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A Publication on Robert McCloud in An African American Point of View

Madeline McCloud was responding to a poor single mother’s deepest instincts when she moved her kids from their home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania housing project to a three-bedroom home in an Irish/Italian suburb. She was determined to protect her three sons from the perils and uncertainties of raising kids in the inner-city and to give them the benefits of an environment in which they could strive.

Robert McCloud was the youngest of the three boys still living at home and probably the least affected by the abrupt cultural shift. It helped that the next in age was ten years Robert’s senior. While the two older boys fought their way into acceptance in an inhospitable neighborhood in which the residents had circulated a petition aimed at keeping its only Black residents out, Robert had the comfort of his brothers’ protection. As so often happens with most new kids on the block, their White peers soon accepted the three boys and, other than having permanently lost the sight in one eye from a BB gun accident, Robert, along with his brothers, led a relatively normal neighborhood life.

Yet, when one considers the reason their mother moved the family to the all White suburb, life was anything but normal. Instead of being raised in an impoverished neighborhood with inferior schools and low expectations and an uncertain future around people who shared the same fate, Robert and his brothers enjoyed the benefit of a reasonably stable neighborhood with superior schools, where expectations were high and the future bright, surrounded by peers whose bright future they were almost certain to share, which, of course, is exactly what Robert’s mother intended for them when she moved out of the projects.

And it worked. Robert’s two brothers graduated from high school and went through college on full four year athletic scholarships. Though Robert was a good student and also athletic, he had a chance encounter that led him down a different, though dramatically successful, path. When Robert was fifteen, his mother hired contractors to remodel their home. The contractors hired him for six dollars an hour – a lot of money for a youngster in those days – to do their grunt work, carrying shingles and laying floors and such. Robert was impressed by the construction work environment and, by the time the remodeling was completed, he had made up his mind to pursue a career in the construction industry. Although he was anxious to start working, he knew he was going to need some college if he was to rise up in to the management ranks. So Robert began what turned out to be a winding career path to the top by enrolling in Point Park College(now “University”) School of Architecture. After completing a two-year program, he was hired by Schneider Construction Company in downtown Pittsburgh drafting, scheduling projects, performing field inspections….”whatever they asked” of him.

Displaying early signs of a willingness to work hard and the urge to outperform those around him, Robert visited his office every Saturday, a non-working day, and worked all day for no additional pay. A tall, unassuming man shared Robert’s Saturday workdays. He often waved as he walked by and gave Robert the impression that he was watching him. They began having casual conversations and Robert eventually discovered that the tall man was Mr. Schneider, the owner of the company. Mr. Schneider was so impressed with Robert that he enrolled him in the company’s informal management training program where Robert flourished.

Assimilating into the all-White environment was challenging, Robert recalls. But growing up in an Irish/Italian neighborhood had prepared him well and he was not intimidated. He recalls having to learn how to graciously respond to some racially offensive language and other suspect, race-based offenses. But he considered the race issues minor and took one of it to heart because he was learning and growing and remained focused on the task at hand. He was very successful and very comfortable and had every expectation of living out his professional career in Pittsburgh, around his family, in a job he had come to love. But fate has a way of its own. Robert had just returned from a satisfying vacation when he received a call to report to the personnel office. When he arrived he was told that his entire division was shutting down permanently and all of its employees were being laid off, including him.

Thereafter, Robert’s professional life became a roller coaster ride. He was hired as a manager at Minnotte Corporation doing much the same power and energy construction support work he had done at Schneider’s. He was the youngest manager ever hired by the company and one of its rare Black employees. Robert performed well at Minnotte for five years when he received a call from a “headhunter” about a more lucrative job within the same industry in Meriden, Connecticut. He was engaged to a nurse who would have no problem finding another nursing job in a new location, so he accepted the job and they moved to Meriden.

After just over a year, Robert accepted an offer from a former boss to come to work at Nab Construction in New York. As with all of his past jobs, Nab involved a step up. The job was made that much more attractive by the existing additional fact of its location in the big city where two of his brothers also lived. Add to that the fact that his engagement was off, and “it was a no brainer.” Robert lasted at Nab for about a year. And the candor with which he explained what happened is testimony to his character. “New York ate me up. I wasn’t ready. It chewed me up and spit me out. I found out I was just as average as the next guy.”

But, in retrospect, Robert considered his bad experience at Nab to be a positive one. It made him stronger and more determined than ever. He remained out of a job for two months nurturing his ego and contemplating his future and made some decisions that led to an important turning point in his career. Since college he had performed, more or less, the same work in companies that specialized in the power construction industry. He decided to diversify his resume by trying something entirely different and accepted a job in the marketing department at O’Brien Kreitzberg Inc. a New York-based construction management company that specialized in public construction.

Robert’s description of his early work in his new job was somewhat vague. He was one of only three Black employees. The marketing of the company involved hobnobbing with many high level public officials who might influence the awarding of public construction contracts. It was during a time when affirmative action was a popular hook and it behooved his superiors to demonstrate their commitment. So Robert’s superiors took him to many high level events at which he met and directly interacted with many important people who were pleased to know that the company they hired for their construction projects had high level minority employees. So, in a sense, Robert’s bosses were marketing him as well as their company.

