Jean Butler Puts JCB in Top 25 Central Florida Businesses

  Project Experience
Find out how JCB meets the needs of the following industries and disciplines:
  Construction Management
  Public Works
 By Onyx Magazine
I was one of two guests waiting in the reception area of JCB Construction, Inc. on Gore Avenue, Orlando when Jean entered the room flashing her usual radiant smile. (I call her Jean because she is my friend and sorority sister and we’ve spent many hours together under various circumstances.) I was especially proud of her on that particular day; first, because the other visitor was male and he was getting a glimpse of the persistence and success of a woman in formally a man’s world. Secondly, a flashback of the opening of her new office just a few weeks prior was a milestone for the African-American community, and thirdly, this lady, Marion Jean Clarkson Butler, with all her feminine southern charm had stepped out of the box and placed her construction company among the top 25 businesses in Central Florida. How did she do it?

To begin with, you need to understand, Jean is saturated with Southern charm acquired during her formative years in rural South Carolina. She comes from a family of professionals and entrepreneurs in Hopkins, SC. Her father was in the timber harvesting business––“actually harvesting the largest tree in South Carolina,” Jean laughingly explains. Her paternal grandfather was a schoolteacher, owner of a cotton gin, sawmill and country store. The family owned farmland (which they farmed) and an excavation business. With all of this going on, it was decided that the best thing for young Jean was for her grandfather to take her to school with him. Consequently, Jean began her formal elementary school education at the tender age of four.

Upon entering sixth grade, Jean’s parents enrolled her in a Methodist School. At the age of 16, she graduated from Mather, and enrolled at Fisk University with the intentions of becoming a medical missionary. After one year in college, she questioned her willingness to spend four more years in pursuit of this unusual profession. Only ten universities in the country offered that course of study. A change of plans came about when she met the medical records administrator for Meharry. It was through that meeting that Jean decided to pursue a degree in medical records, which she later received from St. Louis University.

“My very first job was at Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, D.C.,” Jean said. “Strom Thurman, who has been in the news so much lately, was a patient there and I had to compile his medical records. He even wrote me a congratulatory letter.”

The most significant chain of events to occur while Jean was at Walter Reed was making the acquaintance of Michael “Mike” Butler who was a medical student. A brief courtship followed. Says Jean, “We met in April, he proposed in June and we got married in September.”

Soon after the marriage, Mike went into the Navy and Jean accepted a job on the Navy Base. Mike was offered tenure there, but the young couple decided they wanted to see the world. Consequently, Mike was sent to California, but things did not work our as planned. Says Jean, “I was there just being a housewife making my own maternity clothes. A year later, Mike was sent to Viet Nam and I went back home to my family in South Carolina.” To help pass the time, Jean got a job at Providence Hospital.

When Dr. Michael Butler (surgeon) was discharged from service, the couple moved to Florida where he opened a private practice in Altamonte Springs. The couple had two young kids by this time––Brian, age five and Michele, a year and a half years old.

Florida Technical University (now University of Central Florida) had just opened and they were looking for someone to set up their Medical Records Program. Jean was prepared and available. She was hired in January 1971 and ran the program until she resigned in 1978. Says Jean, “You know, you never know why you do certain things. But, right after I tendered my resignation, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and I was available to spend that time with her.” Jean’s mother remained in the Butler home until her demise.

Not long after her mother’s death, Jean realized that she needed something to do. As a result, she registered for a real estate course, but out of concern for her personal well being, her husband asked her to reconsider her decision. Therefore, instead of real estate, she later opened a bath accessory retail shop––Bath and Such, her first solo entrepreneurial experience. This was in 1980.

Meanwhile, Jean’s father had enjoyed a successful life and entered into retirement during the decade of the 80s; but on one fateful day in 1986, he decided to go to the construction site where he climbed aboard a piece of equipment, and was subsequently thrown from it and crushed to death. Word of the tragedy dealt a horrible blow to the family––Willis, the older of Jean’s two brothers took it particularly hard. Although he owned his own business, he depended heavily upon his father’s wisdom.

