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2016 Businessperson of the Year: Ed Rispone

From: Greater Baton Rouge Business Report

Ed Rispone, founder and chairman of ISC Constructors in Baton Rouge, is keenly aware that struggles are a necessary precursor to success. He was raised in a working-class family that lived by the mantra: “You can’t get anything done unless you start; and if you start, you finish.”

Anchored by a strong faith, Rispone has modeled his life around the ideals he learned early in life. “Be responsible for yourself and treat others as you want to be treated,” he says. “All of those principles … you get those engrained in you at an early age, and that becomes part of who you are.”

He fondly remembers one of his earliest struggles as a young lad of 15, driving a stick-shift truck across the Mississippi River on the U.S. 90 bridge to run an errand. “That old bridge looked like it was about this wide,” Rispone says, spreading his arms out. “I was so nervous and praying that nobody would stop, and that I wouldn’t have to use that standard transmission going up the hill.”

That would hardly be the last time Rispone turned to prayer at a difficult time. Through his college years at LSU, his advancement in the construction industry, the startup of his own business and the tragic loss of his wife to cancer in 2005, Rispone has leaned heavily upon his faith.

From his first job wiring air conditioning units while in high school, Rispone has preferred electrical work. Even back then, it was all in the family. “My uncle was the shop superintendent at SAIA Electric, and I had some uncles and first cousins that were in the craft as well,” he says. “We were just blue collar people. We worked with our hands. Electrical work was what my family did, and as it turns out that was a good place to be.”

Going against the grain, Rispone chose to attend LSU and ignore the “good money” being made by craftsmen at the time. It was a fortuitous move: LSU had just launched its construction technology curriculum as he entered his sophomore year, giving him valuable exposure to the latest in scheduling and management technology. The experience helped him land his first project management position at SAIA.

Two years later, he accepted a job at Matthews–McCracken–Rutland Corp.—now MMR Group— from Pepper Rutland, an old college friend, where he would work his way up through the ranks for 14 years.

Working for MMR gave Rispone valuable national exposure and experience, as the company quickly grew from $3 million to $400 million in annual revenue. Unfortunately, an abundance of “problems and headaches” came with it, especially after the business went public. He reached a tipping point

in the late 1980s. “My standard of living was pretty good, but my quality of life wasn’t there,” he says. “I was going to take a year off and decide what to do.”

Lane Grigsby, current chairman emeritus of Cajun Industries and longtime friend, stepped in to give him some life-altering advice. “I told him to liquidate all his stock and start his own business,” Grigsby says. “It turned out to be the best advice I ever gave anyone.” Grigsby had confidence in Rispone’s business acumen, and knew he would staff the company with dependable, talented people.

Rispone emphasizes the importance of having his younger brother, Jerry, as his partner in the early days of ISC. “Together, we attracted the best young talent we could find, so we could mold this company like we believed it should be,” he says. “In the beginning, we met every week. I would explain everything to them, and they would just sit there and absorb it.”

Since those early days in 1989, Rispone’s accomplishments have been testament to the strength of his ideals. Not only has he grown ISC into a considerable, $329 million-a-year business employing 2,500, Rispone has had a major impact on construction and business communities across the U.S. He has served as a national Associated Builders and Contractors chairman, ABC’s representative on the Construction Users Roundtable, and chairman of the Louisiana Workforce Investment Council (appointed by Gov. Bobby Jindal). In 2005, he spearheaded the Louisiana Craft Workforce Development Board to address the state’s craft worker shortage.

Some of Rispone’s most transformative accomplishments have been through the local ABC chapter and through his support of workforce training. “He understood early on that if we weren’t going to be engaged in the regulation of our industry then were going to be run out of business,” Grigsby says. “He tackled his involvement with ABC in much the same way as his business.”

Rispone’s most recent passion has been K-12 education reform. In 2011, he stepped down as chairman of the Louisiana Workforce Investment Council to chair the Louisiana Federation of Children, with the goal of reforming K-12 education in the state. Additionally, he and his current wife, Linda, funded and produced an award-winning documentary film, “The Experiment,” which follows the lives of five New Orleans school children.

Through it all, Rispone acknowledges his accomplishments are not his and his alone.

“I truly believe that God did this,” he says. “We’re just stewards, and we have an obligation to make the most of what we are given.”