NEWS

  • How to Thrive During a Recession: Keith Tillage’s Leadership Story

    July 3, 2014

    Tuck made me start looking at my business from a holistic standpoint, not just day-to-day. I saw the value of time. I saw the value of money. I saw the value of what I brought to the company and how it could be best utilized. – Keith Tillage By Anita Warren; Getting Ink Done Keith Tillage’s construction firm was just seven years old when the U.S. economy took a nosedive. Many businesses didn’t survive the recession. Others survived only by drastic downsizing. Tillage’s company, Tillage Construction LLC, actually grew, experiencing 294 percent growth between 2008 and 2011. The company’s success is a testament not only to Tillage’s hard work but his responsiveness to opportunity when it knocks at his door. Previously a consultant with a top financial services firm, Tillage says he’d always dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur. Yet he admits he didn’t know the full extent of what he was getting into when he started the commercial construction company with his father, Ken, in 2000. Ken was an experienced builder, but Keith was a novice. “At the time, I was single and I had this idealistic approach that I could make anything work,” the younger Tillage recalls. The two recruited a friend and a relative and set about finding commercial facilities to build, renovate, and maintain. Among the jobs they snagged in those formative years was a small project at Barksdale Air Force Base. The work as a general contractor paid just a few thousand dollars, but Tillage signed on in hopes it would lead to something more, and, in fact, it did; that initial project grew quickly and others followed, eventually adding millions of dollars in revenue for the Louisiana-based company. Tillage Construction grew so robust during this phase, says Tillage, that “we were strong enough to go out and compete in the private sector, and it seemed like just as we were getting into private-sector work, a boom was starting to happen again.” Tillage was determined to continue this winning streak, so he embraced the opportunity to attend Tuck’s Building a High-Performing Minority Business in 2009 when the Southern Region Minority Supplier Development Council offered to sponsor him. Three years later, he returned to Tuck to attend Growing the Minority Business to Scale. Through Tuck’s programs, he began to realize he needed to participate in projects at the decision-making, not just the production, level. That revelation led him to pursue a multimillion-dollar joint venture. “The reason I’d never done a joint venture before is I was never in a place to negotiate from a strength position. You need governance, and before Tuck, I don’t think that my mindset would have allowed me to see the ramifications and/or the benefits of having governance in a deal,” he says. “Tuck made me start looking at my business from a holistic standpoint, not just day-to-day. I saw the value of time. I saw the value of money. I saw the value of what I brought to the company and how it could be best utilized.” Today, Tillage Construction boasts annual revenues of $20 million. Its roughly three dozen employees operate out of offices in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Fort Polk, LA, and Dallas, TX. The company utilizes local construction labor whenever possible, adding new jobs and revenues to the communities where it operates. “Our growth is targeted for specific industries—healthcare, transportation, specifically aviation, and also casino gaming. From those industries, I’m trying to control growth by keeping overhead as low as possible while increasing volume. We want to do that by going into other segments,” Tillage explains. Tillage confesses to being a “huge proponent” of the Tuck School’s minority business executive programs. “If anybody ...
  • Baton Rouge Business Report – Keith Tillage

    March 5, 2014

    Keith Tillage Owner, Tillage Construction By: David Jacobs Photo By: Don Kadair “I met an established businessman on a red-eye flight from San Francisco. He told me, ‘You’ll never really get there if you’re lucky, because the whole key to life is continuing to move forward.’ There’s always something else, something larger, something you couldn’t imagine before. My advice is to enjoy the ride; the beauty is in the trip itself.” AGE: 44 PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: Keith Tillage left corporate America to start Tillage Construction with his father in 2000. What began as a residential construction company quickly turned its focus to commercial work, including design/build services and project management. Tillage has been named the region’s Minority Small Business Person of the Year by the Small Business Administration, seen his company show up on the “Inc. 5000,” and met President Barack Obama. IN THE NEWS: Tillage Construction just opened its first office in New Orleans. The company also recently formed a joint venture with Milton J. Womack Inc., and that venture has been placed by the Orleans Parish School Board on a short list of three firms in the running to provide design-build services for the new Edna Karr High School. via Baton Rouge Business Report
  • A Fast-Growing Father-Son Partnership

    September 9, 2013

    View Article from Family Business
  • Tillage Construction and BJL Group come together to give back

