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August 2005
Building a Practice From the Ground Up
By Ellison Clary

       John D. Bond III calls himself a builder in a lawyer’s body, and it’s an apt description. The 50-year-old former president of J.A. Jones Construction Company has fashioned an impressive career combining construction and the law.

He’s dealt with many a challenge pursuing these twin passions from Troy, Ala., to Washington, D.C., and from points across the globe to Charlotte. His latest project is building the Charlotte office of Bradley Arant Rose & White LLP, which opened in June 2004.

“I fell in love with the construction business when I was 15, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when I combined it with a legal education in my late 20s,” Bond says. “That led me to Charlotte, to J.A. Jones, and ultimately to Bradley Arant,” he adds, neatly summing up his career in two sentences.

Bradley Arant is an iconic legal name in Bond’s home state of Alabama. Besides its Birmingham headquarters, the private law partnership dating back to 1871 maintains offices in Washington, D.C., Montgomery and Huntsville, Ala., and Jackson, Mo. The firm has 215 lawyers and “does a little bit of everything,” Bond says. The firm excels at litigation, business law and corporate law, he adds.

Bond sees Bradley Arant’s expansion into Charlotte as eminently logical. “We represent some of the largest contractors in the country and many of them are building extensively throughout North Carolina and South Carolina as well,” he says.

A former president of J.A. Jones, Bond says Bradley Arant was the “go-to” law firm for that Charlotte-based firm before it filed for bankruptcy in 2003.

Bradley Arant’s decision to open a Charlotte office is apropos since the firm means to transport its strong banking practice to Charlotte in service to local institutions. “Recently, Wachovia Corporation acquired SouthTrust Bank, one of our oldest clients,” he points out. “So that creates a natural fit with our banking practices. That will be an area we will focus on.”

 Bond has brought two other attorneys into the Charlotte office and is in the process of hiring others. “Our goal is to have 10 lawyers in the next 12 months and we would like to have 20 lawyers in three to five years,” he says of the Charlotte presence.

But Bond doesn’t restrict his practice of law to just the Charlotte area. His experience as a construction lawyer with a Washington firm that had international concerns helped him develop his specialty, which he describes as large, complex construction litigation. “I might be involved in cases or working for clients anywhere in the U.S. or the world, but I’m simultaneously running the Bradley Arant Charlotte office,” he maintains.

 

Full circle

Then he encapsulates his bio sheet: “I’m a lawyer who’s come full-circle in his career and decided to be in Charlotte,” he says.

Bond’s been working since he started in construction at 15. “By the time I was 21, I’d built hundreds of houses and a few commercial buildings as a project superintendent,” he says.

After early childhood in Enterprise, Bond finished high school in Mobile and attended Troy State University. He worked in construction to put himself through school. At 21, he owned a construction company in Dothan. For two years, he built residential and light commercial facilities in that southern Alabama region.

With interest rates soaring past 15 percent in 1977, Bond returned to Troy State, but still worked in construction four hours a day and full-time between quarters. After graduating cum laude in 1980, he went to work for Alabama-based contractor Algernon Blair, Inc. and discovered a natural ability for estimating the cost of complicated construction projects.

By 1982, he was the firm’s resident project manager for the Louisiana World Exposition in New Orleans. That World’s Fair project is where Bond first ran across J.A. Jones Construction Company which, along with Algernon Blair, built the lion’s share of the World’s Fair.

The Fair-building experience inspired Bond to get more education and he decided to enroll in Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham. While president of the Student Bar Association, he worked as a project manager and procurement specialist for Birmingham-based construction firm Harbert International.

He again ran across J.A. Jones, which was participating in a joint venture with Harbert to build a training facility at Fort Bragg near Fayetteville, N.C.

Fresh from law school in 1987, Bond sought his fortune in Washington, D.C., and its thriving construction market. Soon he joined the Spriggs and Hollingsworth law firm, assigned to start a construction practice. From 1989 until 1997, he nursed that practice to 22 construction lawyers. He and his colleagues handled cases around the globe.

Along the way, he met and married wife Laurie in 1992. The couple has two daughters and a son, the youngest just six months old.

J.A. Jones came calling in 1997 because the firm’s general counsel was retiring and Bond was an attractive candidate to fill his shoes. Easily, Bond was convinced coming to Charlotte was the right move.

