Servant Leadership in Action

On Sunday, April 10, a deadly tornado with winds as high as 145 mph slammed into eastern Chattanooga, damaging many homes and leaving a wide swath of destruction.

The storm hit the homes of several EMJ Construction employees and family members, including the neighborhood of Nestor Praniuk, Superintendent, EMJ Construction.

Nestor quietly took a couple days off work, borrowed a tractor from a friend and, together, they went around the neighborhood cleaning up trees and debris for people who needed help.

“This wasn’t something Nestor broadcast, or even discussed, but others noticed,” said Chas Torrence, EVP, EMJ Construction. “Our purpose is to be people serving people, but we don’t always see it in action. For Nestor and his friends to do this amid the Coronavirus pandemic is a perfect example of what we mean.”

A few weeks ago we shared this blog about Mr. Rogers, who famously said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

We are thankful for people like Nestor and all the other helpers out there who see a need and step forward.

EMJ Construction’s Katie Haberberger Named ACE Mentor of the Year

Katie Haberberger ACE Mentor of the Year
Katie receives ACE Mentor of the Year at the 2019 BRIC Awards Banquet

Katie Haberberger, Assistant Preconstruction Manager, was selected as this year’s ACE Mentor of the Year. The ACE Mentor Program is a nationwide program designed to introduce high school students to the wide range of career opportunities in architecture, construction, engineering, and related areas of the building design and construction industry. Katie joined EMJ back in 2016 and has been a part of the ACE Mentor Program ever since.

As a high school student in St. Louis, Missouri, Katie had the opportunity to participate in a similar program called “Project Lead the Way”. Katie’s participation in this program helped affirm her desire to pursue a degree and career in the construction industry, and she now gets to pay it forward by helping high school students today discover and develop new skills, solidify future goals and get on track to exciting, rewarding careers.

The team that Katie led this past year met weekly in the evenings at the EMJ Chattanooga office, and during each session students had the opportunity to work directly with industry professionals as they sought to plan/design a renovation for a building in downtown Chattanooga. Katie brought in the architect she was working with on one of her job sites at the time so that the students could further apply real-life experience to their hypothetical project. After six months of learning, planning, and experimenting, the students presented their project at an end of the year banquet.

“It’s tough at first to get the students to progress week to week so that they can be prepared for the final presentations, but I love getting to see how proud they are of themselves once they reach the end,” says Katie.

After hearing Katie talk about her experiences thus far as an ACE Mentor, it was no surprise that she was named ACE Mentor of the Year. This title is only given to one mentor in the entire Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia area each year and EMJ is proud that Katie is this year’s recipient. She is actively living out EMJ’s mission, to be people serving people, by volunteering her time and industry experience to the next generation of industry professionals.

If you are interested in learning more about how to become an ACE Mentor, you can learn more about it here or by e-mailing Katie at

Great Client Feedback is EMJ’s Measure of Success

EMJ’s measure of success is the client experience. Recently, one client shared his experience working with EMJ upon completion of a 15 month project.

Collegedale Church, Chattanooga, TN.


At EMJ our purpose is to be people serving people, and our mission is to deliver unique value to our clients, partners and colleagues. Edgar M. Jolley founded EMJ over 50 years ago in order to serve one client and, today, EMJ serves hundreds of clients with the same values, purpose, and mission. So how do we make sure we are hitting the mark, providing that unique value to our clients?

Over the years we have adapted our approach, building a bridge between our clients’ needs today and the tried-and-true methods that EMJ has relied on for more than 50 years, resulting in our focus on the Client Experience (CX). A successful client experience is focused on the client’s perspective and feedback.

Recently, one client shared his experience working with EMJ upon completion of a 15 month project. The following are just a few snippets of what he had to say.

“Closing out this chapter reminded me that I wanted to express to each of you my personal gratitude for the experience, and yes, privilege of working with your company over the past, almost two years…EMJ has certainly gone above and beyond mine and [the company’s] expectations in your expertise, professionalism, and responsiveness to our needs. We’re grateful for the building not only of a structure but also in the relationships we’ve been able to build through this process. Your responsiveness and willingness to work with us in some of the unique requirements placed on you has been remarkable…All of you make EMJ a company I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone who asks!”

As a national general contractor, it is crucial for CX to be embedded in all the activities of our employees and the company as a whole. This means we are not just about offering our service by building a building, rather, we seek to understand our client’s end purpose and make sure the construction process helps accomplish it. In turn, the end result is way more than a building, it’s an experience that we can be proud of and lasting relationships.

“Our measure of success is the client experience, and we can only be as great as our people,” said Chas Torrence, Executive Vice President, EMJ Construction, Chattanooga. “Delivering an exemplary client experience on a project of this magnitude and duration requires exceptional effort and consistency from our people. I am very proud of this team.”