    July 15, 2013

    Southern University Alumnus Faciliate 2013 Nation Builders Program Launch Baton Rouge, LA. July 5, 2013: Keith Tillage of Tillage Construction and Brian LaFleur of the BJL Group have come together to give back to the community that helped mold them. Tillage and LaFleur, both Southern University alumnus and best friends since age 11, not only conduct business together but they embark on philanthropic endeavors together. Collectively, in 2013 the two will be launching a campaign that will simultaneously continue their efforts to engage inner city youth and support Southern University by donating 40 tickets to attend each Southern University home football game to youth organizations that support the North Baton Rouge community. Annually, Tillage Construction and BJL Group sponsor similar giveaways with the NBA utilizing New Orleans Pelicans Tickets however, due to transportation requirements; many organizations in the North Baton Rouge Community have not able to take advantage of the acts of kindness. “Understanding that charity starts at home, Keith and I recently met with the Southern University Athletic Director, William Broussard and devised a strategy that would integrate their objectives of exposing and inspiring inner city youth with the current needs of the university”, explains Brian J LaFleur, of BJL Group. Formally titled the “Nation Builders” program, Southern University Athletics supporters like Tillage Construction and the BJL Group, can procure tickets by making a 100% tax-deductible donation and in turn, donate the tickets to charities of their choice. “The Jaguar Nation game day attendance continues to improve as a new generation of Jaguars is introduced to the rich pageantry of tradition. While our attendance increased close to 30% last season, the Nation Builders Program is an opportunity for alumni and friends of the university to pay it forward by engaging the community and rebuilding not only the athletic fan base but an active alumni base”, affirms Southern University Athletic Director, William Broussard. The Southern University Jaguars will host its first home football game on Saturday September 14, 2013 against Prairie View A&M Panthers with much more of the community in attendance thanks to this new alliance. “Everybody that knows me understands the affection I have for the community and university that nurtured me but this is not about me, this is about saving our youth, not only here but across the nation and supporting the universities that were established to educate them” Brian and I have the easy part, the heroes are the people that actually work with the youth in these communities every day and people like Dr. Broussard where despite a difficult financial climate is still tasked and held accountable for the success of our Historically Black Universities”. For more information on Southern University an how to support Southern Universities Nation Builders Program please visit The Nations Builders Program page. About Tillage Construction Since 2000, Tillage Construction has experienced significant growth as one of nation’s fastest-growing, 100% minority-owned construction companies. Our expertise ranges the full gamut of commercial construction services, and we are dedicated to exceptional customer service from project acceptance to project completion.
  • Tillage Constructions’ Keith Tillage Invited To White House To Discuss Fiscal Cliff Effects

    January 2, 2013

    Tillage Constructions’ owner and 14 other CEO’s invited to The White House by President Obama Los Angeles, California (PRWEB) December 31, 2012 Los Angeles, CA – December 29, 2012: As the owner of a rapidly expanding construction company, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Keith Tillage has always maintained that one should always ‘expect the unexpected.’ But even while being awarded the PTAC HUBZone Business of the Year, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2012 Region VI Minority Small Business Person of the Year, and as a finalist for the 2012 Black Enterprise Small Business of the Year Award, Keith Tillage, the owner of Tillage Construction, was not expecting a call from The White House. The call from a White House Secretary was an invitation for Tillage, also received by 14 other distinguished small business owners, to discuss fiscal cliff fears at a summit with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at The White House. “I was excited about meeting the President but more honored that I had been chosen to weigh in on this historic issue for our country” humbly divulged by Tillage. The President, Vice President Biden, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett all listened keenly to the insights of all the entrepreneurs. While the prominent political leaders in the room listen so did the other entrepreneurs, gaining insight into the hardships faced by other industries. It was during the summit Tillage recognized that “As business owners we get tunnel vision of our own businesses but hearing from the other CEO’s in the room, each from various industries, gave me an holistic prospective of how catastrophic the fiscal cliff could be for the country as a whole.” Subsequent to the fated meeting, Tillage would go on to assert that “If you believe in the democracy of our country as I do, then you have to trust your elected officials and trust the fact that they understand this is not a democratic or republican issue but an American issue.“   Like President Obama, Tillage remains hopefully optimistic and acknowledges that “By expanding my business with a regional office in Dallas Texas, I gambled on this administration getting this issue resolved prior to the meeting and after actually speaking with the heads of government and business… I feel even more confident in not only their ability but willingness to get it done!” ABOUT TILLAGE CONSTRUCTION: Since 2000, Tillage Construction has experienced significant growth as one of nation’s fastest-growing, 100% minority-owned construction companies. Tillage Constructions expertise ranges the full gamut of commercial construction services, with all employees dedicated to exceptional customer service from project acceptance to project completion.
  • Executive Spotlight: Keith Tillage

