Building for the future
President and publisher inspiring minority business owners
Narman Construction, a full-service general contractor based in Boston, was formed in 2005 by company president J. Lynda Blake.
As a black woman-owned business, growing the company in an industry dominated by men has not been without its challenges, says Blake. But she implemented certain business strategies in order to level the playing field for minorities like her.
Blake grew up moving from place to place, all over the U.S., as a child with military parents. She finally settled in Boston in 1990, after attending Fisher College for accounting and business management. “I wanted to be a CPA, that was the first thing on my list, but I ventured off to the business management side of things when I got into construction,” she says.
Blake explains that Narman is an acronym for Noteworthy, Accuracy, Responsiveness, Maximizes, Achievement and Now. These are all the elements Blake stands by when completing jobs for clients.
In 2010, she pointed the company in a new direction. “I went from city and state projects to working for homeowners looking to renovate and teaming up with developers to develop land,” she says. “My goal was to go into real estate development.”
According to Blake, the Narman Construction office is based in Boston, but the company completes jobs all over Massachusetts and Rhode Island. There are five general staff members in the company and “we have subcontractors we’ve worked with for many years. It depends on the actual size of the job, but we just pull people together.”
She says, “We don’t have a problem with pulling a team to build a new house, including subcontractors for framing, sheetrock, siding, roofing, excavation, whatever.”
The Narman motto is any job, big or small, it’s not a problem. “We have the capacity on our team for commercial and residential construction,” says Blake. However, 75 to 80 percent of the work Narman does is residential.
The smaller jobs Narman takes on are renovating decks, kitchens or bathrooms. A large job for the company would be a refurbishment rehab, or building a three-family house.
After years specializing in construction management and running her own general contracting business, Blake has come across certain roadblocks that many other minority construction businesses run into. “I’ve noticed we try to compete for the crumbs as minority businesses, instead of coming together and sharing the major projects by pooling our resources together,” she says.
“Part of the challenge is having the ability and resources to get the proper financing so that we can do a job,” she says. “I have a lot of talent around me who are able to do a lot of different things but the capital isn’t always there to fulfill the contract or reach payroll.”
To overcome these challenges, Blake says she strategizes in joint venturing, by recruiting smaller subcontractors to “go after larger projects where normally we may not be able to as simply one company because resources are limited.”
Another major challenge Blake experienced with her company was the 2008 housing crisis. “That was my hardest period of time, I was trying to stay afloat,” she says. “People weren’t spending any money.”
To get through this difficult period, Blake says the company completed construction jobs with other contractors, as well as worked with banks who had properties in foreclosure or were abandoned and needed maintenance work. “When you’re a company that wants to stick around for a long time, you have to be a chameleon,” says Blake.
In addition to construction, Blake’s other passion is mentoring millennials through her platform, High Soaring Millennials Magazine, or HSM Magazine.
Blake first started the magazine with her 15-year-old daughter in 2005 as an urban dance magazine but “after taking a hiatus for some years and doing market research, we decided to create a lifestyle magazine for millennials,” she says.
The online and print magazine targets an audience ages 19 to 35. “I’m not speaking to children but a segment that’s been disillusioned by corporate greed,” says Blake.
Articles on the platform range from national news, financial empowerment, new technology and profiles of successful millennials such as talk show host and life coach Jen Montague, who graces the HSM 2018 Holiday Issue cover.
The content is created by Blake, her daughters, and volunteer interns, who hail from all over the U.S. and even the world, and write for the magazine remotely. “My purpose is to give back to the generations after me. The goal is to eventually bring on staff, because I believe what we have here can be very powerful for millennials,” says Blake.
Eventually, Blake is hoping one of her daughters, who is currently a college undergrad student, will take over as president of the publication.
As for her own career trajectory, Blake says she has had many mentors throughout her professional career. “I had that encouragement, but I did have to figure some things out on my own,” she says. “Business is not a straight line, you’re going to have your ups and downs.” In its 13 years of operation, Narman Construction has weathered both and plans to take on bigger projects in the future.