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Like most contractors, Tennessee-based Whaley Construction views the skilled labor shortage as a big challenge. Yet its team has grown rapidly since 2010, attracting top construction talent and increasing in size from about 15 employees to nearly 150. Matt Whaley, who grew up in the business and now serves as president, believes culture has been a key factor in helping the organization attract and retain good people.

What’s special about the Whaley culture?

People first
Head to and check out the first line of the mission statement: “Our mission is to provide our employees with a safe, honest, and empowering work environment, driven by goal-oriented people with a vision of the future.” The statement goes on to talk about serving clients, meeting milestones and doing quality work within budget, but it’s people who come first. “We have a lot of buy-in into this company,” says Whaley, “because they know that I believe in them as much as they believe in us.”

Building community
For senior managers at Whaley Construction, leadership is about inspiring the internal community to create an external one. Building roads, homes and retail spaces, says Whaley, is “service to others, one of the greatest services we can provide. It opens up the market to new opportunities and new people coming to the area. So if you work here, you’re part of something that could be great one day.”

Never stop learning
Matt’s a big believer in continuous learning. Every month he reads at least two books and listens to three or four more while he’s on the road. “Business books, philosophy, practical advice on leadership—that’s what I read and that’s what I share with the people who work here,” he says. “We’re learning as much as we possibly can. It’s made a big difference.”

Try new things
All that learning has driven a desire to do things differently and it drove the adoption of a vertical integration strategy. “They didn’t just go bid on more jobs when the economy improved,” says Ed Rottman, heavy machinery sales manager from Cat® dealer Stowers Machinery. “They got into new things like clearing and grinding and concrete. They have an entrepreneurial way of looking at the industry. Just because they did things one way in the past doesn’t mean they’re going to keep doing things the same way.”

Weed the garden
Not everyone has been able to adjust to changes in the business. Whaley says some worked through the learning curve while others did not. “We have to constantly weed the garden. If they’re not onboard with our vision and how we want to treat our people and what values we hold, they don’t work here. These things kind of take care of themselves,” he continues. “When you have complete buy-in from a lot of employees, the ones that don’t buy in tend to weed themselves out of the company.”

Technology speaks all languages
After taking over the business in 2010, Whaley began upgrading the fleet and is now running mostly Cat machines, some equipped with newer technology. A higher-tech fleet makes the company appealing to prospective operators. It also reduces training time and helps every operator, regardless of skill level, work quickly and accurately. Whaley says technology supports diversity as well. “There’s no language barrier when it comes to technology. If we have different operators from different ethnicities, they can all operate that machinery because everybody’s used to the technology.”

Learn more about Whaley Construction’s culture and growing business here.