    November 15, 2012

    Though the national economy has been anything but booming over the past three years, Keith Tillage and his father have put together a powerhouse company in Tillage Construction. The firm ranked No. 805 on the Inc. 5000 list this year. Tillage Construction offers job-order contracting and design-build, among other services, and it has experienced a three-year growth rate of 424%, with $18.2 million in revenue last year. Tillage returned to Baton Rouge from Dallas in 2000 to team up with his father in the commercial construction business. The son might get more of the spotlight these days, but he says he and his father equally own the company. Business Report: Why do you do what you do? Keith Tillage: As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. From the day my father and I opened the doors, it was a burning desire to make the business a success. I still wake up with that same desire, even more so now! When I don’t, I’ll do something different. BR: What is your greatest professional accomplishment? KT: In retrospect, I honestly believe it was leaving the comfortable confines of corporate America to come home and follow my dream. It was the most important step of my entire journey because it was the first step. BR: What was your first job? KT: I was the head nail-setter and only other employee at my father’s cabinet company, Triple T cabinets. BR: What is the best advice you’ve ever received? KT: Never take no for an answer from a person who doesn’t have the ability to tell you yes. BR: If you could have any job other than your own, what would it be? KT: I would love to be in public service in a capacity through which I could affect the lives of Louisianans. BR: What is the greatest personal or professional obstacle you’ve overcome?  KT: Professionally, I think it was the fear of entrepreneurship itself. It’s idealistic to want to be your own boss, but in actuality it’s like walking the tightrope without a net. BR: If you started over, what would you do differently?  KT: Absolutely nothing! Not that we didn’t make countless mistakes, but each one taught us invaluable lessons, and that learning process has been the cornerstone of our success. BR: What is your prescription for life? KT: Life is a train ride that we are all on eagerly anticipating the next stop to be the one that signifies that we have made it. Once we get there, we realize that the next stop will be the big one, and then the next, and so on. If you are lucky, you figure out that life is not about the stops at all; it’s really about the ride. BR: What book are you currently reading? KT: I’m currently rereading The Greatest Salesman in the World, by Og Mandino. Each time I do, I discover something new or something that seemed insignificant before but now applies to my life. It’s the ultimate motivational read for entrepreneurs. BR: If you could have dinner with any three living people, who would they be? KT: President Obama, so I could understand how he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders; Bono, to understand the humanitarianism in his heart; and my father, Ken Tillage, to help me make sense of it all, in order to follow in his footsteps and become a better man. BR: Who would play you in a movie? KT: Laurence Fishburne, because he is an incredible actor and would ensure the accent was authentic. I hate the way Hollywood depicts the way we speak in movies. BR: What do you do to unwind? KT: I appreciate a nice cigar and great conversation. BR: What is the most expensive purchase you’ve made for yourself? KT: I’m a watch collector, so there you have ...
  • Keith Tillage speaks with Black Enterprise Magazine for SBA and US Black Chamber Match Making Event

    October 10, 2012

    New partnership seeks to help black-owned small businesses to form joint ventures with big businesses and access federal contracting Keith Tillage’s firm is working with over $20 million in federal contracts from the support of SBA’s programs The U.S. Small Business Administration and U.S. Black Chamber Inc. have teamed up to help small minority businesses access guidance on federal contracting, face-to-face meetings, and match-making opportunities in teaming up with larger companies and graduates ofSBA’s 8(a) Business Development program. The new partnership recently gave way to a one-day freeNational 8(a) Training, Business Matchmaking and Awards Ceremony held at the Carnegie Library in Washington, DC on October 10. “SBA and U.S. Black Chamber are partners in a major effort to expand outreach and support to underserved minority business communities that have been hit harder by the economy than other sectors,” says SBA Deputy Administrator Marie C. Johns. The goal is to help participating companies leverage their assets and capabilities and to take businesses to a higher level. Co-hosting this special event, “was an exceptional opportunity to partner with the SBA and provide a chance to recognize the firms who have worked diligently over the last year, despite harsh economic conditions, and managed to successfully grow their businesses,” adds Ron Busby, President and CEO of the U.S. Black Chamber Inc., the trade group supporting African American Chambers of Commerce and small business organizations nationwide. During several scheduled forums, small businesses will learn how to market themselves to the federal government and go after federal contracting opportunities. The forum also will offer help with strategic alliances, joint venture opportunities, and mentor-protege arrangements within the 8(a) Program. The SBA encourages larger firms to team with a smaller firm to help with financing, management, and technical assistance “The SBA does an incredible job of taking companies like mine and putting them together with companies that can enhance their business. They vet those particular companies and grow those companies that are part of 8(a),” says Keith Tillage, the co-owner of Tillage Construction LLC, an SBA assisted business based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “I started with the 8(a) program in 2003. My company wouldn’t be where it is today without it.” Tillage used the SBA’s help in developing a strategic business plan. The SBA also helped expand and increase the company’s contracting opportunities by linking the firm with federal agencies through the 8(a) program. The company’s first major client was the United States Department of Agriculture. Today, Tillage Construction is working federal contracts worth about $20 million. Tillage Construction was a finalist for the 2012 Black Enterprise Small Business of the Year award and named the PTAC HUBZone Business of the Year.  It was recognized in 2012 as one of the fastest growing private companies in America by Inc. 5000. The family business has evolved from a simple hobby of making cabinets started by Keith’s father, Ken Tillage, 20 years ago into a full-service commercial construction company. After leaving corporate America, Keith teamed up with his father in 2000 to form Tillage Construction, a general contracting business specializing in design build, renovation, new construction, and demolition for the government and the private sector. Tillage Construction grew revenues 285% from $2 million in 2007 to $7.7 million in 2010. Revenues for 2011 topped $18.3 million with a staff of 16 full-time employees. Not only does Tillage hire many of the residents from the Baton Rouge community, but he also utilizes as many subcontractors located in the area as possible. Those subcontractors who do not have the capacity to work on projects with Tillage Construction are encouraged to use the company as a resource and mentor to assist in their growth and development. Tillage is excited about the National 8(a) ...
  • Inc. 5000 Honors Tillage Construction

