By Marianne Kirk
When Terry Hampton left J.S. Alberici Construction Co. four years ago to form TM2 Construction, she became a rare entitya construction company CEO who is both minority and female.
With a background in telecommunications, Hampton always wanted to own her own business, but says, “I never dreamed I’d end up in construction.” Her unconventional entry into the construction business started with a temporary assignment in an Alberici field office, which led to her hire as coordinator of the company’s unique and successful diversity program.
Hampton says being a female in the construction business has been her greatest challenge, even more so than being a minority. “Had I not surrounded myself with the proper people, it would be extremely hard,” she says, “but coming from Alberici, and having the credibility I had when I ventured out, helped tremendously.”
When TM2 was awarded the job to renovate Webster Hall last year, Hampton says with a smile that no one knew she had a degree from Webster. “They gave me a chance, an opportunity,” she says, “but I proved myself.”
While Hampton was working on her bachelor’s degree at Webster’s downtown campus in management in the late 1980s, she could have crossed paths with another up-and-coming construction entrepreneurTony Thompson. Although they never met during those years, they know each other well today.
Thompson founded the highly successful Kwame Building Group in 1991. In contrast to Hampton’s serendipitous route to success, Thompson’s was more carefully mapped out. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in environmental design and a master’s degree in civil engineering, Thompson pursued a career in design and construction for several years before deciding to start his own company.
“I knew I wanted to have my own business because when I traveled around the country, I realized the lack of minorities in the construction business was not unique to St. Louis,” Thompson says. “That’s when I honed in on what I wanted to do.” Given his experience and education, Thompson believed he should move into the project management area of construction.
To acquire the business knowledge he needed for this new venture, Thompson decided to return to school. “Most small businesses fail because of a lack of business knowledge, not because they lack the technical abilities or competency,” he says. Thompson earned his M.B.A. from Webster in 1989 and got his first line of credit based on the business and marketing plans he learned to craft in class.
Like TM2, Kwame Building Group has been involved in construction projects on Webster’s St. Louis campus. Kwame served as construction management subcontractor to Paric Corp. on the Garden Park Plaza project and entered a joint venture with McCarthy Construction Co. on construction of the Emerson Library.
Even with their busy schedules, Hampton and Thompson make time to reach out to help minority businesses and individuals in the St. Louis area and have been honored for their efforts. Kwame Group won the St. Louis Minority Business Council’s Phoenix Award and Metropolitan Sewer District’s Diverse Universe Award in 2003. In 2002, TM2 was named the top minority business enterprise in the construction industry by the St. Louis Minority Business Council.
Hampton currently attends a weekend construction leadership class where she is the only woman in a class of 25. Recently, in a presentation to her classmates, she offered this insight: “The world is diverse, and industries are increasingly diverse. Help us because we can help you, too.”
Thompson echoes her view, saying, “I think once we embrace the whole notion of diversity, everyone will benefit from that.”