Beyond the Build


Friends in Great Places: Redefining the Business Contact

When I think of my contacts, I tend to think of people within my industry or those having something to do with construction. However, I’ve met some of my best connections through work. These are often the most enriching encounters and lead to the most one-of-a-kind experiences for my clients and me. When you meet someone out of your line of work at the next party or convention or gathering, I challenge you to stay interested in their story and what they do. Treat them as if they had the world to offer, because you never know where the next good friend could take you.

Twenty-two years ago we built a project on the “west bank” of the Missouri river in South Dakota, and in the process of our work we met a fifth generation South Dakotan rancher. His ranch is located in the foothills of the Black Hills adjacent the Cheyenne River. What began as a casual acquaintance grew into a true friendship, and he invited us back the next fall to go pheasant hunting. Since then we have gone every fall to hunt on his ranch. After we’ve found our share of pheasants, we spend several days riding horses, rounding up his cattle and driving them back to the ranch before winter.

His land is a perfect example of South Dakota country, with rolling grass-covered hills that stretch out in every direction and far off blue mesas on the horizon. The vastness gives you a true appreciation for distance and space, with views 20 miles in every direction—no trees or buildings to stand in your way. When you look up at night you can see a sky so full of stars even the most familiar constellations seem lost.

It’s a true privilege to experience this beauty every year, and it leaves lasting memories. It’s also a perfect example of how this rancher and his home have enriched my own life and the lives the people I bring with me to hunt every year. Through his hospitality, I’ve been able to bring multiple clients along for the experience. It’s a win-win situation. I get to share a special place with valued business associates and create relationships outside the boardroom, all while spending time with a dear friend.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.