Congratulations to the project team, which includes: Brad Primus, Steve Jensen, Katie Haberberger, Adam Ankers, Drew Templeton, James Williams, and Philip Augustino. It is project teams like these that allow EMJ to continue to live out our purpose and mission, one client at a time.


The Keys to Operational Excellence in Construction

There are three universal tenants to ensure operational excellence on construction projects that must be executed and measured on a consistent basis.

General George S. Patton once said that “By perseverance, and study, and eternal desire, any man can become great.” These principles of perseverance, study, and desire are cornerstones of any individual, group, or organization desiring to obtain and sustain success. While some may argue that General Patton lacked the ability to empathize with people, most can agree that the man knew how to move an army in order to achieve operational excellence.

In the construction industry, a need for this same operational excellence becomes evident when reflecting on the final decades of the twentieth century, a time where stagnancy pervaded the industry. Construction companies were under-performing, the expected turnover left much to be desired, and clients often felt the pains of mismanaged projects. These issues revealed a glaring need for a a new model of operational excellence.

Operational excellence encourages companies to enhance the client experience, minimize cost, and cut wasteful processes in terms of managing resources and materials, allowing value to be restored and delivered to clients. Coming out of the Great Recession of the early twenty-first century, adopting this new practice in our industry became necessary in order to meet the demands of the market. In a time where clients had tighter margins and technological advances were happening at an ever increasing rate, it was imperative that construction companies become experts on this new model, have a great desire to learn its principles, and persevere through the slow, arduous process of applying it within all disciplines throughout their organizations.

There are many facets where operational excellence should be applied, but just as General Patton believed in the three principles of perseverance, study, and eternal desire, there are three universal tenants to ensure operational excellence on construction projects that must be executed and measured on a consistent basis. These universal tenants of operational excellence are:

  • Collaboration. In order to achieve and maintain excellence within any successful organization, there must be collaboration. Clients must know of pending changes and issues. Designers have to seek input from contractors in order to provide an exceptional finished product. Contractors must look beyond what they are doing today so they can positively impact the schedule and efficiencies on a given project.
  • Standardization. Far too often leaders are reactive, rather than proactive, when it comes to meeting the needs of those they serve. Processes and procedures found in countless operation manuals are typically the result of a problem that had to be solved, which is why it is critical for attention to be consistently given to improving quality through standardization. When processes/procedures and means/methods of operational excellence are all standard, the improved quality of construction is directly correlated. Standardized tasks become muscle-memory and are easily tracked/measured, saving time and reducing error.
  • Development. There is no doubt that real dollars are tied to the development of team members. However, the importance of investing in staff development cannot be overstated if our industry wants to achieve and maintain operational excellence. Our team members are our most critical resource – the one companies should be continually investing in to grow and retain. The quality of our team members are directly related to the predictable success of our projects. Therefore, providing training and committing to development opportunities quickly produces positive results across the construction spectrum.


More than ever, clients want things done right, and they deserve nothing less. Time has never been more expensive, and we can’t retrace steps. A steady focus on the importance of completing quality projects on time while creating strong, positive relationships with those in which we serve has never been more important.

Companies that are finding success today are the ones that made the decision to embrace their potential and move past the old status quo by collaborating, setting high standards, and developing their people. They embraced operational excellence, realizing how critical it was to their organization. They realized that it is the driving force that produces better results in terms of client experience, cost efficiency, productivity and innovation.

A desire for excellence is what separates the good from the great. My hope is that, just as General Patton did, our industry continues to pursue the principles of perseverance, study, and desire so that we can provide our clients the operational excellence and client experiences they deserve.


Jason Dunnam provides day-to-day leadership to the construction operations team in Dallas. He has nearly 20 years of experience, including as a senior superintendent. Jason lives in Dallas, but returns home to Seneca, Missouri, every chance he gets. He enjoys the outdoors, hunting, serving his church and community, and spending time with his three adult sons.


A Hat Tip to Ditch Diggers

Selfless, Trustworthy and Gritty — these are EMJ’s core values which represent who we want to be.

This poem by Eric Borden, recently featured at the 2019 AGC Convention, reminds us of our EMJ employees — especially those in the field — and their grit. As the author says, it’s dedicated to everyone who works in construction or is involved in it in any way.

We are proud of all our all our employees who work tirelessly for our clients. If you want to learn more about our team, check out our Foundation. 

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 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.

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.

Brookhaven Village team shines on Texas community

Tom Rue, Blake Kaylor and Tom Zylstra of EMJ Construction Special Projects are living examples of EMJ’s values as exhibited through their work at the start of the Brookhaven Village project earlier this year.

Brookhaven Village, a retail project in Addison, Texas, required demolition of five buildings prior to construction of the new development. One of these buildings was a daycare with approximately $50,000 worth of playground equipment. Rue, Superintendent on the project, spoke with Kaylor, Senior Project Manager, and Zylstra, Project Engineer, about opportunities for the equipment.