    September 17, 2012

    Inc. Magazine Unveils Its Annual Exclusive List of America’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies—the  Inc.5000   TILLAGE CONSTRUCTION LLC Ranks No. 805 on the 2012 Inc.5000 with Three-Year Sales Growth of 424% NEW YORK, August 21, 2012 – Inc. magazine today ranked Tillage Construction LLC NO.805 on its sixth annual Inc.5000, an exclusive ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. The list represents the most comprehensive look at the most important segment of the economy—America’s independent entrepreneurs.  Unified Payments tops this year’s list. Tillage Construction LLC joins Yelp, yogurt maker Chobani, Giftcards.com, KIND and famed hatmaker Tilly’s, among other prominent brands featured on this year’s list. “This award is truly an honor because it’s a testament to hard work and perseverance by my father and myself”; said owner Keith Tillage but added “we clearly understand that our company and our family name will be judged by our long term sustainability and just not one or two good years”. In a stagnant economic environment, median growth rate of 2012 Inc.5000 companies remains an impressive 97 percent. The companies on this year’s list report having created over 400,000 jobs in the past three years, and aggregate revenue among the honorees reached $299 billion. Complete results of the Inc.5000, including company profiles and an interactive database that can be sorted by industry, region, and other criteria, can be found at www.inc.com/5000. “Now, more than ever, we depend on Inc.5000 companies to spur innovation, provide jobs, and drive the economy forward.  Growth companies, not large corporations, are where the action is,” says Inc. Editor Eric Schurenberg About Tillage Construction LLC Tillage Construction LLC is a 100% minority-owned commercial construction company that offers full-service comprehensive packages to the Federal Government, private and public sectors. The Company specializes in Job Order Contracting (JOC), Design Build, New Construction, Commercial Renovation, Interior build-out construction and facilities maintenance. via Inc. 5000
  • EXPRESS MAGAZINE

    August 11, 2012

    Learn from the Best After Keith Tillage made the decision to leave corporate America and join forces with his father in the construction business, Tillage Construction has become one of Southern Louisiana’s fastest-growing, 100 percent minority-owned construction companies. Find out how a chance meeting on a plane changed his life forever. Nicole: Tillage Construction was started in 1991 by your father, Ken. How and why did you get involved? Keith: My father retired in 91, and when I graduated from Southern University and went to Dallas he started building cabinets full time. It evolved into residential contracting around 1998. He actually had a money dispute with clients that didn’t pay him after he completed building their house. He finally let me get involved in the dispute, and I brought in attorneys and got it settled. That was my first taste of the construction business – and I still came back! The construction idea came about from a magazine article I read on a plane. I was consulting at the time and flying weekly. On a flight to Seattle, I read an article on a woman-owned construction firm in Nashville and how she lost and rebuilt her business. I was intrigued by the SBA (Small Business Administration) programs she mentioned specifically for minorities. That day, I got off the plane in Seattle and told my dad, “If you go commercial, I’ll come home.” He said, “If you come home, I’ll go commercial!” Nicole: How did you get the courage to leave corporate America and join forces with your father? Keith: I think it was a combination of things. Ignorance was a major part of my courage. Seriously, I had no idea how hard it would be and that it was a possibility I could fail.  My father is really responsible for that, he has always made me feel I could do anything! Also, I had a mentor who put everything he had into his work just to make partner. I saw for myself that it was true that, as a black man, he had to be two times better. He was. When he finally made partner, within a year he died from cancer. It made me realize how short life can really be and that you have to do it now, or there is a chance it may not happen. Again on a plane, I met a man who honestly made me see working for someone in a totally different light. He had me afraid to have my fate in someone else’s hands. He gave me a book The Richest Man in Babylon, and I was forever changed! Nicole: Was construction something that you had always been interested in? Keith:  I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I wasn’t exactly sure what the business would be, but I just felt if I found a good product I could apply my business experience and make it successful. It was something that I honestly never considered. I saw construction, like most other minorities, from the labor side.  I thought it was hot, long hours and hard work. We never were exposed to the business side of it – not just from an ownership side, but the management side. People with construction management degrees start out at 50k and can easy be at six figures in four years. I’m working now to give kids, especially minorities, another outlook. Nicole: Your company has expanded its market to Mississippi and Texas. What was the biggest challenge that you faced throughout that process? Keith: Well, that was the easy part for me. Working big six (top accounting firms) I got the concept that whatever expertise was needed, just bring it in. Once you can cook a dozen cookies in your kitchen, you ...
  • SBA OFFICIAL TOURS SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY CENTER

