Forget about being the top dog. Briggette Green and the rest of the crew at TopCat Masonry Contractors, LLC, have spent the better part of two decades climbing their way to the top of the contractors’ pile; those twenty-something years have manifested into a portfolio that would make any company jealous, with a hand in plenty of major developments around Memphis and the Mid-South. With TopCat approaching its 25th anniversary, managing partner Green continues to keep her business one step ahead of the curve.
TopCat is a general contractor licensed in Tennessee and Mississippi. The company specializes in everything from brick block, rock, and stone, to precast glass block for commercial and industrial projects. Its portfolio includes a wide array of notable jobs around town, including Hattiloo Theatre, the LeMoyne-Owen College dorms, Douglass High School, and Goodlett Elementary School as recently as nine months ago. Moving close to the river, Green and TopCat have been involved with Memphis’ Downtown development boom, with their fingerprints all over projects such as FedExForum, Beale Street Landing, and The Chisca.
Locking down excellent contracts around town speaks to Green’s experience in the field, but this wasn’t her first professional adventure. “My career actually started in banking at First American AmSouth,” she says. “I kind of miss that industry, the relationships I built with some of my longtime customers. But I think that a lot of skills I picked up in the financial field really prepared me to jump into TopCat and gave me the skills I needed to run my own business.”
The process of cultivating relationships has especially come in handy, she says, when it comes to securing contracts for TopCat. “If a lot of competitive bids come in for a project and it’s tough for a client to pick who leads the project, having that personal relationship, where they know the work you’ve done and what you’re capable of, can provide an edge.” And when it comes to finding an edge, Green has always done the utmost to give herself all the tools to succeed. Going through programs like the Turner School of Construction Management and Leadership Memphis helped prep her to make TopCat a profitable enterprise. While she focuses on business development on a daily basis, she’s constantly attending seminars and training sessions. “I’m a big advocate of continual learning to stay abreast of new and innovative ideas,” Green says. “That keeps us at the forefront of the industry.”
But to keep the TopCat machine running smoothly, Green does her best to cultivate a tight-knit atmosphere between leadership and her employees. A growing feeling of mutual trust and respect keeps things humming along nicely, and has helped to propel TopCat to even greater heights in its over-two-decades of activity. “Part of my belief is that when you have happy employees, you have a successful business,” she says. “People need to enjoy what they do.” The company frequently distributes what Green calls “spot awards” to let employees know that they’re being seen. “We do those when we catch people doing something right,” she says. “We want to hear everyone’s feedback and if they see something happen that they disagree with, encourage them to give us their input on a project. For example, once we finish a project, we have a meeting to go over whether anything could have been done differently. It really keeps everyone involved in the whole process.”
Green’s willingness to listen isn’t exclusive just to TopCat, either. In 2018, she and two other companies helped launch the TAP Apprenticeship Program with the help of the Mid-South Minority Business Council to address a skilled labor force decline in the Memphis construction industry.
“For years, I thought we needed to do something,” she says. “We rolled this out with Southwest Tennessee Community College [STCC] and Tennessee College of Applied Technology [TCAT] to find a way to help young people become taxpayers, rather than tax burdens.” Through TAP, enrollees have paid positions at TopCat (or other participating companies) during the day to learn all the necessary skills of the masonry trade. At night, they attend classes at TCAT to further their education. Upon completion of the program, students also have the opportunity to pursue higher education at STCC.
Green says a good number of participants have been through the program already. Since she and other contractors need skilled people in order to grow their businesses, the TAP program is both a crucial philanthropic endeavor and a smart business decision. And with potential expansion on the horizon, the need for a qualified employee base is a more pressing need. “We’re looking to expand our business to the other Southern borders,” says Green. “There are some opportunities in Atlanta we’re looking at as well. But part of what I’ve seen over the years is that some people grow themselves out of business. We want to make sure that we have the right people as we expand our staff and grow, as opposed to just growing for growth’s sake. Because in this business, it’s not what you make, it’s what you keep.
“One of my favorite quotes is from Henry Ford: ‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are correct.’ It’s all about attitude and how you approach something. I think our experiences have come because we’ve stayed humble and remained focused on what our original drivers were, which were to become a world-class company and collaborate with others. You know, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You just have to get on the wheel, and use all the resources and take advantage of all the opportunities that are there for you.”