John Stebbins and Jennifer Stebbins Thomas became the fourth generation to lead the family business after this summer’s untimely death of their father, who turned a $5 million construction company into a $200 million design-build firm.
Hooksett-based Procon, which employs 140 people, has built medical buildings, aircraft hangers, hotels, supermarkets, warehouses, ice rinks and other projects throughout the region.
Mark Stebbins, 67, died unexpectedly on June 17, leaving a legacy not only in the construction industry but also in philanthropy.
The brother-sister managing directors now have big shoes to fill. Their efforts begin in a time of grief and while managing challenges seen across the industry, including labor shortages and supply chain issues.
Thomas said their father’s style of doing business has helped ease the transition.
“He loved working because he loved the people he was working with, and he loved the relationships he was building,” she said.
“He just had a real sincere interest in other people. So, as John and I sort of pick ourselves up and try to get our arms around this business we just must have told each other five times a day how grateful we are for the incredible relationships that he had built and the culture of our company, which is so relationship-driven.”
Mark Stebbins grew the business by moving it into fields of architecture, design and investment.
“He really was interested in real estate development and started developing his own projects that Procon would design and build. Having that integration with a developer under the same roof as a designer and builder brought that developer mentality into the building,” Thomas said.
The day after Mark Stebbins died, employees were told of the news. A week later, Stebbins and Thomas held an all-company meeting and spoke of the company’s path forward.
Growth for growth’s sake is not their goal.
“I think the way John and I are thinking about it right now is less with a target in mind and more really building those deep solid relationships with employees and developers,” Thomas said. “John and I would both rather continue to do $200 million of really good work than grow ourselves to $500 million and lose that relationship-focus with all of our partners that has been so important to our success.”
They face a number of challenges.
Hotel projects are a big part of the company’s portfolio, but the hospitality industry has suffered during the pandemic, so the company is taking advantage of growth in demand for residential developments and warehouses.
It is also navigating supply and labor issues.
Stebbins said the company has been affected by long lead times for manufactured materials, such as roofing, windows and steel.
Prices for wood have swung wildly.
“It’s all over the place and very difficult to lock in prices,” he said. “So that’s a real challenge, along with the ability to find good quality professionals is the third challenge.”
The company has now passed from the hands of their great-grandfather, to their grandfather, to their father, to the present generation.
John Stebbins, 37, got his undergraduate degree in theology at Georgetown and his master’s in architecture from Virginia Tech. Thomas got her bachelor’s degree in psychology and economics from Dartmouth.
“Growing up, John was a kid who had millions of Legos and his desire to think and create in an architectural way has always been incredibly present in his life,” Thomas said. “I consider myself more on the finance and strategy side, and I was the girl growing up who literally picked dandelions and sold them.”
They each have young children. Perhaps someday the company will pass to them.
“We can only dream,” Stebbins said.
The brother-sister team became interested in the company on their own and were happy to work with their father.
“What our dad always did really well was he never ever pushed us into it,” said Thomas, 34.
“He led with his example. He just loved so much going to work every day and was excited to talk to us about it at the dinner table, but never pushed, and I think it was always his hope that we would find something to do with our lives that would give us as much joy as he found in his.”