Former EDIFICE CEO Eric Laster on what’s ahead for one of Charlotte’s biggest contractors
Eric Laster spent the past three decades turning Edifice into a general-contracting powerhouse, first in Charlotte and then across the Southeast. The owner and CEO of Edifice since 1987 recently stepped into the role of board chair, handing off leadership to longtime executive Gary Creed.
The company, which hit $233 million in statewide billings in 2020, has steadily grown through the pandemic. It logged $275 million in revenue in 2021 and predicts $500 million this year.
Edifice has about 60 active projects throughout the region. That includes CrossRidge Center, a mixed-use development in Indian Land, and the redevelopment of Savona Mill, a 105-year-old textile mill in west Charlotte. It also was the builder on The RailYard, a 334,000-square-foot mixed-use complex in South End, and The Refinery, a 107,000-square-foot office building off West Morehead Street. Both opened in 2019.
Laster recently spoke with the Charlotte Business Journal about his move, expectations for the company’s future and how it’s become embedded in the fabric of the community over the last 35 years. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why was this the right time to step down as chief executive officer?
My first year at Edifice was 1987. I’ve been the owner for most of that 35 years, and it’s time to start a transition so I can let other people take over and operate this business. I think that, in general, the construction business is a risky business. You have to be agile and willing to take some risks in order to be successful. I think as we get older, our risk tolerance will decrease, so we start constricting. For years, I have been about steady, controlled growth at Edifice. I have spent the last 10 years growing a team that can take the business over. The ownership group is currently five people who have all been with me for almost 29 years. Over the years, I have delegated my responsibilities to those five people to allow them to grow and to learn how to operate a business.
I think now, at 65, it’s a good time to start stepping back and let these people take over. They’re a fantastic group of smart people who are hard-working, loyal, dedicated and self-motivated. Now is the time, before I get so old I won’t be able to enjoy it at all.
Was it difficult for you to take that step back?
I don’t think it is because I think I’ve prepared myself for it. There are some unusual side effects to it. If you think about it, you’ve been getting up every morning for the last 35 years, thinking about work. I still do. I’m still engaged in Edifice and will be for a few more years, but it is a little strange to get up and not have that long list of things to get accomplished today.
What are your plans as board chair?
I would like to be the best board chairman a small business could have. I’ve developed from having to be concerned about what was happening today to transitioning to what was going to happen next month, and over the years I’ve kind of developed a situation where my concerns are more about the future than the present. I have great people around me who can manage day-to-day operations in this construction business, from sales to accounting to management to controls. I feel comfortable I have great people. Over the last several years, my focus has been on positioning Edifice for the future. As chairman, in my last few years here, I’m thinking about Edifice 10 years from now and how to position us to grow into something more over that time.
What does the future look like for Edifice?
Over the next 10 years I’m confident we will see Edifice continue to grow in revenue, in projects built and in reputation. I think we’re well-positioned for that, which is my focus over the next several years. During my time, we have had a very controlled growth projection. Probably from the beginning to now, if you look at a graph, it would be a green line going up, and that will continue.
Not only do we have a tremendous construction staff who build buildings and take care of clients, but over the last five years, we’ve developed a significant sales force and created positions for people to make deals with clients in different markets. Currently, we pursue medical, industrial, office, municipal, religious, senior living, schools. That’s a broad base, and in each of those types of industries, we’ve got a person who’s specialized in that industry who are creating growth.
We’re in a significant growth pattern due to the region we’re in, predominantly in Charlotte. Its has grown considerably. Edifice is embedded deeply in Charlotte.
Tell me about your focus on the Charleston market and why that’s where you want to focus.
We have never had a remote office, but I chose the Charleston area — Charleston, Dorchester and Berkeley counties — because they currently have one of the highest population growth spurts in the United States. I’m looking at that demographic growth, and of course, we build everything a community needs, so anywhere the demographic is growing, Edifice will have opportunities. It’s the growth that attracted me and the quality of life there that people really enjoy.
How has being in Charlotte contributed to the ongoing success of Edifice?
Charlotte has just grown tremendously, and Edifice has definitely benefited from that growth. One building project after another we have strived for high quality. The most important thing to us is satisfying our clients, and we have continually done that.
We also participate in trying to help grow a healthy community. We have about 130 employees who live in Charlotte, and practically everything we do is built in Charlotte. We’re deeply embedded in the fabric, not only personally but professionally, so as Charlotte grows and opportunities occur, we’re on the front lines in trying to create opportunities for Edifice.
In my first year of business we did $500,000 in building projects. And, 35 years later, I think we’re going to do $500 million. It’s indicative of the growth of this city. Charlotte is pro-business. It is a great place for a person to raise a family, which is attractive, and I think that will continue.