Justin Waller is the owner of RedIron Construction, a metal construction company located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Born three hours north of Baton Rouge in Monroe, Waller grew up in a part of the United States that operates by its own set of social mores and business philosophies.
“Blissfully ignorant to how the world actually works,” Waller says of Louisiana, a state he still holds in high regard, even though the fabric of his childhood was arguably weaved within an outdated paradigm.
“There was a lot of stuff I was unaware of due to the lack of knowledge my parents and the people around me had. Even the people who did well, I don’t think they understood how the world works on a deeper level, both from an economic and psychological perspective.”
Waller adds that unlike in other states, when faced with conflict, Louisiana residents are more prone to default to violence rather than a war of words.
“I’ve read that you’re more likely to get in a physical altercation in a southern state than in a northern state,” he says.
“Northern states understand mental warfare and networking, things that are less physically confrontational.”
But Waller insists that these patterns of behavior don’t make his home state worse than any other region of the country.
Rather, as a man who has spent significant time in several states, as well as in exotic locales such as Dubai and Medellin, Colombia, Waller has simply been exposed to how different people and cultures conduct themselves, which has in turn influenced how he carries himself.
“I’m not trying to call my state stupid, but I do believe that there is a certain amount of ignorance in the south, and a lack of information regarding how things actually function, especially in the neighborhoods that I grew up in,” Waller explains.
“But I don’t have any beef with my state, and I’m not trying to talk poorly about my state. I don’t want to portray that anywhere on the Internet, but at the same time, I think there’s a lack of real understanding about how things actually work.”
As for why these sociological differences exist in Louisiana, Waller mentions that traditionally the southern United States has been more blue-collar.
According to the World Population Review, Louisiana is one of the least educated states in America, just ahead of California, Texas, and Mississippi.
But that perceived lack of education has never prevented Waller from accomplishing his goals.
At 24 years old, he took that rugged Louisiana grit, combined it with his relentless work ethic, and founded RedIron Construction, a company that specializes in metal buildings.
He didn’t fully understand how to run a business when he started RedIron Construction, but by then Waller had already spent countless hours working on metal buildings as a teenager, often braving scorching temperatures and lax jobsite management in order to get the job done.
“There were no safety protocols being adhered to,” Waller recalls of those early days working on metal buildings.
“Grown men were drinking Budweiser. Nobody had a shirt on. These were primitive practices, in comparison to what my business does today.”
Despite the less-than-ideal circumstances he encountered as a teenager, Waller learned to appreciate metal building construction, and if he wasn’t catching passes on a football field (Waller later earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Louisiana-Monroe), he was studying metal buildings, and absorbing as much information as he could about how to effectively run a business.
“It was in my consciousness,” Waller says of the metal building business, a line of work that offered him an escape from the monotonous manual labor jobs that many northern Louisianians eventually find themselves working.
“A lot of times we don’t know how to make money unless something is in our consciousness, and construction was the only way that I knew how to make doctor money. That’s actually a quote: the only way we knew how to make doctor money was in boots.”
Since its inception, Waller and RedIron Construction have endured the requisite growing pains that come with trying to establish a respected company in the cutthroat world of construction.
There have been times Waller didn’t know if he would be able to fulfill his weekly payroll obligations to his employees, and moments where it seemed his business was on the verge of spiraling into a paralyzing level of debt.
Inversely, Waller has also experienced unbridled jubilation, the thrill of landing a massive project or expanding RedIron Construction into a different state altogether affording him a lifestyle that few Louisianians, let alone Americans, can only dream of achieving.
Yet, throughout the turbulent and unpredictable rollercoaster that has been Waller’s career, he has also learned many lessons; some painful, others immensely valuable, but none more crucial than his willingness to stifle his ego and accept the fact that he doesn’t know everything.
“The most dangerous thing in business is what you don’t know that you don’t know,” Waller shares, and whenever the Monroe native encounters a roadblock he doesn’t know how to circumvent, he is quick to seek out guidance from those who have already conquered the challenges that await him.