“My first thought was, ‘We need to find someone who can use this,’” said Rue. “I was not going to let something that could bring great joy be demolished in a landfill—if I could help it.”

Seeing an opportunity to serve, the team made it their mission to find a new home for the equipment. Rue called more than a dozen Addison churches before finally speaking with a local pastor, who gratefully volunteered his congregation to move the playground and reinstall it on their church grounds. By the end of the week, the playground equipment had been moved to its new home—saving the client time and money and providing great value to the church.

The team also reached out to the local police department and offered the soon-to-be demolished structures up for training. The Addison SWAT and Special Tactical Unit took him up on the offer.

Rue, Kaylor and Zylstra worked together to coordinate the demo schedule, allowing the SWAT team to use the facility for tactical training. The team used the facility to train on everything from blowing up doors with explosive charges to hostage negotiations.

The Addison SWAT team prepares for tactical training on the Brookhaven Village site.


“At EMJ, we promote core values of grit, trustworthiness and selflessness, and this team is a testament to these principles, serving not only the client, but going above and beyond for the residents of Addison,” said Doug Martin, President of EMJ Construction.

Sometimes, the project at hand is just the beginning. Thank you, Tom, Blake and Tom, for your selflessness on this project and for representing all that EMJ stands for!

Together we raised $46,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters

Photo by Big Brother Big Sisters of Greater Chattanooga


For as long as anyone can remember, EMJ’s Chattanooga office has partnered with its local Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter. EMJ Founder Ed Jolley was passionate about the cause, and today, we continue the partnership through an annual fundraiser and bowling event.

This year, EMJ’s Chattanooga office raised $46,895 for the local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters through Bowl for Kids’ sake.

Bowl for Kids’ Sake is Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Chattanooga’s largest annual fundraiser and has been ongoing for nearly 30 years. All funds raised through this event go directly toward volunteer recruitment, matching of mentors and youth, and big/little support.

The Chattanooga office divided into eight fundraising teams led by team captains, Joey Barbeauld, Billy Kile,  Jacob Mammen, Michelle Parker, Kurt Teasley, Joe Welch, Jonathon Woolsey, and  Joe Woolums.

Team 5, led by Senior Project Manager Joey Barbeauld, raised the largest amount at a whopping $19,240. Steve Totzke, Project Manager, was our top individual fundraiser for the entire competition, raising $15,000 for the cause.

“I could not have done it without the generous support of many of the subcontractors we’ve built relationships with over the past year, specifically on our Lidl stores,” said Totzke. “I am grateful that they were so willing to join in for this worthy cause.”

Bowling teams from local companies, community supporters and friends all rolled in to Spare Time Hixson to compete and show their team spirit. Many “Bigs” and “Littles” joined in the fun as well. In all, over 300 bowlers and many sponsors helped make this a record-breaking year, enabling BBBS to support 105 new matches.

“A special thanks to the employees of EMJ Corporation who were instrumental in making the event a huge success,” BBBS officials said.

Way to go, EMJ Chattanooga! You are changing lives in your local community, and thank you for representing the corporation as “people serving people.”

While the EMJ team was instrumental in the success of this fundraiser, we couldn’t have done it without the generous donations from our clients, partners and colleagues. Thank you to the following donors:

3H Group Hotels
Adman Electric, Inc.
Air Conditioning Specialist, Inc.
Anatole Exteriors
Anderson Group Company, Inc.
Apel Steel
ARC Document Solutions
Asa Carlton Services, Inc.
B&W Granite and Tile
BB&T Huffaker Insurance
BE-CI, Inc.
BRK Services
Brock Insurance
Callahan Mechanical
CBL Properties
Ceramic Technics
Coates Electric of Wilmington, Inc.
Construction Systems
CORE Safety
Covenant Transport
Crowe Horwath
Doug Martin & Family
Duggan Contracting Corporation
Eldeco, Inc.
Evergreen Landscaping, LLC
First Tennessee
Front Runner
Fulmer Concrete
G. Ware Construction
G&P Masonry
George McKenna
H&H Brown, Inc./JBH Steel, LLC
Hayward Baker
Horizon Stone
Ideal Building Solutions
Industrial Air & Mechanical, LLC
Jenkins Masonry
Lawson Electric Co., Inc.
Lee Company
Lookout Pest Control
Lyndon Steel Company, LLC
Office Furniture Warehouse
Philip Augustino & Family
Pierre Construction
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
Presley Electric
R. Chatfield Company
Ralph White Electric
Reliance Interiors, Inc.
Ron Jobe
Schaal Glass Co.
SECO Architectural Systems
Silvers Plumbing
Southeast Painters, Inc.
Vision Hospitality Group
Wesnic, Inc.
World Travel


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