Columnist for the St. Petersburg Times
Published February 27, 2007


After a long day of working for his father's stucco business, a teenager sat on the back of a pickup truck and wondered why his dad didn't take on bigger projects.


"I would look at these big buildings going up on U.S. 19, and I would always say, 'We could do that. I don't know why we do all this small stuff,' " Jonathan Graham recalled.  His father didn't share such grand illusions, but Jonathan persisted. Finally, his father said, 'You buy my business, I'll work for you, and you can do whatever you want.' "


Two decades later, Graham has done what he wanted, and a whole lot more. The wall systems work of Graham's GPM subcontracting firm can be found on such projects as Channelside and Centro Ybor. A second business, Horus Construction Services, has served as construction manager or a subcontractor on significant projects in Tampa Bay and Palm Beach County.  The perspective that put Graham at the helm of dad's company has served him well over the years. He has this unique ability to see promise where others saw problems.


Once, while driving by a restaurant under renovation on Fowler Avenue, he went in and asked if it had hired someone to do the stucco work. Not only did he get that contract, but the job helped him craft a relationship with Greater Bay Construction that continues to pay dividends.


A similar approach - he walked into a construction trailer and asked to be hired on a Bayfront Medical Center addition - eventually connected him with Skanska USA Building.  Graham, 38, says his "alliances" have been pivotal in helping his minority-owned business gain traction in a Tampa Bay market that doesn't always open up to newcomers.  "If you're a small construction manager, and you're wanting to improve or grow or you want to get in the business, you have to attach to someone who has a system in place and is willing to allow you to do this," Graham said. "But sometimes people don't know how to bring anything to the table, so all they're doing is basically asking for a handout.


"I wanted to make myself to where I would bring something to the table."  Now Graham is hoping he brings enough to the table to help Skanska build the new Tampa Museum of Art. Horus is a 30-percent partner in Skanska's bid to build the museum, and the city will announce the finalists in the next couple of weeks.  The museum would be Horus' highest-profile project, but Graham is looking to build more than a museum - or his own reputation.


"Now that somebody is trying to help bring us along, we're asking how many other people can we help?" said Graham, who sits on the Hillsborough County Minority Economic Development Advisory Committee.  "I want to help people understand how they can bring something to the table."  Sounds to me like the first thing you have to bring to the table is a vision. Graham certainly does.


That's all I'm saying.


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