Most Admired CEOs 2016: Ravi Norman, Thor Construction Inc.

The project portfolio of general contractor Thor Construction Inc. includes sports stadiums, hotels, office towers and retail stores in markets across the country, including U.S. Bank Stadium and TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Impressive as those structures are, however, CEO Ravi Norman has his sights set on something larger for the company: building communities.

“We make it very clear that we are in place-based projects,” Norman said. “Not only are we looking at the building, we’re looking at that broader vision of a regional, shared prosperity model.”

That shared prosperity can take many forms. It includes the economic impact of the construction work; it extends to opportunities for commerce in the projects’ neighborhoods; and it affects the people Thor employs and by extension their communities, whether defined by geography, ethnicity or culture, Norman explained.

As the largest black-owned business in Minnesota and one of the largest African-American-owned construction companies in the country, Norman sees Minneapolis-based Thor as uniquely positioned to support African-American communities in particular.

One expression of this philosophy can be seen in Thor’s plans to build its new headquarters in North Minneapolis, providing an influx of jobs for the neighborhood that has faced major economic and racial challenges.

Norman first started working with Thor as a consultant helping to implement a strategic plan. With a background in economics and finance, he came on board formally as an outsourced chief financial officer, then took over as CEO in 2009, helping the business navigate the catastrophic meltdown of the construction industry following the 2008 financial crisis. He assumed the CEO title from founder and owner Richard Copeland, who established the company in 1980.

“[Norman] brought a strategic vision to keep us on the cutting edge in technology and strategy,” said Copeland, who serves as chairman and remains closely involved in the business. “He has an uncanny ability to understand the human spirit. He gets the best out of everyone. People will follow him.”

Helping employees succeed is a key to Norman’s management philosophy.

“I’d say my leadership style is one of balance,” Norman said. “I want this to be a place where [employees] can succeed as a whole person [economically, spiritually and emotionally].”

His own history brought out in Norman some of the qualities he seeks to instill in his company – resilience, productivity and willpower among them. Norman came from a fragmented family without much money, and saw the importance of community in neighbors across the street who helped him overcome these challenges.

Norman sees business trends moving Thor’s way as more decisions are made with broader societal impacts in mind. With Thor’s emphasis on community and social impact, and a division devoted to environmentally friendly retrofits, he sees a lot of potential to do good while doing good business.

“We never thought you had to trade off social impact for economic success,” Norman said. When it comes to solving the thorny issues of our neighborhoods and cities, “[Thor is] a primary asset that should be utilized.”

Alfred Babington-Johnson, CEO of the Stairstep Foundation in Minneapolis and longtime collaborator with Norman and Copeland, sees the potential Norman represents.

“Because of who Ravi is, he is able to sit in places where many in our community never sit,” Babington-Johnson said. “He can engage, and if people are receptive, the community is served. The leaders of corporate America can benefit when they find a common chord that can point the way forward.”

We asked Ravi Norman:

What does leadership and being a leader mean to you?

A conduit phenomenon, where the utilization of your resources (time, energy, ideas and money) helps others to unlock and realize their full potential

What factors most helped you get ahead in your career and contributed to your success?

SIT-EAT-GROW: Show up, invest in the intangibles, be a good teammate – be efficient, accountable and transparent – generate real opportunities for wealth
Describe the vision you have for your organization.

To be a $1 billion holding company focused on maximizing real estate return on investment through smart building, which I define as the optimal integration of social, environmental and economic values and outcomes

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? Did it work? What did you learn from it?

In 2003, with my wife pregnant with our son, I made the decision to leave my full-time job in the banking industry to pursue an entrepreneurial opportunity in the syndicated loan market. Yes, it worked! I learned that the best equity investment one can make is in your own appreciating assets!

What one word best describes you?

Visionary

Share one thing about yourself people would be surprised to learn.

I was an honorable mention McDonald’s All-American basketball player coming out of high school in 1992.

Who is a CEO you admire, and why

I have three CEOs: Richard Davis, because of his professionalism and preparation; Doug Baker, because of his vision for the personal utility of money; and Reginald Lewis, because of his resiliency and vision as an African-American entrepreneur.
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Ravi Norman
• Age: 41
• Years with Thor Construction: 11
• Years as CEO: 6.5
• Education: Bachelor of Arts, University of Minnesota, Morris; MBA, University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management
• Family: Wife, Amanda; children, Sydney (18), Richard (13) and Saylah (5)
• Hobbies: Public speaking, reading, hanging with my kids and golf
• Board memberships: Greater MSP, MRCC, Minneapolis Downtown Council, MIA, MEDA, Summit Academy, Turning Point
• Year Thor was founded: 1980
• Employees at Thor: 150

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