Trust: The Foundation of Partnerships and Mutual Success

Frei explains how to build trust in this TED Talk.

“Trust is the foundation for everything we do,” says Frances Frei, Harvard Business School professor, in a recent TED Talk. “If we can learn to trust one another, we can have unprecedented human progress.” Trust is defined as “the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone.”

Frei explains that trustworthy relationships are built on three pillars: authenticity, competence and empathy; we have to believe the trustworthy person is being truthful with us, has the ability to do what we expect of them, and has our best interests at heart. These characteristics take time to build between people, and if any of these traits falter, trust is compromised.

Empathy is the most challenging of the three, she says, because “people just don’t believe that we’re mostly in it for them.” And, that uncertainty is justified; we are busy with various demands of our time, so it’s easy to forget to put forth the effort that empathy requires. Further, most of us have had past experiences causing us to mistrust today.

Because of this natural apprehension, EMJ knows we have to set the bar higher with our transparency and delivery to clients.


We recognize the value of being trustworthy and hold it as one of our three core values, defining it as “being truthful with ourselves and accountable and work to be good stewards for our clients.”


We know that trustworthiness can be the factor that leads customers to work with the same construction organization over and over. We also know that focusing on our client’s goals and serving on their behalf is the only way to ensure mutual success and longevity of the relationship.

“There is a historical mistrust in our industry that we are working very hard to eliminate,” said Burt Odom, CEO and President of EMJ Corporation. “When our teams put others first and are transparent, everyone wins. We may not be awarded every job because we don’t make promises we can’t keep. But when we commit to a partnership, our clients receive a facility that achieves their goals, and we build a trusting relationship that we expect to last.”


EMJ’s purpose is to be people serving people, and it starts with showing clients, partners and colleagues that we can be trusted to provide what we say we’ll do when we say we’ll do it. Like Frei said, “If we want others to trust us, the first step is to be trustworthy.”

Watch Frances Frei’s full TED Talk here.

Grit: The key to 50 years of progress


Who is successful and why?

Angela Lee Duckworth spent over a decade investigating this query among various groups, from West Point cadets to middle school spelling bee champions, and she discovered the common thread between high-achievers is their grit.

Duckworth speaks on her research in this TED Talk.

“Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals, and working really hard to make that future a reality,” Duckworth says.

In her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Duckworth recounts how various studies and interviews with successful people led her to three components of gritty people: having a purpose in life, being willing to work hard for it, and having resilience when faced with setbacks.


Grit, one of EMJ’s core values and a defining trait in founder Edgar M. Jolley, is a large reason the corporation is celebrating 50 years of service this year.


Jim Self, former Superintendent and Vice President of Construction at EMJ, who worked closely with Jolley, said, “When we started a project, we knew when we had to finish it…and we did whatever it took to accomplish that.”1

Empowered by our purpose to be “people serving people,” the emphasis on working hard to meet commitments remains at EMJ and continues to help our team build strong relationships with clients and partners across the U.S.



“Whether it’s analyzing drawings to identify cost savings for a client or staying up all night to oversee a concrete pour, I see our people going above and beyond every day to serve our clients,” says Doug Martin, President of EMJ Construction.

We recognize and celebrate wins, but we also embrace a culture of growth and persevering through challenges. We promote transparency about issues and lessons learned on projects, improving quality and efficiency on current projects throughout the family of companies.

“I could tell you a story about my first year in construction 36 years ago, when I was working as a project engineer and made such a huge mistake, I should’ve been fired,” says Burt Odom, President and CEO of EMJ Corporation. “Fortunately, my manager gave me grace. I learned from my error and corrected course. I tell that story to new employees as a lesson to never give up…and don’t forget to double-check your spec book.”

Success isn’t about being the smartest or most talented person in the room. Further, grit empowers anyone with drive to be successful, as long as they are willing to work for it and persevere through difficult circumstances.

Watch Angela Lee Duckworth’s full TED Talk here.



1 – EMJ Corporation: The First 50 Years (Bookhouse Group, Inc., 2018) 10.