Dump Truck to National Paving Company: The History of Keeley Paving
Back in Sauget, Illinois, across the river from St. Louis, Missouri, there was a man named Larry Keeley who, on paper, fit the textbook example of the regular American Dream: businessman, 37 years old, married to his wife, Jackie, and had three children. However, his story ran much deeper, and over the next few decades, so would his legacy.
In 1975, Larry proved he wasn’t your average businessman. The engineer and entrepreneur traded in steady days of working with his brothers to start his own business on his own terms. Eager to move beyond delays caused by labor strikes in southern Illinois, Larry embarked on his own adventure that would eventually be known as Keeley Construction. In the decades that followed, rich with long-standing partnerships and multi-generational families, the Keeley Companies (as it is known today) has become something far beyond what Larry ever dreamed of. This rapidly-growing, family-owned company has transformed from a man with a dump truck and $20,000, to a $500+ million paving company making a name for itself on a national scale.
Larry Keeley Construction (now Keeley Construction) was officially incorporated in 1976, led by Larry’s 15 years in the industry. Without any money taken out of his prior business endeavors, Larry used the money he had made on his own to put up a trailer and start his own paving company. His early success wasn’t found by sitting behind a desk. Rather, Larry went out and spend endless hours in meetings, traveled, and made the Keeley name truly stand out.
“When I started, I had certain key people. To that respect, not much has changed in 46 years. It’s still all about the people. We carried a vision, and it grew. It became more than we ever imagined.”
The start of Keeley Construction came with humble beginnings. A trailer truck with stacks of marked up, hand-written papers, daily record logs, journals, and a few business professionals loyal to Larry’s mission acted as the building blocks. They tackled any off-end job, from tennis courts to parking lots, taking the smallest jobs they could get and the biggest jobs their small crew could physically handle. Larry took his past experiences of taking over his dad’s pavig company and running two companies with his brothers to build Larry Keeley Construction on five solid principles that his people could use to guide them through the hard times of early growth:
Lead by example
Take care of your people
Put your customer first
Do quality, safe work the first time
Take calculated risk within your means
Larry truly had the right people, solid clients that paid on time, and money flowing into the bank, which allowed his small paving company to make a name for itself and stand out from the others.
After a few years in Southern Illinois, Larry realized that there was one major untapped gap in the market: the other side of the river. Larry saw an incredible opportunity for growth and used his strategic connections to break into St. Louis. From there, the company continued to grow and Larry’s vision of growth beyond St. Louis was quickly evolving.
Moving to St. Louis was the start of decades of rapid growth and exciting change. They knew they had the expertise to stand against the big players in town, but it was Larry’s words that rang true and drove everyone to strive for greatness, both at the beginning and today.
“Quality, service, and safety never go out of style.”
Once they’d proven themselves and earned trust, Larry’s team knew their foundation was set. The main reason Larry was able to start the business and strategically grow came from the core of who he was. He knew that starting this business was similar to an asphalt job:
Take it one layer at a time, go slow and steady, and the end result will be quality
Rush the job, forget to calculate risk, and you’ll never get the next job
Be competitive, but humble
Embrace people and surround yourself with those who share your values
Larry was defined by his entrepreneurial spirit and his commitment to the community, a trait that was passed on to his son (and future CEO), Rusty. Rusty joined the Keeley crew in the 80s at age 16. He spent his days with the field crews, learning the ins and outs of various asphalt jobs and seeing just how the business ran. It was during this time that the family culture that Keeley is known for was beginning to take shape, and it was no accident.
When Larry and his team began to outgrow their original trailers, the office was built around the trailer, creating a strong, customer-centric, family office culture that still radiates through the walls in Keeley’s current downtown St. Louis headquarters. Driven by a steadfast mission and set of core values, Keeley’ns strive to honor the legacy created by Larry’s original paving team.
Heading into the 90s, Larry knew he needed a succession plan and his vision for the future included growing into more than just a paving company. Rusty was getting ready to finish up college, so the second generation of Keeley Construction was slowly underway. Rusty had seen Larry’s work ethic and the culture he had built and knew he wanted to jump in and take the reins whenever he was ready.
At this time, leadership was focused on expansion – getting into malls, hospitals, and big-box retail. Projects were getting bigger and the Keeley crews were growing rapidly. One major client made up 40% of Keeley’s business, and Rusty had big plans to take Keeley beyond those walls. Rusty was able to scale faster thanks to the foundation laid by his father and the original Keeley crew. When he officially became CEO in 2005, Rusty was ready to take Keeley to the next level.
Rusty’s transition into the CEO role was seamless. He’d learned everything he knew, from the field to the office, from his dad and knew he had to prove himself. One day while Larry and Rusty were sitting on a park bench in Florida discussing the future of the company, they pulled out a pen and napkin and began writing down their dreams. This napkin became the blueprint for the growth that Keeley has experienced and for the growth that is yet to come.
“What’s remarkable about both Rusty and Larry is that they believe firmly in the well-being of people. They have a deep belief that people have the right to who they are and who they want to become. They all have the same goal in mind: empowering good people to do good things.”
Rusty was a risk-taker when it came to growth, but Larry had a proven business model and he knew what worked. Without his steadiness and ability to know when to grow and when to stay the course, Rusty doesn’t believe today’s rapid growth would be possible.
“He doesn’t understand his impact. The mark he’s left on everything – from our family culture to the entrepreneurial spirit when he started, through the transition period. He did it humbly and with no ego. Those are the values he’s instilled into our company.”
It’s amazing to see that Keeley has grown from a small paving company to a full-service construction company with a national footprint.
Larry has always believed in expansion, ever since the day he took his paving company across the river. Today, Keeley Construction has three full-service paving offices across the country – St. Louis, MO, Phoenix, AZ, and New Braunfels, TX. These strategically placed offices allow the Keeley crews to travel across the country, providing our world-class services to customers on jobs of all sizes. These offices are experiencing some incredible growth and it’s only a matter of time before Keeley makes themselves known in another city near you!