2023 Hall of Fame Inductee: Calvin Brodie

Words: Isa Stein

MASONRY Magazine: Tell me how you got started in the industry.

Calvin Brodie: I was the third boy and the fifth child in a family of twelve children. I was raised on a tobacco farm in New Bern, North Carolina. That showed me hard work; I knew what getting out of bed in the morning and getting to work was about. I started bricklaying at Bunn High School under Mr. David Turner, who was my instructor. I decided early on I was not going to college. At the graduation, my parents, my grandmother, and my uncles weren’t happy. During the last six months before I graduated, I had a job working at Burlington Industries, making $2.62 an hour. I quit that job to start laying brick for $2.50 an hour.

In June of 1973, after graduating from Bunn High School, I got my first job laying brick in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. My masonry instructor, Mr. Turner, decided to manage this project in Chapel Hill, brick veneer on some apartments, for the summer. He took his former students, and we completed this project in Chapel Hill.

M.M.: After that point, how did you make your way into the industry to where you are now?

C.B.: Well, I had decided in high school I wanted a new car, which was one of the reasons I didn’t go to college. In my hometown, we started getting requests. My partner and I, Alton Vines, started getting requests to do foundations, underpinning jobs, chimneys, putting a vent in. We didn’t have any equipment, so we got a hoe and a 55-gallon barrel that we cut in half, and we got started. And we took that money to purchase needed equipment – a mixer and a bobcat. We were working out of town and in two states, Virginia and North Carolina, and we got laid off for the last time after we had been in the trade three and a half years. It was at that point we decided we were going to start Brodie and Vines Masonry, which means we would rig houses, underpinning, do foundation, and build chimneys. I would do payroll on Thursday night and do the tax deposit the following day. When something broke down, we would work late into the night to finish it. For two years, I went to night school and took business courses from October to March while the weather was bad. In 1979, we got our first large commercial job at a K-Mart Store in Raleigh. It was the same year that I met a general contractor, Tick Clancy of Clancy & Theys. Tick was impressed with our work ethics and our job performance, so we still are working for Clancy & Theys today. He gave us the opportunity.

In 1982, I joined the North Carolina Masonry Contractors Association. We met once a month, and I got to meet suppliers and the local masonry contractors. It was at one of these meetings that a contractor was talking to me. He told me, “If you’re not buying your material, your ass is gonna die broke… you need to be buying your material.” That was great advice, and again, that’s the advice I sometimes give people today when they ask. So, in 1986, we purchased our first computer, hired an office assistant, and opened up an office. That same year, I took the North Carolina General Contractors test to be licensed as a general contractor, and I passed. I still got the number 30671. So, after I passed this test, we decided then from that day forward, anything we installed we would purchase.

In 1987, we did our first bonded job, which was a museum downtown, for like $800,000. That was also the year that the banks were not going to loan us money to grow our business, and that we needed to work for people who had more money than us and who also wanted us on their next job. Back then, I was the estimator for the company, so on Friday, I would go to the local GC, go to the AGC office, and to the Dodge Group to do drawings to do takeoffs over the weekend. Monday morning, I had to have those blueprints back in the office.

In 1990, Brodie and Vines split. Vines got most of the equipment. We had a crew of 60 men, and we let the 60 men decide where they wanted to work – if they wanted to work for Brodie or if they wanted to work for Vines.

January 10th, 1991, I joined the Mason Contractors Association of America. So, I met contractors from all over the United States. They also gave me a platform to see the latest and greatest equipment. This was also the year I hired my first estimator. In 1992, Brodie Contractors was incorporated. That year, we started using Mason King Crank Up Scaffolding, and we also bought our first crane. In the late 90s, we would upgrade and start using Hydro Mobile, and later, after that, we switched to the new hydraulic scaffolding. In 1995, my first estimator quit. Three weeks later, I had two estimators, Ingrid Kenner and Doug Gray, who helped me do project management as well as estimating, and they’re still with the company today. We also that same year found a new insurance agent. I was talking to this agent one day, and I was just expressing the fact that I wasn’t happy with my banker, and he said, “Why don’t you try Southern National Bank?” and I made the comment that I didn’t want a mom and pop and he said, “Well you oughta try them.” So, I got with Southern National Bank, who eventually became BB&T, and now they’re Truist. What this allowed me to do was, for the first time, I had a huge credit line if needed that I could draw from, and they really made my life easy, and they were easy to do business with.

By 2008, Brodie Contractors had grown close to 400 employees. We had 24 forklifts, 4 cranes, and our volume for that year was $32 million. In 2014, I promoted Kelly Brooks, the Vice President of Operations, Macy Williams became a General Manager, and we hired Jeanine Alston as our Corporate Safety Director.

M.M.: What are some of the challenges that you have faced during your time?

