Bill Sandbrook talks very little about himself, even during an interview. For instance: “Yeah, I fish,” is all he says about a recent fly-fishing excursion to Jackson Hole, Wyo. But he’s happy to listen and talk about you. He leans in when people across from him are chatting, sprinkling in subtle affirmations.
After a short conversation with Sandbrook, transforming a defunct concrete company into a market leader seems like a perfectly reasonable proposition. After all, he’s done it. But when Sandbrook took over U.S. Concrete in 2011, it didn’t seem reasonable at all. He had left a Georgia company with multinational reach and a $5 billion revenue stream for a $400 million company that was still working its way through bankruptcy. Almost everything needed to be fixed.
U.S. Concrete supplies ready-mixed concrete for commercial, residential, and public works construction projects. Sandbrook figured that a few strategy changes could carve out a niche in the materials game. The idea was simple—target fast-growing real estate markets and latch on. Along with North Texas, he zeroed in on the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City.
To cut costs, he moved the corporate headquarters from Houston, consolidating it with an existing field office in Euless. Things started moving in the right direction, but instilling trust among his 2,700 employees was an ongoing concern. “When I came here all the employees’ stock had been taken to zero, so you had a whole host of people saying, ‘I’m not going to become emotionally invested in this company again because they already screwed me once.’”
Sandbrook has a knack for motivating people, a skill he honed in the military. After graduating from West Point, he became an Army officer and led engineering projects in Germany. He eventually came back to teach cadets at his alma mater. As an officer and again as a professor, he learned that leadership is more than barking orders.
“In the Army, you have to be able to relate to the youngest private and the most senior general,” he says. “You can’t talk down to the private or be afraid of the general; the really great leaders can relate equally with people in all spectrums of life.”
Sandbrook also decentralized decision-making, giving local managers the autonomy and trust to develop strategies tailored to their regions. Nowhere has this been more impactful than in North Texas. Dallas-Fort Worth remains U.S. Concrete’s busiest market. The company is now supplying the concrete for some of biggest projects in the area, like Toyota Motor’s new North American headquarters at Legacy West in Plano.
Last year, U.S. Concrete saw its revenue grow to $974 million, and the stock price is now 30 times what it was when Sandbrook took over.
“When we started, I was very optimistic, but the acceleration and our ability to execute our strategy has been incredible,” he says. “It’s been a tremendous journey.”