But, that didn’t bother Robert. He was “in a high-gear learning mode” and plotting his future at the highest levels of marketing, which he had come to love. As far as he was concerned, he had finally found his niche. But Robert was working in an office as part of the support team for the front line marketers. Robert wanted to sell, to go out in the field and find projects that his company could manage, to draft the proposals that placed his company in competition with others for construction contracts, to show his bosses that he could win the competition and bring them valuable business just like his White counterparts were doing. He realized that in order to fully develop his marketing career, he would have to force some issues at O’Brien Kreitzberg. He had to figure out a way to convince his superiors to transfer him into sales.

As he has done in the past, Robert took the initiative. He started looking for construction projects on his own time. He focused on school building construction, which nobody else in the company had ever done. He attended school meetings and hobnobbed with local officials and waited for an opportunity to bid on a contract. When a $230 million Long Island school contract came up for bid, Robert went for it. He knew that most at the company considered him out of his league. Even those who pitched in and helped him prepare his bid package, he suspected, were skeptical. So, when Robert won the $230 million contract on his first attempt at sales, he became an instant company celebrity.

Robert won many more contracts after that and was eventually promoted to Manager of Business Development for the Education Market and made the money that went along with the growth in status. But Robert wasn’t satisfied. He didn’t want to be restricted to public marketing so he left O’Brien Kreitzberg and took a job at Humphries & Harding where he was allowed to do both public and private marketing.

Robert didn’t stay at Humphries & Harding very long. He had made a reputation for himself in the industry and people were hunting him. Among the hunters was the owner of Skanska USA Building, the largest construction management company in the world. He made Robert an offer Robert felt, at the time, he could refuse. The owner handed him a blank piece of paper and told him to write down what he wanted for a salary. Robert wrote a large amount that he was certain would be rejected and included a demand that he be given the title of Vice President. Both were accepted and Robert started work in a job that did not suit him at all. And although it turned out to be his stepping stone to his own company, Robert vowed to never make a career move for money again and decided to leave his job and form his own construction management business.

In 2002, Robert formed a multiracial partnership with three others and named it McCloud, Prisco. He had calculated that many communities would be more receptive to approaches from his company if it were diverse. The idea may have been good but the partnership chemistry was not and one ear to the day that it was formed, on May 15, 2003, the partnership was amicably dissolved. Robert bought out his partners and reformed under the name, The McCloud Group, and set out to build his solo business.

I first met Robert McCloud in Bridgeport, Connecticut at a meeting in the mayor’s office. I recognized instantly that there was something different about him. He didn’t run away from this blackness but he didn’t embrace it as a security blanket either. Robert explained to me that he believes in the concept of affirmative action and supports the efforts of organizations like the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council and the city of Bridgeport and others who promote minority businesses. But, when he started The McCloud Group, he deliberately avoided marketing himself as a minority firm because he waned to grow his business first.

Robert wanted the McCloud Group to become known as a successful construction management firm that could compete with the best of firms before pursing minority based contracts. He wanted to be able to come to the bargaining table to develop joint ventures with majority contractors with the knowing that he has sat before them as an equal who would not accept a five or ten percent interest in the deal just so they could satisfy their affirmative action requirements. Robert wanted the message to be clear that he must have substantial control of the project or he would compete against them for the entire project and just as likely win as not. And equally as import to Robert was that he did not want to be an anonymous project participant whose reputation would always be overshadowed by that of majority contractors. Rather, he wanted his company name on project and he wanted his company name at the top of the marquee unless he chose otherwise because the success of future marketing depended on his company developing a reputation. It was a risky approach and certainly more difficult but it worked.

The McCloud Group is diverse. Angel Rivera and Randy Rosenblum are Robert’s two most important employees. They are as much a reason for the success of the McCloud Group as is Robert. Robert calls Rivera his “Rock,” and Rosenblum, who is building the Discovery School, the man who brought the much-needed private business mentality to the group. And they always make sure that the workforce is equally as diverse.

Robert and Bridgeport officials were preparing for a “topping-off” ceremony for the Discovery Magnet School in Bridgeport for which The McCloud Group was awarded the entire contract. They were celebrating the placement of the last steel beam on the 68,333 thousand square foot model regional facility that will cater to a rainbow of K-8 students from five adjoining cities. It is but one of countless projects that the McCloud Group can be proud of.

McCloud is generous in his praise of those who have helped him succeed. When I tried to take a photograph of him for this article, he demurred and asked that I use an earlier picture that included Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and Deborah Caviness, Bridgeport’s Director of the Small and Minority Business Resource Center. “Deb,” he said, “works 24/7, fighting for people like me to be able to have opportunities.” And, of Mayor Finch, Robert said, “His are not just words. He’s genuine. Many people that you meet say, ‘I got a Black friend.’ Bill will say, ‘I want to be your friend.’ He genuinely cares about the community and people in it.”

And to show just how grateful e is to the city of Bridgeport, in July, Robert McCloud opened a branch office in Bridgeport and hired long-time Bridgeport resident and activists, Steve McKenzie to manage it. Steve will be responsible for the McCloud Group business from Hartford,Connecticut to the New York line.

Robert has plans. He wants to extend his business, cautiously, mind you, all the way to Washington, D.C.after which he will consider future plans. If his past plans are any indication, I’ll be visiting him in the nation’s capital in a few years and maybe in California few years thereafter. Robert is only 46 years old, so you might imagine how much more he will accomplish….this kid from the Pittsburgh projects who took full advantage of the opportunities presented to him.

Robert McCloud is a product of the post-Civil Rights Generation of Black Americans who base their claim to a share of the economic action, first and foremost, on indisputable competence and the ability to compete, which makes him a perfect model for the future direction of the African-American community.

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