Owner and CEO
Takes Randall Construction Beyond Excellence
By Diane Sears
Photography by Julie Fletcher
Randall Construction owner and CEO Jeff Condello knew at age 16 he wanted to become a plumber. Not so much because he loved working with pipes and wrenches, which he learned in vo-tech classes in his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania. But because he knew this would give him a chance to operate his own business.
So he went to work for a one-truck plumbing company and told the owner, “You don’t even have to pay me, just answer my questions.” The two agreed Condello would be paid $2.75 an hour. After work, six evenings a week, Condello sat in the basement office in the owner’s house, asking questions for hours and going through the books with him. After six months, Condello knew the plumbing trade.
That immersive style of learning is a model that has carried him through life. Today, he leads Randall Construction, a $200 million company with a list of divisions ranging from plumbing, electrical and manufacturing to, most recently, medical devices, financial technology and even high school education. The company takes a whole-building approach to its work, manufacturing many of the components it uses in construction.
Founded in 1986, the company has continued to expand along Clarcona Road in Apopka and now employs about 1,400 people. Randall Construction has worked on some of the largest and most influential projects in Central Florida, including the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando, Terminal C at Orlando International Airport, SunRail stations, and buildings at Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and Amazon.
The CEO’s unique management style has led each division to flourish as a self-performing business unit under its own separate leader while Condello masterminds the parent company’s next moves.
“I figured out early on that we had to be a bigger company,” he says. “You either have to be really small, like 10 employees or less, or you have to have 1,000. Because in between, you still get hit with all the problems, regulations and insurance requirements, but you don’t have the volume to absorb any of the issues and losses that occur. Today it applies as it did back then. You have to be really small or really big.”
The first people he hired have been gradually retiring but still staying involved with the Randall Construction family. He recalls the early days and how he brought people on board:
“I would hire people as we got the work, and the whole time I was learning how to run a bigger company and how to manage people and fix the issues. When we started, I got really good at sales and at talking myself out of issues and problems because we did everything wrong,” he says, laughing. “I got good at building and maintaining relationships while we were making mistakes on the job and fixing them.
“I just kept looking for better people and ways to improve and grow and do better. My mindset was back then and still is today, ‘Do the best I can every day, and God will take care of the rest.’”
A Story of Growth
The company’s name pays respect to Condello’s mother. Born as Margaret Randall, she gave birth to her son in Brooklyn, where she worked as an administrative secretary and his father was a taxicab driver. A major influence in his life until she passed away in 2015, she worked for Randall Construction for 17 years, and the main conference room bears her name.
Condello married his high school girlfriend, Debra, and he worked as a plumber while she attended college in Pennsylvania to become a nurse. They ventured to Orlando to be near his mother and his brother, who had moved to Florida, and see whether they’d like Central Florida. They never moved back to Scranton.
Condello worked for another company for more than a year and then the couple started Randall Mechanical Inc. out of their spare bedroom.
Along the way, he focused on his immersive style of learning. “I don’t read any books and I didn’t take any leadership training,” he says. “I just learned and had the mindset to do the right thing and be the right guy. And I can work endless hours without getting tired.”
He took up golf at age 25. “I did it because I knew it would be good for business, and knew I could use it to meet people,” Condello says. “I was a 17 handicap when I was 26 years old. For six months, my wife can tell you, every night I would video my swing in the front room and work on it. I went from a 17 to a 3 handicap, which is really hard to do.”
Today, golf is one of his favorite ways to unwind — and still a valuable business tool. “I travel and play golf around the country,” he says. “I play a lot of golf and belong to a lot of golf clubs.” His favorite: the members-only Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey, which Golf magazine ranked the No. 1 course in the U.S. and the world in 2012, 2015 and 2019.
“You can do a lot of bonding on the golf course,” Condello says. “That’s one of my theories. If you screw up on a conversation or you make a mistake, you have the rest of the round. You have to make sure when you’re coming off 18 that you’ve done a good job and that you’ve said everything you wanted to say and repaired anything you might have misspoken about before you get off the 18th green.”
Grooming the Team
As Randall Construction continues to expand through acquisitions of smaller companies and expansion into new divisions, Condello’s work centers around conversations. “I’m involved in all the businesses, so I know who’s doing well and who needs help. I have a gut feel for business and for people, so I always know where I need to spend my time.”
He has set up a brief weekly check-in meeting with each division’s president.
“It’s just 15 minutes, and when they come in, we don’t waste any time talking about the weather or football. It’s just about, ‘How’s your business? What are you doing to make it better? What issue do you have?’ and making sure they’re super-focused to build a great company. When they leave, I’m comfortable that they are or I get with them after and schedule another meeting. But I have a timer here set for 15 minutes, and when it goes off, I say, ‘OK, your 15 minutes are up’ because someone else is waiting to come in.
“I’m very efficient that way, and they’re efficient. I think it’s good because they know it’s not going to be an hourlong thing, so they show up prepared with information and it’s very focused.”
Even division leaders who are doing well receive intensive coaching, Condello says. “I’m still asking them, ‘How can you do better, and what’s your vision for the next three months? What three things are you working on to improve your company?’ I’m always keeping with them to make sure nobody gets complacent.”
He stays in touch with each division leader throughout the days and weeks through emails, texts, phone calls and in-person visits all around the sprawling 40-acre campus.
He considers each division leader an “A player.”
“If somebody asks me, ‘How many of your general managers are A players, the best?’ I say ‘Every single one of them.’ They are all A players. If you went around and met all of them, you would agree. If they’re not, I either put the effort into them to make them an A player or I’m very transparent and tell them, ‘You’re not the right fit. You’re not going to make it,’ and I make a change.”