He calls his endeavors as general counsel “a fascinating experience.” J.A. Jones built projects worldwide, including U.S. embassies, military housing and the Washington memorial to the nation’s World War II veterans.

 

A new blueprint

In 1999, J.A. Jones was taken by surprise when German parent Philipp Holtzmann A.G. declared insolvency. Bond traveled regularly to Germany to figure out what rights and opportunities J.A. Jones might have given that country’s legal system.

“That was actually the most challenging aspect of my job,” Bond recalls. Ultimately, the European Union and the German government provided a temporary bailout for Holtzmann. But the parent firm remained in dire financial straits and, in early 2001, a change in the German company’s leadership precipitated changes in Charlotte.

Bond became president of J.A. Jones. The Charlotte firm remained profitable, but within two months, Holtzmann was back in bankruptcy.

Then the 9-11 attacks dramatically shrank the ranks of surety bond capacity, eliminating many American reinsurers and underwriters from the surety market. J.A. Jones lost its bonding capacity and the business spiraled downward.

Bond resigned from J.A. Jones in October 2002. He led an investment effort to try to buy the company, but found that the German parent struck an exclusive sale agreement with another investor that prevented his group’s participation. When that deal collapsed in April 2003, Bond decided J.A. Jones was not salvageable as an ongoing concern.

 By fall 2003, J.A. Jones was in bankruptcy and buyers were lining up for its subsidiaries.

 So Bond hooked on with Bradley Arant and spent about six months with the home office getting ready to open in Charlotte, which he did in June 2004.

Why did the globe-trotting construction lawyer want to remain in Charlotte?

“It’s amusing how I ended up in Charlotte,” Bond smiles. He was perfectly happy being based in D.C. and literally having the world as his oyster. When J.A. Jones called, he entered dialogue mostly to get to know the executives in the company’s hierarchy better.

As he learned more about the firm and its people, he liked what he saw. “At J.A. Jones, every person was responsible for working hard, with the highest priority and value placed on integrity of the people who are working with you,” he says. “That’s very important to me.”

Then there was Charlotte itself. “My wife Laurie and I have never been to a friendlier city,” he vows. “We see a culture where the business people have made other business people step up and be accounted for in sustaining this as a successful city. I’m impressed with the extent to which everybody chips in.”

“From a global perspective, Charlotte is probably as enlightened a city as you can find,” he adds. “The banking business has brought a lot of highly educated people here. The legal community is very bright.”

 

Friendly digs

“I made a decision to stay here,” he says, “which has been probably one of the better decisions I’ve ever made.”

These days, Bond works “a couple of hundred hours a month” and averages three days a week on the road. It’s part of building the Charlotte office toward his five-year goal to “perform as a major cog in the Bradley Arant machine.”

With what time remains after his hectic business schedule, Bond carves out time for his favorite pastime – being with his family. Then, with what time may be left over he dedicates to favorite civic pursuits such as Wing Haven Gardens or possibly sneaking away to a trout stream or golf course.

But a person with a strong feeling that Bond will succeed is Charles T. (Charlie) Davidson, former chairman of J.A. Jones, who led the effort to bring him to Charlotte. Davidson sees Bond often because he’s consulting with him on a complicated construction case in South Texas.

“I think the challenge for John is to lead the balanced life that he was able to achieve when he was part of J.A. Jones,” Davidson says.

An engineer by training, Davidson praises Bond’s initiatives to establish standards of conduct at J.A. Jones and create an ethics program years before the Enron collapse brought such matters to the forefront.

He values Bond’s desire to handle disputes, as well as his penchant for avoiding them if possible. Further, he says, Bond helped J.A. Jones craft a risk assessment system to decide early on whether a project was worth pursuing or remaining involved in.

Finally, Davidson, who spent 37 years at J.A. Jones, likes Bond’s strong advocacy for developing leadership in others. “To John,” he says simply, “people count.”

In turn, Bond says Davidson, whom he names as one of the two most influential people in his career, taught him that “people are your most important resource.”

Another influential person for Bond was John Franck, for whom he worked in Alabama while attending Troy State. Franck taught Bond about priorities, he says, and to focus on what’s important and let small matters take care of themselves.

Bond acknowledges both those teachings could play a large part in his ultimate success with the Charlotte office of Bradley Arant.

“I think John is extremely well qualified to lead this office of Bradley Arant and I predict he will be very successful,” Davidson pronounces.

Ellison Clary is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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