Feeling compelled to do something to help her brother through this difficult time, Jean asked him to move to Florida. He did, and that was the birth of JCB Construction. The move was confirmation of the special bond that this brother and sister team shared. Possibly the only other person he would have made that move for would have been his father.

The competition in construction is stiff. There are many established companies that have been around for a long time. While diversity programs have certainly been a key factor in sustaining JCB, Jean has a grip on the proper ingredients for success. She said, “These [diversity] programs helped, but when you are given these opportunities, you must perform. She credits John Jeniec, president and founder of Great Southwest Construction Company and C. W. “Bill” Jennings, executive director of Greater Orlando Aviation Authority for the opportunities they provided for JCB. For that, she is truly grateful; however, she is adamant about sharing her load of responsibility. “We don’t ask for any favors,” she said, “we just go in there and perform the job. That’s what I require––quality work from my employees. That’s the reason we’ve been successful. JCB’s first job was a small demolition job at the Orlando International Airport––only $10,000, but it opened doors for us, and because of it, we were able to purchase more equipment. My brother did most of the work.” In fact, with Jean’s management skills and her brother’s background in construction, they made an ideal team.

During the first five years in the construction business Jean took several construction management classes. “It seems that I was always in class,” she said. She scored a major victory when she convinced her son, Brian, a graduate of Brown University, to join her in the business as marketing and construction manager. Much to Jean’s satisfaction, he quickly became a major player for the company. Says Jean, “He has his underground utility license and he is much more aggressive that I. I am weaning myself away from the company giving Brian more responsibilities. Even though I am a woman, I haven’t found it to be too much of a disadvantage, but there are some. I don’t get invited to the golf courses, even though I don’t play, but they don’t know that I don’t play,” she stated laughingly, “ You know, a lot of deals are made on the golf course and he is able to do that. I never get an invitation.”

Jean is very complimentary of her general manager, Clement “Clem” Seegobin. She gives him credit for doing an excellent job for JCB. She believes in surrounding herself by people who know more about the business than she does. She says Seegobin brings a lot to the table. He also owns stock in the company and is especially supportive. His attitude gives Jean the comfort level she needs, especially since her brother is no longer with the company. He retired in 1996 and returned to Hopkins, South Carolina after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Jean sees diversification as a major part of the future of JCB. Some of the contracts that have propelled her into position to maneuver as a viable and competitive entity came from the Orlando International Airport, Universal Studios, Walt Disney World Company, the state, county and city. Never demonstrating any reluctance to taking a giant step, she has already established two divisions of the company. One is in Jacksonville––the office located on University Boulevard. “We haven’t bid on jobs yet because we are very busy here, but we are positioning ourselves for what’s coming” She continued by indicating that a more aggressive move may be three years down the road as they seek opportunities to get into the private sector. “Most of our work is public,” Jean stated. “But as you meet people and establish a comfort level, there is more of an opportunity. A lot of time, companies continue to do business with those whom they’ve had a long-time relationship.”

JCB Construction is a credit to community and Jean has seen fit to physically relocate to the area that has given her opportunities. “We believe in helping people,” she said. “We take care of 60 families––we have 60 employees and an annual payroll of two million dollars.” JCB also offers a benefit package that includes health insurance and a pension plan.

Jean gives beyond that which the business plan provides. She lends a compassionate ear, which often translates to extended giving. But to that she exclaims, “I do what ever I can to help, I’m glad I have it to give.”

When I asked Jean what was the greatest lesson she learned from her parents, she quickly answered, “We got great work ethics from them. I remember my father was always working and he enjoyed it. That’s what he wanted to do. He took vacations periodically, but loved working, perseverance, and not thinking you can’t do anything.” She added, “There were times when we first got started with JCB, that I wondered if I had a hole in my head, but I had brought my brother here and I couldn’t let it fail. So I just persevered––telling myself, it has to work. We will succeed, we can do it. I put in lots of hours––nights, weekends, whatever it takes. I’ve enjoyed it. I think it has been the most satisfying work experience I’ve ever had.”



 Copyright 2007 JCB Construction Inc.