    June 26, 2012

    President Barack Obama’s plan to give a boost to businesses looking to expand and a college’s desire to build a comprehensive small-business training center are merging at Southern University. When fall classes start, Southern students looking to be entrepreneurs should be able to make use of a new Small Business Development Center currently under construction in what used to be an old bookstore. The Southern University Foundation bought the building for about $300,000 about five years ago. In the future, a long-abandoned post office next door on Harding Boulevard is slated to become a small business incubator, offering management and leadership training for startups, said Ernie Hughes, the foundation’s vice president for advancement. A portion of the project’s financing is coming from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The agency has granted funding to its local partner, the Louisiana Small Business Development Center, or SBDC. Tuesday at Southern, SBA Deputy Administrator Marie Johns walked through the concrete and drywall shell of the old bookstore looking at space where entrepreneurs will get help with planning, starting and managing small businesses. Although Congress has largely ignored Obama’s so-called “to-do” list of economic initiatives that he says would create jobs, Johns said the agency is still putting some of the president’s ideas to work. Obama, she said, recognizes that small businesses are responsible for most of the country’s new jobs, and young entrepreneurs often come up with the innovative ideas that turn into successful small businesses. “Congress needs to act. The president is proposing tax breaks for businesses adding employees and buying new equipment, and giving raises and all of the different things that support economic growth,” Johns said. “This business development center will help entrepreneurs grow and thrive. Small business is where all the jobs are coming from.” Southern’s Small Business Development Center will include intensive training and guidance from experienced consultants, said Leighton Bryant, senior business consultant with the SBDC. Donald Andrews, dean of Southern’s College of Business, said the adjacent business incubator will house the principals of a dozen or more startups. “The purpose is to reduce the odds of their business failing. We will teach them how to walk, how to run and then how to win marathons,” Andrews said. The two roughly 2,000-square-foot buildings were designed by students at Southern’s School of Architecture. Jason Lockhart, an assistant professor, said they should be fairly similar brick structures with arched openings, an outdoor patio and a glass entryway connecting the two. Construction for the two buildings is being handled by Tillage Construction, a Baton Rouge firm co-owned by Southern alumnus Keith Tillage. “We came in on the front end to help develop this project,” he said. “I went to this school, I grew up two minutes from here. The big deal is to make this project work.” -by Koran Addo via TheAdvocate.com
  • KEITH TILLAGE – BUSINESS REPORT PROFILE

    October 3, 2011

    The “aha” moment When Keith Tillage worked for a major consulting firm in Dallas, he had a mentor, a black man who was 10 years his senior. Tillage watched as the man worked long hours, only to be repeatedly passed over for promotions. The mentor, who assured Tillage that his hard work would pay off, eventually made partner. Six months later, however, he was diagnosed with colon cancer, and six months after that he was dead. Tillage had always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and his friend’s death made him realize the time was now. Tillage’s father, Ken, already owned a residential contracting business in Baton Rouge. Tillage called his father and said, “If we go commercial, I’ll come home and we’ll build the business together.” Ken said yes, and in 2000 the new company was born. R&D The federal government typically requires 30% of its contractors to be woman-or minority-owned, Tillage says, and he felt there was an opening for a minority commercial contractor in Baton Rouge who could go after government work. A profile of a female contractor in an in-flight magazine spurred the idea. Tillage reached out to successful local contractors, including CSRS and Cajun Industries, for work and guidance. Through advice and hard experience during the early, lean years, he learned the importance of slow growth, taking on jobs he knew he could handle and delivering what he said he would deliver. Hitting the market After Hurricane Katrina, companies pursuing recovery work called Tillage Construction in hopes of finding a local partner. They weren’t really looking for a true partner, however; they wanted a minority front man. Tillage insisted on being deeply involved in any project so that his company could grow and be better prepared for the next job. Instead of pursuing work in New Orleans, Tillage went to Stoneville, Miss., to visit a U.S. Department of Agriculture contracting officer with whom he previously had worked. After the brief meeting, Tillage struck up a conversation with another man in the restroom; he turned out to be a top regional USDA official. The chance meeting led to a $500,000 contract, Tillage’s largest job up to that point. Tillage says: “We manage expectations. If I think it’s going to be done in three days, I’m going to tell you three days or four. I’m not going to tell you two. What people want is professionalism. They want to know that they can believe what you tell them.” -by David Jacobs Photography © Copyright 2011 by Louisiana Business Incorporated. All rights reserved by LBI. via Business Report
  • FATHER, SON FIND SUCCESS

