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Ernst Young Award

Finalist: Sheehan Construction Company, Inc. James J. Curtis, Jr. (Hospitality/Real Estate/Construction)(Advertisement)

Indianapolis Business Journal June 14 , 2004

A willingness to get his hands dirty led to a real hands-on education for James Curtis, Jr. He grew up following his father around construction sites and learning about the business from the ground up.

Curtis' grandfather founded Sheehan Construction Company in 1904, and it has remained a family-owned business for 100 years. To continue that tradition, Curtis spent many hot, humid Indiana summers learning all aspects of the business, from running the lumber yard to site maintenance. It's an education that Curtis, now president of the company, appreciates.

"I have had the opportunity to work with the best, most skilled professionals in the construction industry" he said.

Curtis graduated from Indiana University in 1982 with a degree in finance and went to work in corporate accounting with a Florida-based computer software developer. In 1985, Curtis joined Sheehan, working with his father--as well as his three brothers and sister--to introduce new computer technology to the company's business practices and continue to diversify the business.

The well-established company was initially founded to design and construct sanitary sewers. Early projects included work in downtown Indianapolis and Camp Atterbury. As one of the first developers with the knowledge and capability to build and assemble sewers, Curtis' grandfather helped author laws regulating the industry, specifically guaranteeing that installers be compensated if landowners did not pay their service fees.

As the sewer business became more competitive, Sheehan diversified into the construction of single-family homes, using land acquired from delinquent sewer customers.

But as the company grew, so did its need for cash. Every project was 100 percent financed, and Sheehan was dependent on its line of credit. The company's involvement in rehabilitation projects, particularly involving the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, proved particularly challenging, but established Sheehan as a leader in the construction of public housing. This provided the impetus for future growth as the demand for low-income apartments increased. Sheehan's dependence on banks steadily diminished as its projects became profitable. Curtis pointed out that no bank has ever lost a penny on any Sheehan project in its 100 years in business.

Sheehan's growing financial strength opened the door to other residential markets. Curtis's experience building multi-family residential projects has accelerated the company's growth into such markets as retail centers, office space, custom homes, land development, condominiums and both luxury and lower-income apartment communities.

Some of Curtis's accomplishments include the construction of Sheehan's new corporate headquarters and the development, construction and sale of a multimillion-dollar apartment property in Columbus, Ind. Recently, he joint ventured with a major real estate investment trust to develop, construct, manage and complete the sale of a 300-unit luxury apartment complex, saving more than 12 percent in construction costs.

His education in the business continues as he faces the challenges involved in running the company.

"I could not have imagined the amount of time it would take to operate a successful business" he said. "I feel a huge responsibility to my family, to my employees and to my clients, so I work very hard to make sure all facets of Sheehan Construction operate in unity so we are ready to take on any job at any time."

Flexibility remains a key to creativity, noted Curtis, as new products are steadily introduced into the construction industry. The popularity of the Internet, for example, has modernized the company's marketing approach. Sheehan has created Web sites for its multi-family condominium communities and is building a Web site to provide clients access to up-to-date information about the status of their project 24 hours a day.

"We will continue to provide the latest construction innovations and technologies available," said Curtis, "to provide the highest quality product for our customers."


COPYRIGHT 2004 Indianapolis Business Journal Corp.

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