Once a carefully developed five-year succession plan was executed, Dave Rapp turned over the official leadership of Triple Crown in 2016 after 25 years of serving as president and owner of the company. We recently had a chance to ask about his insights on operational changes within the construction industry and how he went from being a high school teacher to a general contractor and business owner. Dave also shared his advice on doing business and some thoughts on his most treasured relationships.
With over 30 years in the hospitality construction industry, what are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed?
In my opinion, the technology to capture, manage and transmit data has created the biggest change in the construction industry. When the Company first started, our office was in the basement of my home and we all worked on a single home computer that was primarily used for word processing. We used calculators to prepare project budgets, with vendor and material costs, then assembled the final bid documents by hand. When I look at the Triple Crown office today, everyone has their own computer, often with multiple monitors. All of the estimating, budgeting, scheduling and project tracking processes now have software that makes everything much more efficient.
Early in my construction career, architectural and technical drawings were done on a drafting board without the aid of CAD (Computer-Aided Drafting) or other software. We often manually created multiple sets of drawings with 40 or so pages and had to depend on the USPS to deliver our submissions on time! As you can imagine, this was difficult, time consuming and required that we pour over information to avoid any errors. With today’s technology supporting secure electronic transmission via the internet, the way we create, share, record and send documents and drawings is so much more efficient, accurate and reliable.
I also need to mention that there have been significant changes on the job site, too. One example is how we use new methods to apply paint and install flooring. Twenty years ago, the process was very different and took more time and effort to complete. The work being done now is much more efficient, precise and safer. From what I see, modern tools, equipment and processes have greatly improved things in the industry.
What led you to launch the business and how did you come to name it “Triple Crown”?
After graduating college with a degree in Industrial Education, my first real job was as a high school drafting and wood working teacher. I also taught classes at the University of Maryland for about 10 years. Because I have a love for working with my hands, I spent weekends managing a carpentry and home improvement business.
While I truly enjoyed teaching and learning from students, it was my passion for construction and business that led me to another career path. I applied to an open position at Marriott in their hotel construction department and was hired. About five years later, I was reacquainted with a friend and former teaching colleague, Dennis Haeder. Dennis shared a passion for wood working and had gained commercial construction experience so I was easily able to recommend him to Marriott where he was hired as a construction superintendent.
The time I spent working for Marriott was like a wonderful education. I consider everything I learned to be equivalent to earning a doctoral degree. The people, culture and career opportunities were truly inspirational. I started out as a scheduler in restaurant design and moved into an administrative role in the finance department. Later, I was able to get back into the construction side. Working in the architecture and construction division, I managed kitchen projects for Marriott’s hotels, retail restaurants and travel plazas. I was definitely happier with a hammer and screwdriver back in my hands than reading and reviewing financial charts and reports.
In 1991 Marriott decided to reorganize how they managed their retail restaurants and travel plazas. As a result, they shut down the internal architecture and construction division which meant I was out of a job. However, I knew the on-site construction work at the retail locations would not go away – it would just need to be done differently. This corporate shift created an opportunity for me to provide Marriott with construction services for their restaurant and hotel kitchens. This was the beginning of Triple Crown. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to build the company on my own, so I asked Dennis to join the company as a trusted friend, advisor, remarkable craftsman and experienced superintendent.
As we started getting work from Marriott and other similar hotel based businesses, we provided our clients with what I considered the three essential components of hotel construction work: Design, Procurement/Fabrication and On-site Construction. Since we were actively and successfully involved in all three areas, I decided to formally name the company Triple Crown Design & Construction.
What’s your best advice for Triple Crown Construction prepares for continued growth?
I am looking forward to what Chris and his team will do in the near future. They have, by their own achievements, become well-established in the hotel renovation business community. They have developed solid relationships and are committed to a very high standard of excellence on each project. But like all good businesses, I believe they need to challenge themselves to find out what else they can do extremely well in the hospitality sector. Maximizing the Triple Crown team’s skills, experience and talent to grow the company is certainly happening, but I also believe diversity in the types of projects they pursue will offer stability when changes in the industry occur or the economy shifts.
In the early years of Triple Crown, we worked on a mix of hotel renovation and maintenance project types. I often hired contractors to keep up with various types of contracts we were awarded. At one time, we were a licensed general contractor in 22 states which meant we had to provide a variety of services in a lot of different places. Our diverse project capabilities and regional resources were two reasons we were able to stay in business after the negative economic impact of the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11th, 2001 and more, recently, the Great Recession.
How did the father-to-son legacy happen?
As Chris was approaching his college graduation, he announced his intentions to join the Company. I never expected it, but I was surprised and very happy with his decision. However, one of my biggest challenges was learning how to turn decisions over to him and let him risk making mistakes as part of his leadership journey. As Chris reminded me, experience – both good and bad – is the best teacher. While we didn’t agree on everything in business, we agreed from the beginning that we will always be father and son first. Our respect for one another is mutual – neither of us works for the other, but rather we work together as partners. And I’ve always felt like we’ve had a good partnership.
I am very fortunate to continue to have some involvement with the business. Chris and I talk regularly and, as needed, I give him my opinions on questions or ideas he may have. Occasionally, I am invited to participate in a business meeting. Chris was kind enough to arrange for me to have an office – which includes my old desk – when he moved the company headquarters to Frederick, Maryland. I believe I will always feel welcome to help in whatever why I can, but I am confident in Chris and his team to take Triple Crown Construction to the next level of success.
What are some of your favorite things to do now that you’re retired?
Anyone who truly knows me will tell you that I am not one to sit still. I’m often either making plans for what I want to do next or taking off on some new adventure. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’ve always enjoyed being on the water and spending time on my boat. While relaxing at the lake or on a beach rank high in my favorite things, I am also an avid traveler. My trip to Alaska to see the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was a memorable adventure. And I recently spent time on a European river boat cruise. Some future plans include a land tour to visit New Zealand and Australia.
Visiting with my son and daughter and their families is truly my favorite way to spend my “free” time. We are frequently together boating or spending time on the beach which is the best of both worlds for me.