Ralph Vines is a heavy construction contractor, working with all types of heavy equipment. Kesser International has the capability to do many types of construction work, from commercial buildings and houses to repairing the levees on Arkansas and Mississippi rivers.
The construction business runs in Ralph's family; both his father and mother are contractors. By age eight he began helping his father paint houses after school, on weekends and holidays. Following high school Ralph attended DeVry Institute in Dallas, Texas. He returned home on weekends to help with any construction work that was needed to complete current projects. After graduating from DeVry, Ralph spent three years with the Army in Germany working in construction. Upon his return, he decided to start his own business. "My father was doing really well," he said, "but he wanted to continue with smaller jobs. However I was more interested in heavy construction."
Ralph started out by running newspaper ads for painting and construction jobs. He was soon painting 5-6 houses a month, and then he began to build houses. At the same time he was also learning and improving his business skills with the help of his mother. She had the biggest influence on him starting his own business.
As Ralph’s company grew he faced two major challenges: bonding and financing. Ralph, working with his surety bonding agent, turned to Small Business Administration's (SBA) Surety Bond Program. Under this program SBA can guarantee bid, performance, and payment bonds for eligible small businesses that are having difficulty obtaining bonding on their own. Financing his projects was also difficult because of the cost of materials and equipment needed to start projects. Ralph said, “Tom Wetzel at Arvest Bank was very instrumental in helping me attain financing, and that contributed to my company’s success.”
In 1992 Ralph entered SBA's 8(a) Program. The 8(a) Program fosters business ownership and the competitive viability of firms owned by individuals who are socially and economically disadvantaged. It expands their participation in the federal procurement of equipment, products, and services. The 8(a) Program has given Ralph the experience he needed to be able to become a stronger and more successful company.
Ralph attributes his success to the training he received from his parents, attention to detail and the ability to communicate effectively with project owners. Ralph says “Construction can be very stressful but also a rewarding business. The secret to success is not making the same mistake twice.”
Ralph has been awarded SBA's Administrator's Award for Excellence twice and the Corps of Engineers Certificate of Achievement. He has also received recognition for outstanding work from the Little Rock Air Force Base and the Veterans Administration. Kesser has also volunteered its services to rehabilitate homes through the National Association of Minority Contractors. Ralph also donates resources and conducts an annual Public Speaking Contest designed to encourage, foster and support the personal development of youth of all ages through public speaking.