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Pray, Plan and Proceed: How a Mother’s Advice has Guided the Perryman Family Business

Written by Amanda Maher

There is a saying, “the harder you work, the luckier you get.”  For Angelo Perryman and his family, success is a result of working harder and building better.  Perryman observes how sixty years ago, the family construction company was a dream of his father’s.  Today, as a leading Mid-Atlantic construction company working on some of the largest projects in the region, Perryman Building & Construction Services, Inc. is an example of the American Dream come true.  Although the family is proud of their achievements, they are more proud of the way these achievements have also created opportunities for so many employees, clients, friends and families. Perryman Construction’s success has been guided by fundamental principles from its founding generation.

Although Perryman Construction is now based in Philadelphia, the company’s roots go back to the rural town of Evergreen, Alabama, where Jimmie Lee Perryman, Sr. founded the company in 1961. He had recently returned from the Korean War and been awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. When Perryman, Sr. first came back to the U.S., he assumed he’d follow in his father’s footsteps as a bridge builder. But it quickly became evident that Perryman, Sr. had an abundance of trade skills—in plumbing, carpentry and masonry—that would be underutilized at the bridge building plant. Instead, Perryman, Sr. made use of the GI Bill to go back to school to learn how to manage a business. With his combination of trade skills and business acumen, Perryman Building became the area’s go-to residential and commercial building company.

Perryman, Sr. may not have followed in his father’s footsteps, but that didn’t mean his children wouldn’t follow in his—one was a PhD nuclear engineer, and another, a master electrician. The third, Angelo Perryman, delved into the administrative side of the business.

To hone his skills, Angelo took a detour from the family business and worked for two “Top 15” international construction firms that worked across the U.S. He would often start at the bottom, as a laborer, and then work his way up into management roles. At one point, Angelo recalls, he was promoted to assistant superintendent in just a single week’s time. Angelo was able to draw on skills he learned while working for his father in years prior. “Even though there was a foreman for the laborer crew, I knew things that were beyond that—How to organize. What materials were needed. I just knew stuff and didn’t have to be managed.”

As he traveled from job site to job site with other companies, Angelo developed a new vantage point— there were so many opportunities for his family to expand their business outside of Alabama. “I started believing that we could grow the business even bigger,” Angelo recounts.

In 1998, Angelo took over as the CEO of Perryman Construction and relocated the company headquarters to Philadelphia. The family business has been on an upward trajectory ever since.

Under his leadership, Perryman Construction has added industrial, pharmaceutical, historical restoration, and large-scale commercial development to its portfolio. Their work includes the installation of 64,000 seats to the Philadelphia Eagles Stadium, construction of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, renovation of the cheetah habitat at the Philadelphia Zoo, and serving as construction manager for the Pennsylvania Convention Center, one of the nation’s 10 largest convention centers.

With these projects, Perryman Construction has made a name as full-service construction “troubleshooters”—no project is too large or too complex for them to take on. “We’re accustomed to grabbing a hot potato and running with it,” says Angelo, referring to building huge, high-profile projects on short timelines. Most recently, Perryman was tasked with turning the Wells Fargo Center into the stage for the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Last month, Perryman Construction was named to the 2016 Inner City 100 as one of the nation’s 100 fastest-growing inner city businesses. It’s not the first time the company has been honored with the award. But in the time when it was first awarded (2003) and today, the company has skyrocketed up the list. Also a graduate of ICIC’s Inner City Capital Connections (ICCC) program, Angelo points to the education he has received through ICIC as a key piece of Perryman Construction’s success. The training, for instance, has helped him fine-tune his business development skills. “ICIC taught me how to present myself to customers at the highest level,” Angelo tells me in a recent interview. “The training has helped me elevate the company to a higher standard and recruit higher-profile customers, customers who have incredibly high expectations for delivery,” he says, in reference to institutional clients like hospitals, universities and hospitality-driven clients (e.g. convention centers, stadiums, performing arts centers).

In the coming years, Perryman Construction plans to expand its portfolio of large, complex projects. It’s likely that many of those projects will be for pharmaceutical end users; their recent work on facilities for Merck and GlaxoSmithKline—two international giants—has made Perryman Construction uniquely adept at anticipating and responding to pharmaceutical companies’ needs.

This careful planning is what has helped bring Perryman Construction to the next level.

“Pray, plan and proceed” – it’s the advice that Angelo’s mother gave him years ago that he still follows to this day. “You build a business for a lifetime, or in the case of this family business, for many lifetimes,” Angelo tells me. “Carefully plan and execute each step so you don’t take the life out of the business. Take the time to plan before you execute. And never forget to pray.”

Learn more about Perryman Building & Construction Services, which ranked #29 on ICIC and Fortune magazine’s 2016 list of fastest-growing inner city businesses.

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