers and subcontractors, but he was going to be the general contractor. It was almost like [EMJ] was part of our own organization. It was very much a team effort. There was no question about it.”
Upon the name change to EMJ, Ed Jolley officially became the CEO of the company, while Jim Sattler assumed the role of president and Bill McDonald became vice president. The EMJ team grew as well, with Jolley’s sons—Edgar M. Jolley Jr. and Jay Jolley—joining the firm. Also on board were Burt Odom, an estimator, and Ron Jobe, a project manager, both of whom would have a significant impact on EMJ’s development over the next several years.
The company continued to flourish throughout the 1980s, with the team continuing its close relationship with CBL & Associates, which eventually would help take EMJ’s work to a national level.
In 1987, CBL began to expand even more when Charles Lebovitz’s son, Stephen,joined the firm. To take advantage of retailers that wanted to move into and grow in the Northeast, such as The Home Depot and Walmart, the younger Lebovitz oversaw the opening of an office in Boston. To serve its exclusive client, EMJ set up a Boston location as well.
“EMJ was our partner in our development projects, and we relied on them to help us with the due diligence as we were analyzing potential sites, to develop budgets, to help us figure out the opportunities and challenges of new projects as we got into them,” notes Stephen Lebovitz, who currently serves as president and chief executive officer of CBL & Associates Properties Inc.
The geographic area proved to be more challenging than the Southeast region thanks to different environmental conditions, the dense population, and very specific government requirements. “It’s complicated to build in the Northeast, and we wanted to have [EMJ] close by,” Lebovitz continues. “We wanted them to have a regional office here and have the people on the ground to be available to help us out.”
Jim Sattler assembled a team to work out of the Boston office, which shared space with CBL and was visited often by Jay Jolley, who helped direct its growth. Much of the work involved the building of open-air power centers with retailers like Service Merchandise and Circuit City. Larger projects followed, including a major 750,000-square-foot center in New York. And just like the work being done out of Chattanooga, EMJ made a complete commitment to CBL’s Northeast interests.
“It was about more than just making money,” Stephen Lebovitz says. “It was about having a long-term win-win relationship between the companies.”