Maine Trails, August - September '09
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Right brain, left brain

Jay and Heidi Shorette bring diverse management styles to a new challenge at Dirigo Slipform

By Kathryn Buxton
 
Jay is the creative, right brain personality. Working in the construction industry since 1979, he has become known for his zest for a new challenge and ability to find innovative solutions at the job site. Heidi is more “left-brain” – analytical, logical and definitely has a good understanding of numbers. She worked in banking and finance for 20 years and knows her way around a balance sheet.
 
So when the opportunity came to buy Dirigo Slipform, the company Jay had helped Herb Sargent establish in 1997, the Shorettes were able to look at the proposition from two solid, but different perspectives. Jay, who with Sargent, had helped introduce a new construction technique to Maine, saw the chance to continue to grow and create new applications in the slipform industry. Heidi, who had retired from full-time banking several years ago, saw a solid business opportunity with a company both Shorettes know from the inside out.
 
“My piece is accounting and administration,” said Heidi who is the company’s new president. She joined the company in that full-time capacity at the beginning of August, but she has been on board part-time since the Shorettes signed the papers purchasing Dirigo Slipform from Sargent in June. Those first couple of months she was balancing two jobs – a long-term temporary position with a local accounting firm and her new role at Dirigo.
 
Anyone can tell the Shorettes enjoy each other and relish the prospect of this new challenge. Both grew up in Maine: Jay is from Old Town and Heidi grew up in Limestone. They met at Beal College in Bangor September 1978 and married in May 1980.
 
During that period, Jay also began his career in construction. He had been paying for college by working full-time as an assistant manager at a local grocery store when he applied for a job with H.E Sargent. He soon realized that in construction hard work paid off – that he could earn in nine or 10 months of the year more than he could working a full year in retail.
 
He also liked the work and the challenge of construction. “H.E. Sargent was a great organization,” said Jay who worked for Sargent for 12 years – under Herbert E. Sargent, Jim Sargent and John Simpson, who headed the company after the Sargent family sold H.E. Sargent in 1988 to French construction giant Razel. Jay eventually worked his way up to supervisor.
 
Entrepreneurial spirit
The Shorettes are no strangers to entreprenuership or hard work. They first worked together at MacGyver Construction, the general contracting firm they founded in the early 1990s before Jay joined Dirigo full-time.
 
At the time, Heidi was still working as assistant manager for a Key Bank branch in Old Town. Jay was working as a supervisor for H.E. Sargent, but looking to earn extra income during the winter months. The new company was named for the popular television show MacGyver that ran for seven seasons. In the series, the resourceful hero, played by Richard Dean Anderson, frequently saved the world from disaster with little more than a tube of toothpaste and a ball of string.
 
Jay Shorette fashioned his new company on that same can-do philosophy. MacGyver Construction soon grew from a part-time venture to a full-time occupation, and Jay left H.E. Sargent with his former employer’s blessing.
 
“They said, ‘Try it. If it doesn’t work out, you’re welcome to come back,’” recalled Jay. In fact, Herb Sargent frequently used MacGyver as a subcontractor in the construction company he founded in 1991, Sargent & Sargent and the new company also did work for H.E. Sargent, as well.
 
Running MacGyver gave Jay a chance to sharpen his leadership skills as head of his own contracting company. It also nurtured his creative side. At MacGyver, he frequently was called on to find cost-effective solutions for his clients. “Our motto was ‘We can make it work,’” said Jay. For Heidi, it required late nights issuing invoices and payroll checks from the company’s “office” in the family’s spare bedroom. It was hard work – “Not every day was cupcakes,” said Heidi.
 
MacGyver was growing, but then Herb Sargent came to Jay with an offer he found difficult to refuse. Sargent recruited Jay to help him launch Dirigo Slipform and introduce the concept of slipform concrete – a then little known process – to the construction industry in Maine.
 
