'People appreciate anyone willing to show his true self'

Bill Knestrick talks about leadership, the influx of youth into Nashville and surviving the construction slump [From our print edition featured in Monday's City Paper]

William “Bill” Knestrick is president and CEO of Knestrick Contractor Inc., one of Nashville’s most long-standing and venerable building companies. This year, the company celebrates its 40th year of operation. Recently, Knestrick and news correspondent William Williams enjoyed a chat about the construction industry and KCI.

Despite the economic slump — particularly related to the development/construction industries — Knestrick has avoided major downsizing of its roughly 40 employees. How have you managed this?

We think we are weathering the current economic climate better than most in our industry, and until very recently, we were able to avoid layoffs altogether. We have had to trim a few positions of late, but we see that table turning with the good news of several new projects either under contract or on our horizon.

Knestrick moved last fall from Woodbine to Sidco Drive in the 100 Oaks area. Why?

We moved to Sidco Drive because I felt like Berry Hill and the whole Armory Drive exit gave us great access to the whole city. It’s an outstanding location for company headquarters, especially when you look at cost per square foot. It’s hard to find 10,000 square feet at a good price. We bought the space and renovated it for about $175 a square foot. That’s hard to beat.

How will Nashville’s development community weather this economic malaise?

Nashville is one of the most progressive cities in the country. The youth and the young adults moving in are giving it a real vibrancy. I’ve put eight condos under contract in the last two weeks. Nashville is definitely moving.

We’re not in a crisis here where everyone is frozen. We had a lot of momentum heading into this national economic downturn, and we still have a lot of momentum, and that’s keeping Nashville, more than a lot of other cities, I think, moving. 

Knestrick Properties developed in the Waverly-Belmont district The Lofts on Eighth, which are quite impressive, especially since it’s your company’s first multi-unit residential development. However, the building’s exterior design is not — if I might respectfully say — particularly distinctive or detailed. Is that fair to say?

My target for Lofts on Eighth was to blend in with the other buildings in the neighborhood. We met with the councilman and the neighborhood community group and we got feedback and even changed the design some based on that input. I think that, for how economical the building is to live in, it is an outstanding product. To make that happen, I put most of my creativity into the interior of the building and in the units themselves.

You contend the Music City Center convention facility is the single most important building for urban Nashville in the past few years. Why?

Nashville cannot grow and prosper without a convention center to attract people and businesses to our city. I believe the convention center is the most needed development in Nashville and that it should be No. 1 on everyone's radar screen.

This year marks Knestrick’s 40th year of operation. To what do you attribute the company’s longevity?

I attribute our success and our longevity to our people, to our unique ability to predict the market of the building industry and to keeping up with trends. Customer relationships are also key to our success.

We think of each customer relationship as an investment rather than just a client. Since our founding, we have had an incredibly dedicated, talented group that is focused on a quality product and total customer satisfaction.

What is the main challenge regarding the use of contract laborers? Obviously there are labor law and legal considerations.

The main challenge with contract labor is they don’t necessarily understand the company culture and vision. They don’t have buy-in to the company leadership, and for that reason, we do not hire contract labor during the construction process.

How would you describe your leadership style?

The greatest leader is one who is transparent and real. I am who I am. I drop my shield and I think people appreciate anyone willing to show his true self. They are loyal to that.

And on a bit of a side note, you’re a supporter of local artists and a collector of their works. How did you start down that path?

My father is an artist and he always exposed me to art, which has given me a lifelong appreciation. When we built our new headquarters, we built it so that we could display art throughout the building, and it's dedicated to artists with a Nashville connection.

One of the areas in our lobby was built specifically to promote Nashville artists, and my vision is to promote college artists by having exhibitions of their work so that we can help keep them excited about art and so that they will continue to be artists in life.