In The News

Butler Beloved for Letting Employees Shine

November 19, 2010

Source: San Francisco Business Times

William Butler started his successful construction company, W.L. Butler Construction Inc., 35 years ago when he was 25 years old. It’s not uncommon to find employees there who have been there nearly as long — and have brought in friends and family along the way.

“My management style is to let people become what they can be and do what they’re good at,” Butler said. “People have held four or five different jobs here.”

Many of the 160 employees have been with Butler for decades. The head of human relations, Margaret Esplana, began as a file clerk over 20 years ago. Her friend Gina Henson, who also started as a file clerk, is now the CFO.

“There’s a huge amount of family here,” Butler said. “My CFO’s father and sister and brother-in-law all work here. We have three brothers from one family.”

The president of the company, Frank York, started as a laborer 31 years ago. He expected his job at the construction company to end when the summer did, but his plans changed largely due to Butler.

“I enjoyed the people I was working with, especially Bill,” he said. “It’s an innate talent he has to give guidance to people and give them a chance to find out their true strengths.”

“He gives you a lot of room to grow,” York said. “People ask me where I went to school, and I say, ‘William Butler.’”

York says this is pretty much unheard of in construction. “I’ve been in the industry for 31 years, and people just don’t give people opportunities like that,” he said. “He gives you opportunities and lets you go do it.”

Pictures of the projects the company has taken on — schools, car dealerships, stores, homes — hang on the walls. Many of these clients have been with the company for decades, and Butler considers most of them friends.

He spends a good part of his time with clients, socializing or fundraising for the dozens of nonprofits he donates time and money to. On a recent morning, he’d just gotten back from Germany where he attended Oktoberfest with some clients, and he was about to head off to LA.

York says Butler owes his success to his dedication to his clients and friend.

“Without a doubt it’s his love of being around people,” York said. “He’s the best networker I’ve ever seen. He can be in a group of billionaires or sit on a job site with a laborer and have a sandwich, and in both cases he’s totally comfortable and interested in the people he’s talking to.”

Butler says his work ethic, as well as his ideas about management and volunteering, come from his parents who raised him and his two brothers on a farm in upstate New York. There was always work to do and never money to spare.

“My dad had a 9th-grade education and he worked two jobs to feed us,” Butler said. “We had to drink two glasses of water before we could have a glass of milk because milk cost 25 cents.”

In spite of being strapped for cash, the family gave what they could, volunteering their time at food banks.

“His parents … believe you treat people right and you’ll succeed in life. And that’s what Bill has done,” said York.