“We were using MacGyver a lot as a subcontractor, and his work was always good,” said Herb Sargent, owner of Sargent Corp. “When I considered purchasing a slipform machine, Jay was the one to talk to.”
 
Sargent and Shorette traveled to Salisbury, North Carolina, to see one of the slipform machines in action. It was apparent the new business would require a steep learning curve and, foremost, consistency to master the technique.
 
Because the concrete technique was relatively new to Maine, it required a significant marketing effort to get the word out, as well. “It was a new way of doing it, and I had to give many, many lunchbox presentations to engineers and architects,” said Jay.
 
Sargent said that Jay’s enthusiasm and creativity over the years has contributed to the expanding popularity of slipform concrete in the region. “It’s great product and finding new ways to use it is where Jay shines,” said Sargent. “He’s always thinking about new ways to sell it and new ways to help his customers.”
 
Flexible alternatives
The slipform process is used to install concrete curbing, sidewalks, barriers and drives (Dirigo also specializes in installing granite curbing). Slipform concrete has gained popularity over the past decade, because it is both cost-effective and durable. It performs well in the northeast where, during the winter, plows can chew up more traditional asphalt curbing. It is also flexible – it can be installed at various stages in a project, even before any asphalt is laid.
 
“You have to do this every day,” said Jay, in order to have a feeling for the machinery and how to work the concrete so it is functional, durable and aesthetically appealing. Today, Dirigo’s crews are all industry certified and can be found at work on municipal, state and commercial construction projects throughout Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Last year, the company put down approximately 130,000 linear feet of slipform concrete, 80,000 linear feet of granite curbing, and 40,000 square feet of concrete walks and stamped concrete.
 
Recently, Jay said the company has devised a process for bonding its slipformed concrete curbing to asphalt with an epoxy binder. The result, said Jay, is a product that “has taken off like a rocket.”
 
Looking for a challenge
It’s that innovation and creative approach that has won Dirigo Slipform awards from the Northern New England Concrete Promotion Council for Outstanding Concrete Construction in “concrete paving and slipform concrete” nine years in a row.
 
Over the past 10 years, the company has found challenges in community service, as well. Dirigo helped construct a winter ice skating rink on the shore of Penobscot River in Bangor. The company also has donated its services for refurbishing several veterans memorials and the grounds of several VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) halls in Maine. Dirigo has helped build homes for Habitat for Humanity. And Jay and Heidi co-chaired the 2008 annual fund campaign at the Old Town-Orono YMCA (Jay is on the Y’s board of directors). They are proud to mention that the campaign exceeded its fundraising goal, despite the slow economy. Since its founding, the company has been a generous supporter of MBTA, as well, and Jay has been a longtime member of the MBTA’s Membership Committee.
 
Previous to buying Dirigo Slipform, the Shorettes tried their hand at “flipping.” They bought a Milford eyesore, a house that was in deplorable condition and completely rehabbed it. The project proved a test of the couple’s ability to work closely together after succeeding for more than 10 years at MacGyver Construction. Heidi was the “G.C.” (general contractor) and together they did all the work on the project themselves except for plumbing and heating, electrical, and flooring.
 
This fall, Heidi will continue the work of getting Dirigo Slipform certified by the state as a woman-owned business and she is genuinely excited about launching a new career in construction with the help of her husband.
 
“It’s the chance of a lifetime for us,” said Heidi who admits to being nervous but confident in the decision to take business ownership on. “In the end, you’ve got to trust your gut.”
 

 
Dirigo Slipform
25 Dempsey-Greaves Lane,
P.O. Box 340,
Stillwater, Maine 04489
Tel: 207-827-0100| Fax: 207-827-0101
www.dirigoslipform.com
Founded in 1997 by Herb Sargent.
Purchased in 2009 by Jay and Heidi Shorette.
Manufactures slipform concrete curbs, sidewalks, barriers and drives. Installer of granite curbing.
Employees: 27

 

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