“I found a bunch of titans in my industry, and I learned everything that I could from them in order to not take the punches that they had already taken,” Waller notes.
That strategy of deferring to expertise, Waller says, is what separates good intentions from profitable bottom lines.
“Finding those multi-millionaires in your industry who have already taken those blows, and then coming to them with humility, telling them that you want to learn from them and that you’re not trying to compete with them, doing that is probably one of the most impactful things a young guy can do, especially if you can get humble enough to shut up and listen,” Waller explains.
Unfortunately, too many aspiring entrepreneurs don’t listen, perhaps emboldened by the allure of social media and the ability to generate clicks and attention, all without having to provide tangible evidence for why their message is more impactful than the next person with a dream.
Worse, too many are unwilling to invest in their business or brand, and if they do, the deposit is minimal, an ill-fated attempt to extract resources and talent from the marketplace while giving very little in return.
“A lot of people have a scarcity mindset,” Waller says of the aforementioned entrepreneurs and business owners who will one day see their dreams go unrealized.
In Waller’s case, he plays to win, which is why he rarely shies away from the opportunity to double down, provided the investment is prudent.
RedIron Construction’s CEO is constantly analyzing his business’ numbers, looking for ways to optimize his cash flow, even if that means paying a prospective hire $5,000 more in salary than what was initially expected.
“Speed is very important in business. If I know that I have the right hire, it makes sense to look past the additional $5,000 because that’s nothing if they bring in $1 million or $2 million. That’s easy math,” Waller says.
“So to sit around and nickel and dime someone over $5,000 makes no sense, not only because of the psychology of the relationship and the value that you have pegged to them, but also again because of the speed of the actual mathematics of the transaction. And I would do the same thing over $10,000 or $20,000. Math is math, speed is speed, and value is value.”
Beyond the financial aspect of running a metal building company, Waller also understands the importance of empowering his employees, not only with words, but also by giving them creative license to make key decisions for the business.
This includes Waller allowing his employees access to company credit cards so that not every financial decision has to be run through him, in turn saving everyone time that can be devoted to more important tasks.
“Most people are good people,” Waller emphasizes.
“If you tell someone that you trust them enough to give them a company credit card, they often do not want to let you down.”
That sense of responsibility also extends to Waller.
He doesn’t want to let his employees down either, which is why he is always searching for new ways to elevate the company, never content to stagnate at a specific annual revenue out of concern that an acceptance of the status quo could spell the beginning of the end for his business.
“In my twenties I used to think that I could make my business sit still, that we could stay at ten guys and I could make a certain amount of money, but the truth is the business is going in one direction or another,” Waller says.
“You’re never going to be able to balance it and make it stop, so you have a choice: you can either try to stay small, or you can get bigger.”
Waller adds that his desire for constant growth also makes RedIron Construction better prepared to deal with the fluctuation of temperamental markets, and not susceptible to recessions or a downturn in corporate property investment.
“If a recession comes, all my competitors will probably go out of business, and likely end up coming to work for me. I will then get to collect all the good talent that’s available in the marketplace, and my company will be that much better,” he says.
As for Waller’s future, he’s now more visible after recently expanding into the YouTube and content creation space.
Much of what he posts online now is meant to help young men with their finances and personal lives, but Waller also sees his online presence as a way to cultivate relationships and create more interest in his professional pursuits.
“My immediate thought is that the more people who know me, the more opportunities I will have,” he says.
But that’s not to say that he’s taking a step back from RedIron Construction.
If anything, his online efforts will only assist in continuing to establish RedIron Construction as a national player in the metal buildings sector.
“One of the hardest things to do in this world is find talent, especially in business, but if you have a brand, and people know, like, and trust you, then when they come through the door, they will already want to work with you,” Waller says.
“I like doing YouTube, but I’m not doing it for the money. It’s more about finding really good people who align with my values.” QS
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