    September 18, 2011

    In every life, there are landmark moments: marriage, birth of a child, first real job. For Keith Tillage, a story in a magazine also makes the list. Eleven years ago, Tillage was a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers overseeing SAP business management software installations at major corporations. On a flight from Seattle to Dallas,Tillage was thumbing through a magazine when he saw an article about a Nashville, Tenn., woman who owned a commercial construction company. She had overcome some bad luck to become successful. While that made a nice story, what really caught Tillage’s eye were the numbers that showed the size of the commercial construction market. “I saw limitless potential and an opportunity to work with one of my favorite people of all time, my dad, and come back and actually grow this business,” Tillage said. Tillage got off the plane, whipped out his cellphone and called his father, who owned a residential construction company in Baton Rouge. “I said, ‘Dad, listen. If you go commercial, I’ll come home, and we’ll run the business,’” Tillage said. “He said, ‘Well if you come home, I’ll go commercial.’ And the plan started from there.” The plan, 11 years out, landed Tillage Construction on Inc. magazine’s list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies from 2007-2010 at 1,032. The company’s 2010 revenue of $7.7 million was 294 percent higher than in 2007. Tillage Construction provides design-build, new construction, renovation and demolition services to the public sector. The company concentrates on work in Louisiana and Mississippi. Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the Associated General Contractors, said while Tillage’s path to commercial construction was a bit unusual, it will probably become less so. “The nature of being a general contractor is evolving, and certainly, even more so than probably 10 years ago, the ability to use technology and to put in sophisticated business management practices is crucial,” Turmail said. Construction companies essentially have the same labor, equipment and materials costs, Turmail said. What sets one firm apart from another is being more efficient at doing the work; for example, finding a way to build a foundation in five days instead of seven. Companies are also using “building information modeling” technology and “lean construction” principles, production management techniques designed to increase efficiency, to compete for work, he added. People with strong technology and business backgrounds are going to see an opportunity in construction and probably have the skill set to take advantage, Turmail said. Tillage’s friends questioned his decision. The economy was booming. Tillage was making “a considerable amount of money” at Pricewaterhouse, one of the Big Six accounting firms, and traveling all over the world. “They were like, ‘Well, Keith, do you think this will work?’ And my answer was, ‘It has to,’” Tillage said, laughing. “There was no other choice. Simple as that.”  Tillage put together a detailed plan. For example, he bought a fourplex, living in one unit while renting out the others to minimize his living expenses and to generate some income. He bought an office building, which he and his father renovated. Tillage Construction occupied the first floor, with the second floor available for rent. That’s not to say everything went smoothly. While the company was able to secure contracts the first couple of years, it didn’t begin turning a small profit until 2003 and 2004. Tillage supported the company’s operations using his savings, and his father concentrated on building cabinets to generate some revenue. But his business plan didn’t call for him and his father to forgo a salary for years or for the company’s first big break, a 2002 contract valued at $1 million, to turn into a dispute with the owner that nearly killed Tillage Construction. Tillage Construction eventually prevailed in court, Tillage said. A settlement agreement prohibits him from discussing the details, but the experience proved invaluable. “That actually taught us more about the business than anything, not for what went right in it, but for what went wrong,” Tillage said. Tillage said he and his father learned ...
  • TILLAGE FINDS ROLE OF COACH A THEME IN CAREER

    September 18, 2011

    Ken Tillage, chief executive officer of Tillage Construction LLC, has never written a book but if he did, it might be titled “How to Become an Entrepreneur and Raise One Yourself.” The subtitle might be “The Path Isn’t a Straight Line.” Before his current gig, running one of the country’s fastest-growing companies with his son, Tillage had been a teacher, a coach, a liquor store owner, head of the city-parish’s juvenile detention program, a cabinet maker and a homebuilder. The high point of his coaching career came in 1977, when he took over as coach of Southern University’s football team at midseason. The low point came at the end of the season, when the school encouraged him to leave. “I had a lot of opportunities to go and still coach other places, but I decided to stay here. The family was stable. My wife had a job. So if I get a job we keep on eating,” Tillage said. Tillage decided to put down roots in Baton Rouge. Still, he never forgot what it felt like to be fired. “When they sent me away from coaching, I said, ‘Well, you know, I don’t need to depend on nobody else for a living. I need to depend on myself,’” Tillage said. Although Tillage ended up taking other jobs, he never shook the entrepreneurial urge. And he brought his son, Keith, with him everywhere, whether it was renovating the liquor store or building cabinets. Those experiences provided Keith with a couple of key advantages in starting the commercial construction business, Tillage said. Having seen all the failures his father experienced in residential construction, Keith could only go up from there, Tillage said. Keith also learned not to be afraid of making a mistake. “If you break your neck, you break your neck, but at least next time you’ll know a whole lot better,” Tillage said. “But if I hold your hand you learn nothing.” Tillage said he still offers his son advice, but the final decision remains Keith’s. Sometimes that has worked out badly. On a few occasions, Tillage has asked his son where he found a subcontractor who didn’t work out. But in most cases, things have worked out well. These days Tillage concentrates on the construction company’s jobs in Baton Rouge, occasionally traveling to other sites when needed. His advice to entrepreneurs or those thinking about going into business: “Every day is not sunshine. Tomorrow is not promised. You got to work hard for what you see in front of you, and you can’t give up on it,” Tillage said. “You got to get up every morning with the attitude that you’re going to make it work, and you got to work at making it work.” Many times people sit still and complain that they can’t do anything about a situation, Tillage said. But their problem is that they’re sitting still. -by Ted Griggs Photographer: ARTHUR D. LAUCK via The Advocate
  • TILLAGE CONSTRUCTION NAME TO INC. 500|5000 FOR 2011