Deputizing the division leaders allows Condello time to focus on the big picture. “I still have more bandwidth because they’re running the companies. I’m just making sure they’re doing it properly and professionally, treating people right and doing the right things, and growing each business and staying focused.
“Because I treat them well, I think they respect my work ethic and how I mentor them, and the faith I put in them and the opportunity I provide for them. I don’t think they want to let me down.”
Doing Things Right
Condello sees one of his main roles in life as being a mentor. Over the years, he has helped people inside and outside of the company work through business and personal issues.
“I’ve helped people with their marriages, with their businesses, with their kids,” he says. “I always tell everybody, if your intention is to help them, you should tell them exactly what you think. If your intention is to make them feel bad or make yourself feel better, you should keep your mouth shut.”
What separates him from other leaders and mentors, he says, is again his style of immersive learning. For 30 years, he and his wife have dedicated four hours a week to Bible study through a church his mother introduced them to out of Houston. He points out the distinction between religion and spirituality.
“We take notes and we really understand the spiritual life and why we’re here and what we’re doing, and why we should be acting and how we should be acting,” he says. “I take all that training and information and I use that in my daily business life and personal life. It’s the most important thing we do.”
Leaders need to make their decisions based on what’s the right thing to do, Condello says. “Not how much money it will cost the company, not what someone else will think, not what can I get away with or whether it will benefit the company. Just what’s the right thing to do. I can make a lot of decisions all day every day in a short amount of time because my criteria’s very simple.”
Mentoring at work, to him, means living out what he calls his favorite expression: holding people accountable for excellence every day. “Not just every day,” he says, “but every minute of every day. If somebody sends an email I don’t think is professional, and it could just be a couple of words, I respond just to that person and say, ‘Hey, in the future, consider this’ or ‘I think you could’ve said this better in this way.’
“That’s what lacking in businesses. People don’t receive training. They don’t get told a better way to do things. That’s the problem in a lot of big companies. I tell people when I hire them, ‘If you’re working here and you’re making Randall a million dollars a year but you’re not doing it professionally and with integrity, you’re not staying here.’ It’s not about the money. It’s about being the right person and doing things right.”
The Randall Academy
It’s taken Condello a lifetime of learning to get where he is today, and he’s passionate about making sure future generations get a chance to build the kind of future he has carved out for himself. With this in mind, he launched the Randall Academy in partnership with Orange County Public Schools and the City of Apopka.
The plan was in limbo over the summer while the world waited to see whether in-person learning would continue during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the end, the pilot program received a green light. Today, 10 high school students spend about half of their time on academics and the other half on learning trades at the Randall campus — everything from manufacturing to construction to accounting and human resources.
“I’ve been passionate about doing something for kids,” Condello says. “It’s my view that a lot of kids don’t need to go to college and don’t want to go to college, and they get peer-pressured and go. They don’t do well and they leave after two years, and now they’ve failed. They shouldn’t have gone in the first place and never wanted to go. A lot of them could do what I did: learn a trade, learn a skill, go to work and build their career and life that way.”
Condello enlisted 10 Randall employees to mentor the students for 20 minutes every week, just as he does with his division leaders. He met with the employees in a conference room and led them through role-playing to get them comfortable as mentors. “The idea was to make it fun and get them more comfortable with what to say and what not to say, and how to treat these kids,” he says.
Condello wants to see the program grow to include more than 100 students a year. “We want to maximize it, so if there are kids who are interested in it and OCPS is on board with it, then we would take as many kids as they would want to give us. I bought the building in the back and we renovated it and made it a school for them.”
Randall Construction has absorbed the entire cost of the program. One of the benefits for the community is that this kind of vocational education can help fill a pipeline of much-needed workers for Central Florida businesses while making a difference in the lives of students and setting them up for success. But Condello is adamant about why he has pushed to create the Randall Academy.
“Our vision is not to find workers for Randall,” he says. “Our vision is to impact the kids.”
Condello’s passion for mentorship and excellence extends to another group of people at Randall: women. In traditionally male industries like construction and manufacturing, women face an extra challenge in developing as leaders, and Condello offers them opportunities and words of encouragement. Three of the seven executive leadership team members mentioned on the Randall website are women, including the chief financial officer.
“There are a lot of really strong women out there,” he says. “We’ve proven that at Randall. We’ve given women a lot of chances to step up, and they’ve taken the opportunity and run with it. We’ve helped a lot of women do more than they thought they could do.
“One of the things we do at Randall that separates us as a company is we push people out of their comfort zone. We push them to do more and to get the most out of their God-given skills. There are a lot of very talented people who don’t see themselves as being successful and making a lot of money. They don’t see themselves in a leadership position, and they should. We’ve helped people get there — women and men.”
Condello and Randall Construction show no signs of slowing down. The latest acquisition involves something outside of construction and manufacturing: MySmartQuote.com, an insurance shopping website, which interested Condello because it looked like a good investment.
When asked about his goals for Randall Construction and all of its divisions for the next three years, the answer can be summed up in one word: excellence.
“I really don’t have goals,” he says. “My vision in my everyday leadership is to maximize everybody’s potential and maximize the resources in the company and get the most out of everybody and everything that we can. If we do that, then for me that will be good enough. I’m not looking to do a billion dollars or $500 million or any specific dollar amount, but I am looking to maximize all of our resources, potential and talent. That will be worth a lot.”
And he plans to be doing what he’s doing for many years to come:
“I don’t plan on retiring ever. I don’t think we have the right. God gives us a lot of talent, and I’m obligated, we should all be obligated, to get the most out of our skills and talent to impact others and be a positive influence on people — until God tells me to go sit on the porch and don’t hurt anybody. That’s what I plan to do.”
Photography by Julie Fletcher
As seen in October 2020 i4 Business Magazine