Member Story: Donnie Williams - DRP Masonry
Strong work ethic and passion - as the cornerstones of any professional’s toolkit, Donnie Williams can speak to its tried-and-true reputation. His dedication to an honest day’s work was instilled at an early age after generations of family in the industry shared their drive to master the craft. Their foresight to pass along this knowledge has paid off. The owner of DRP Masonry has built his name on those principles of hard work, guiding his success and turning his love of bricklaying into founding his own company with the hopes of eventually passing it on to his sons. Having a legacy to uphold is not easy.
MASONRY Magazine spoke with Donnie Williams about how his pedigree helped him reach the goals envisioned by his predecessors. We take an in-depth look at how he is planning for the future, both professionally and at home.
The genesis of what would eventually lead to DRP Masonry’s formation stretches back to the start of the Great Depression in 1920’s Louisiana. Better known as Paw Mac to his relatives, Clayton McVay decided that being a sharecropper would not be enough to feed his wife and family of 13 children. Utilizing the hard work farming had taught him, Paw Mac would ply his hand at the masonry trade to build chimneys for his neighbors.
Earning a reputation for his skills around the local community, Clayton would eventually pass on his knowledge to his sixth son Curtis before entrusting him with his legacy. In 1949, Curtis McVay Brickworks was born following the completion of a job Paw Mac insisted his son complete independently after receiving a payment of $14 for the work. Curtis would eventually train and employ the third generation of family bricklayers, including son-in-law Don Williams, who got his Louisiana masonry license in 1986 to work on large commercial projects over $50,000.
This certification led to creating his own company, Williams Brickworks, which he operated with his younger brother Dennis, who was also trained by Curtis. Opening the door to more significant projects like hospitals, schools, and prisons garnered the brothers’ recognition around Louisiana and Mississippi’s northern areas, amassing a work and equipment total of around $1 million per year. Don had two sons in Donnie and Phillip, wasting no time teaching them the ropes of masonry to start the fourth generation on their journey in the industry as he and grandfather Curtis began teaching the boys about the business when Donnie was the tender age of eight.
Recalling the early days of his training: “So I started going on the job and helping my dad help my grandpa” Donnie said, recounting how as the oldest grandson he was quickly put to work. Typical lessons included learning how to read blueprints at age 13 and then running a cruise at age 19, culminating with his Louisiana masonry license obtained at age 29—opening the door to larger commercial projects. Donnie was able to work all over Louisiana in partnership with his younger brother Phillip until 2014, when his father retired, turning over the company to his sons to form DRP Masonry.
The new company owners would add licenses for bonding in Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas to expand the business and operate with a broader reach. Combined with the help of his highly experienced family and a team of estimators, bookkeepers, and project managers, Donnie saw the company grow 15 times larger than its total sales in 2013, along with a bonding capability of $7 million per job and $18 million total capacity.
Finally, coming full circle, Donnie teaches his oldest son and nephew the business as they plan their futures in the family business. “They're seniors, and they work from lunch,” Donnie stated, going on to add that they plan on going to the University of Louisiana Monroe for Construction Management so that they eventually can take over the company themselves. Today DRP Masonry is based out of Monroe, Louisiana, with additional services now available in Florida and Texas, extending their reach to six states.
Williams estimates that upwards of 70% of the company’s work currently focuses on schools and universities. “I could give you all kinds of warm feel-good stuff,” Donnie humbly admits, describing other typical projects like commercial airports, hotels, and apartment complexes that comprise the rest of their contracts. The team could easily continue its storied business and call it a day, but that runs counter to what built the company in the first place. Not content to simply sit on over 100 years of combined experience, DRP Masonry has since joined the MCAA two years ago to connect with other like-minded industry professionals and bring that expertise to the industry as a whole. Donnie considers this one of his favorite perks, as he has been enjoying the benefits of meeting fellow mason contractors and bricklayers with their passion and perspectives.
“I didn't realize there were so many other people, we all just kind of hit it off like we're long-lost cousins,” he said specifying what he liked the most about connecting with other contractors. “Sharing trade secrets and numbers— like what we're getting as far as what market costs are and what the cost of materials, so it was a huge help.” Furthermore, Donnie has already begun contributing to the organization by assisting in the rewrite of the mason contractor's license test in Louisiana, in addition to taking on more projects through fellow MCAA members.
Still, true to his roots, it is clear that Donnie’s very favorite part since joining MCAA is his ability to share his own family’s deep knowledge of the industry with others to create one big team and vice versa. “Information, all the information,” he answers, further adding that educating each other with their unique approaches and histories results in more involvement, paying back into itself. That ability to learn and share the nuances of masonry earned through sharing personal history puts DRP Masonry in a great spot to help the hopefuls who are just getting their start. With four generations of dedication to bricklaying, creating new generations of informed experts outside the family adds to Donnie’s collective passion called “the masonry movement.”
For example, when asked for advice he would give to these newcomers right now, Donnie suggests that they be careful with their finances in unforeseen circumstances typical of the industry. “Whenever it's good, it's really good but with the weather and the market. There are so many waves, ups, and downs,” he replies, emphasizing the importance of keeping a safety net in case times get lean. Most of all, Donnie shares that the critical piece that needs to be heeded, the key piece of knowledge passed down for generations that got DRP Masonry to where it is today, has always been the same: “A lot of hard work . . . no matter what it costs.” Donnie would go on to describe some typical challenges, such as paying out of pocket instead of cutting corners and dealing deftly with unclear or unrealistic project demands, making clear that integrity of the job done and service to the client is the DRP time-tested business model. No doubt this wealth of knowledge will be greatly appreciated and put to good use by MCAA members thanks to DRP Masonry’s contributions.
However, being the president of his own company never took away the core of DRP Masonry’s foundation, even since taking over his father’s business eight years ago and growing it to the size it has reached today. Donnie stated that there has always been one goal that was his most important reason for fueling his strong work ethic: his passion for sharing his incredible wealth of experience with fellow like-minded bricklayers, and his commitment to integrity in his field: continuing the family legacy.
“I think keeping that legacy going is all that matters, especially in industries like these,” he explained, mentioning that in addition to his son and nephew, who are about to begin their careers in the business, he also has a four-year-old son named Brick and a three-year-old grandson named Mac. Donnie proudly states that he will make six generations of bricklayers from Curtis McVay Brickworks down to DRP Masonry today, an impressive legacy. But just as an eight-year-old, Donnie started his career by working with his grandpa Curtis to earn his stripes, so too will he be there to pass on the hard-earned skills he began refining at such an early age. Thanks to his contributions since entering into the masonry industry, Donnie’s creating more opportunities for that all-important legacy to be extended not just by his kin but also by his extended MCAA family.
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