    September 4, 2011

    NEW YORK — Inc. magazine today ranked Tillage Construction LLC NO. 1032 on its fifth annual Inc. 500|5000, an exclusive ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. The list represents the most comprehensive look at the most important segment of the economy—America’s independent entrepreneurs. Online retailer ideeli tops this year’s list. Tillage Construction LLC joins Spirit Airlines, television maker Vizio, Honest Tea, Dunkin Donuts and Metrokane, makers of the Rabbit corkscrew, among other prominent brands featured on this year’s list. In a stagnant economic environment, median growth rate of 2011 Inc. 500|5000 companies remains an impressive 94 percent. The companies on this year’s list report having created 350,000 jobs in the past three years, and aggregate revenue among the honorees reached $366 billion, up 14 percent from last year. Complete results of the Inc. 5000, including company profiles and an interactive database that can be sorted by industry, region, and other criteria, can be found at www.inc.com/5000. “Now, more than ever, we depend on Inc. 500/5000 companies to spur innovation, provide jobs, and drive the economy forward.  Growth companies, not large corporations, are where the action is,” says Inc. magazine Editor Jane Berentson. via PRLog.org
  • DISTRICT OFFICE SPOTLIGHT

    July 15, 2011

    What began as a hobby for Ken Tillage turned into a sole proprietorship building custom cabinets in 1982. After experiencing a few years of success and discovering a strong need for his services, Ken founded Ken Tillage Construction Company in 1991. Ken’s son Keith Tillage graduated from Southern University in Baton Rouge with a computer science degree and moved to Dallas after graduating to start his corporate career. His corporate experience was highlighted by a life changing event that he witnessed firsthand with his mentor. Keith Tillage’s mentor worked his whole life to move up the corporate ladder to make partner and when he finally did he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died soon after, at the age of 40. Keith said “My mentor’s triumph and tragedy showed me two things; Dreams are only realized through hard work and determination, and you have to act now because tomorrow is not promised.” Keith made up his mind to purse his dreams of owning his own business and decided to start Tillage Construction L.L.C in 2000 with his father Ken. Tillage Construction L.L.C. was financed with the Tillage’s own investment and the help of friends and family along the way. The company’s first large scale contracting job taught Keith and Ken a lot of valuable lessons, none more obvious than the fact that they needed to refine their business processes. With the help of the SBA they developed a strategic business plan, and targeted jobs that fit directly into the plan. Tillage Construction L.L.C. first major client was the USDA, which began with a 20k job at the local level. The company successfully finished the job, although it was interrupted by Hurricane Katrina. Keith was then offered a 500k job with the USDA. Keith stated “I understood that this was a pivotal point in our company and we approached this opportunity as we would come to approach every opportunity in the future, as if my company’s very existence depends on it.” After successfully completing the project Keith used the skills the SBA introduced him to in order to refine his business processes and expand to additional clients. “As a direct result of that one job we have experienced continued growth in, bonding capacity, employees and revenue” said Keith. Tillage Construction L.L.C currently has 20 million dollars in federal construction contracts, a strong management team, and strategic plans for expansion into the Florida and Texas markets. The future is very bright for Tillage Construction L.L.C. -by Michael W. Ricks via U.S. Small Business Administration
  • URBAN ENTREPRENEUR PARTNERSHIP