C.B.: Some of them I referred to earlier, but I had to learn all aspects of the business. My mom and dad were farmers. Basically, I had to teach myself estimating, payroll, navigating how to secure bonds, and business finance. Then, when I had to part ways with my former partner when I lost him, the bond then went, so I had to reestablish that. And then he took the majority of the equipment, but of course, I gave him the majority of the equipment just to get out of it. Then, just trying to do training and keeping highly skilled workers. You know, masonry is hot, cold, and it's hard work. It is rewarding if somebody sticks with it; financially, they can do fine, and there’s just something about being able to go back and look at some of the projects you’ve done or been involved with. I think that’s great.

M.M.: What are you most proud of?

C.B.: I'm always proud to complete a big job and just going through the adversities and just seeing that last brick being put in the wall. I'm always proud of it. I'm also proud of the young people I've been able to employ and grow and gain confidence and knowledge in their careers. You know, it'd be a truck driver or brick mason, an estimator or whatever, but even the guys doing scaffold. Just to see those guys come and go, you know, just turn that towel and then have a good working machine, a good guy. I'm proud of some of my bigger projects as well. So, I'm reminded of the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in Rowlett. Oh, that was a that was a huge project. The Quorum Center in downtown Raleigh is about 250 feet tall. To me, I think that's the highest brick building in the city of Raleigh. I'm proud to have done that. And then the Wallace Creek Barracks said to remain at the Marine Base in Camp Lejeune. I think that's the largest project that's ever been built in the state of North Carolina, and it was just short of $20 million on one contract. So again, I'm proud of that. Then, we built the sound barrier walls on the Beltline around the city of Raleigh. So again, I'm proud of all those projects and then the fact that I've had nephews come through and then being able to give them summer jobs, to see them going and being good productive citizens. And we can go back and talk about the times when they came on board and just had summer jobs. Again, I'm proud of it this way.

M.M.: What advice would you give to your younger self?

C.B.: The young Calvin, would probably take more time off to do stuff with the family.

I did a lot with them and for them but I probably could have done a little more.

M.M.: What's the biggest challenge you think the industry is facing now?

C.B.: Maintaining skilled labor is always a challenge because becoming a mason takes time. Getting the young guy, you know, you got to keep the other contractors from getting him, and then you got other trades that's recruiting this guy. Then the technology is changing so fast, you know? I don't know when I have looked at a set of paper blueprints because everything is on a tablet or on a computer. Because of security and just protecting everybody, this information is a challenge.

M.M.: What is your legacy?

C.B.: Well, I want to be remembered as a man of being honest, having high integrity, trustworthy, a man of his word, a man that did good business on schedule, high quality and under budget. I want my legacy to be one that shows I appreciate hard work and believe that opportunity comes for what we want to become a reality. I want to leave a legacy that has given young people the opportunity to be successful. I want to enjoy being able to ride through my home state and just see the structures built. I want to be remembered as a builder and supporter of my family, my community, and my church.

M.M.: What advice would you give to a younger person just getting started in the industry?

C.B.: I would tell them to get out of the bed and get to work. Don't let opportunity pass you by, never stop learning, and surround yourself with people you can learn from. Don't accumulate a lot of debt early in your business venture. Don't feel that you have to put yourself in debt before someone buys or uses your product. Just hard work and learn from those that are already here.

M.M.: What does it mean to you to be inducted into the Masonry Hall of Fame?

C.B.: I'm just so blessed to be recognized by my peers interested in my contribution in my work. I'm just honored to be named with the great recipients such as Sam McGee, who was a personal friend of mine, Mackie Bounds, Damian Lang, just to name a few. And you know, from the beginning, when I was just getting started in the industry, I used to just talk about on the job site, "Someday I'm gonna be in a Hall of Fame," knowing that, back then, there was no Hall of Fame. But the fact that I've been here with the Mason Contractors Association of America and then get to be voted into the Hall of Fame, I'm just on cloud nine. I just hope I don't fall anytime soon.

A Few Words From Debra, Calvin's Wife

M.M.: What has it been like being on this ride with Calvin?

C.B.: Oh my gosh. It has been one that I have enjoyed. And I can really say that with 38 years of marriage and the company has been like another one of our children. You know, I've watched him nurture it. And when I met him, he was already in business for himself, and I've always believed that he was going to do great things. He hasn't disappointed us, with the children, with his accomplishments. Even though he has worked tirelessly, he's never left us behind, and we've always been a part of this. I recall we've been a part of the struggle, and we've been a part of the games. So, we've enjoyed it. And we're immensely proud of him. His family is proud of him. My parents, before they passed away, we're proud of him. He's done a lot with a little. We're honored to be a part of this with him and wouldn't trade him for anything. I've enjoyed our life together. I've enjoyed the accomplishments and the achievements that he's done. He could have told you so much more about what he's done. So, he's very, very humble. I do most of the talking about him. But we're very proud of what he's done and proud of all of that he will continue to do. We're happy to be here, and we're happy to be a part of the association, and all of us are just honored to see him receive this recognition, and it is just a joy for all of us.

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