    September 1, 2009

    Read about Keith Tillage’s success story here
  • NEW YORK TIMES

    February 21, 2006

    A YEAR ago, galvanized by studies showing that the number of minority-owned businesses was increasing rapidly nationwide but still faced basic problems like borrowing money, a coalition decided small-business owners needed help to grow and prosper. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit group in Kansas City, Mo., dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship, joined with the National Urban League and other organizations — with an endorsement from the White House — to create the Urban Entrepreneur Partnership to give minority business people advice and training needed to overcome financial and other obstacles. Just as the Entrepreneur Partnership was setting up one-stop small-business help centers in several cities, the southernmost being Atlanta, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated as many as 80,000 Gulf Coast businesses, many of them minority-owned companies. ”We couldn’t just go on with the original plan and ignore what was going on in New Orleans and the area around it,” said Daryl Williams, the Kauffman Foundation’s director of minority entrepreneurship. ”When Katrina hit, people asked us about what we were going to do to help those entrepreneurs,” he said, ”but we had not thought about it.” But Mr. Williams got in gear. Within weeks, he went to New Orleans, where he was shaken by the ”unprecedented and demonic horror on the Gulf Coast,” and the daunting conditions for those who had lost their businesses and sometimes their homes. After two more visits to the region, Mr. Williams went back to Kansas City and drew up the Katrina Urban Entrepreneur Partnership, borrowing from the core program but tailoring the new one to the needs of hurricane-affected small businesses. The Kauffman Foundation is to start the program this month, giving needy entrepreneurs intensive help to ensure that they get part of the cleanup and reconstruction work on the Gulf Coast. Concerns have been raised that minority-owned companies are not getting a fair share of the post hurricane business. ”We have got to connect these people — and some of them have lost almost everything — with experienced coaches who can help them,” Mr. Williams said. The foundation is renting office space in New Orleans, bringing in professional business coaches on a rotating basis and identifying federally certified minority enterprises — beginning with demolition, construction and rebuilding businesses — that can benefit from such assistance. One such business owner is Byron Stewart, 49, whose architectural firm, Byron J. Stewart & Associates, in the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans, was flooded. He and his family fled Katrina, and he returned to find the first-floor office of his Victorian-style frame house under four feet of water. His residence upstairs was undamaged, but Mr. Stewart had to start his 15-year-old business almost from scratch. The only reason he has a business at all, he said, is that he grabbed his computer hard drive and his laptop as he left. But his business is limping along. Finances are at the point, he said, ”where it’s scary,” and he’s not sure whether he can pay the bills and himself and his four employees, who have been working from their homes. Still, even though he has inquiries about architectural commissions, he said he was cautious because he wanted to create a business plan that would help him weather future economic downturns. In 2004, a stagnant economy in the New Orleans area caused his revenues, usually about $850,000, to dip substantially, by $300,000. ”Now there are plenty of jobs because of the amount of work that needs to be done,” he said, ”but I am going to take a slower approach because I want to grow my business for the long term.” To reach his goal of generating $2 million in yearly revenues, ...
  • BATON ROUGE BUSINESS REPORT

    December 20, 2005

    Baton Rouge contractor Keith Tillage will readily admit helping others comes with a benefit beyond the warm fuzzies of altruism. “If I can go back and build an alliance of strong people, then it makes me a stronger, more powerful company,” says Tillage, who runs Tillage Construction with his father, Ken Tillage is one of the area contractors working with CSRS/The Facility Group to encourage the expansion of local minority-owned businesses in the construction field. CSRS/The Facility Group is in charge of project management for the East Baton Rouge Parish schools’ Tax Plan facilities program. The Tax Plan was first passed in 1998 and is up for renewal every five years. The plan’s current budget has $138 million available for construction projects at parish schools. For parish-funded construction, there is no requirement for hiring minority workers, nor is there an incentive to do so. However, project manager Curtis Soderberg says the plan provides an opportunity to focus on creating opportunities in a market. “Our overall goal is to build capacity,” says Soderberg “We feel like we can use the opportunities of the Tax Plan. There are major funds available to involve WMBE (Women and Minority Business Enterprises) contractors and help develop their business.” Tillage says the program works because local minority contractors and subcontractors are only looking for a hand, not a hand-out, and CSRS/The Facility Group is going beyond lip service and making a sincere effort to help. “They’re really trying to fill a need we have in the local community,” he says. The program is not meant to serve as a type of apprenticeship program to train craftsmen in various fields; instead, it seeks out people with the necessary skills looking to grow their businesses. “We start out with those people ready to participate,” says project manager Keisha West. Adds Soderberg. “There’s a difference between doing the work and running the business of the work.” To develop the program, West looked at similar programs around the country that focused on the growth of WMBE companies. The three companies CSRS/The Facility Group most closely drew from JPMorgan, Ford and Unisys. West says the program looked at JPMorgan’s culture of inclusion, Ford’s community-based involvement and company-to-company mentor plans, and Unisys’ use of developmental seminars and scholarship programs. “We want to take the best of these programs and kind of blend them to get the best model for this area,” says West. CSRS/The Facility Group brought in independent consultant John F. Smith to help the program participants in the area of relationship building, a significant component of this program. In fact, it could be argued relationship-building is the key part of the program since pre-existing relationships play a big role in landing construction work. When CSRS/The Facility Group holds a seminar, its invitees spend the initial time being introduced to each other and area contractors. “That’s the uniqueness in our approach,” says Soderberg. Following the introductory period, there is a formal presentation addressing specific topics, which can range from sharing knowledge of bid laws to tips on how the companies can successfully market themselves. Then a successful business owner affiliated with the program, such as Tillage, speaks to the group. Having someone who has hands-on experience with the program is meant to develop role models for participants, thus motivating them to take the necessary steps to increase the success of their business. Following the seminars, program managers follow up with the participants to make sure they have kept appointments they have made and others have kept appointments with them. A key part of the follow-up process, Smith says, is making sure participants are attending ...