25 Years of Breaking Ground Contracting

February 7, 2022

Mary Tappouni

“Invent a Business that Smiles on the World” is the first item on the list of the How to be an Entrepreneur poster my mom gifted to me in the ‘90s. At the time, this sentiment was not something taught in my business coursework at either the University of Florida or the University of North Florida, places of higher education that I was proud to attend. They both helped shape my journey.

25 Years of Breaking Ground ContractingWe are entering our 25th year with a new website, but more than that, an affirmation of all who have been on the path, and a commitment to our future.  Special thanks to the team at Nuera Marketing for capturing the spirit of Breaking Ground Contracting, and your continued partnership.

As I thought of starting my own business, I pondered how to create a company that is unique in its inception, fulfills me personally, and contributes to the surrounding community. Sounds deep for a construction company. Don’t overthink it, it’s just building, my inner voice nagged. For me, that would never be enough. I would pursue my passion to marry my personal philosophy with my professional pursuits through Breaking Ground Contracting.

I receive periodic, welcome reminders as to why I chose to start my own business: the love and respect I have for the industry, the joy of building, the memories created by my parents’ own business pursuits, and the inner knowing that I would always have a business of my own, just to name a few. The events that keep these reasons close may vary, but hosting second and third-grade girls at our office for a rooftop tour is highest among them. Guest lectures at my alma maters rank a close second.

My road to Jacksonville, and eventually to Breaking Ground Contracting, began with a pivotal day at university, a fire in my room, in 1992, in Gainesville, Florida. Everything was burned or smoke damaged, the photos the hardest thing to lose. We were fortunate no one was injured, but this fire, along with other issues every young person contends with, led me to make a decision for a fresh start.

The second item on my poster is “Discover what is Needed that you Believe in with all your Heart.” Following my heart, and my intuition would cement the action I took to focus my attention on becoming an expert in green building and sustainability. This path would lead me to embody the third item on that poster: “A Service that you are Really Good at and Love to do.”

My mother, Therese has always been a guide and inspiration for me. She and other women in the industry before me, encouraged me to embrace and share the feminine, not back away from it, when entering a male-dominated industry. That takes courage and conviction, something I never really realized I had. However, looking back over twenty-five years starting and growing this organization, I see that I certainly had those qualities.

Breaking Ground Contracting was fortunate to leverage industry relationships and land high-profile, complex projects from the start. Bally Total Fitness took a big chance on us. We were able to establish ourselves in the Health & Fitness market, and gain expertise working in occupied spaces that would serve us well in the years to come. A key decision to entice my sister Michelle, who was at the time advancing her career in the HVAC industry, to move to Jacksonville and help me expand my business is one of my best. Our first public project was with the City of Jacksonville, a playground for a park, which Michelle managed. There is a great story about that first meeting that Michelle tells to this day. Let’s just say, we were underestimated, and ultimately we impressed.

We would expand our portfolio of commercial and institutional work to include historic renovations, medical, office, public schools, universities, military training facilities, and training ranges, skate parks, bridge and substation control houses, an historic suspension bridge restoration, and a chance of a lifetime to build the International Press Boxes for the Super Bowl held in Jacksonville in 2005.

Sustainability, high-performance building, and being a part of our community, are always in view, no matter the project. This focus led us to expand our education services, with the expert help of my sister Catherine who had been teaching in Southwest Florida. Our education and consulting services helped numerous companies with their own corporate social responsibility and environmental programs. We launched My Sustainable Summer, a summer program for children.  In partnership with our mom’s firm, Whole Heart, we diversified our educational offerings through innovative programs focused on quality of life and published a terrific award-winning children’s book Me and Green

Our focus on green building, coupled with our emphasis on exhibiting sustainability in our operations, has led us to some uncommon partnerships. The Breaking Ground Green Roof, which has been thriving for over ten years, connected us with those on the leading edge of green roof design in Florida, most notably Kevin Songer and Metro Verde. Kevin designed and installed the first plants that still grace the roof garden. Since that initial planting, we have had many visitors from the natural world, as well as the human world: local school children, their parents and teachers; those involved with farming and the Slow Food movement; permaculture pioneer Tim Armstrong of Eat Your Yard Jax, and the children of Berry Good Farms of the North Florida Education Center; and hosting tours of students from as far away as France. The green roof with its 1500 square foot garden and 51 solar photovoltaic panels has brought us much joy. It has also brought international recognition.

An unlikely meeting with the President of the United States in 2009, as I represented the State of Florida as the Small Business Person of the Year, is a highlight of the history of Breaking Ground Contracting. It was an honor to experience President Obama’s warmth and humor up close. By chance, my partner, Kevin, is still the only person I know outside of the East Room, who witnessed that moment live on CNN.

My dad, Mike, has had a profound impact on the trajectory of my chosen path.  He has supported me in ways that were unspoken at times, something special a father shares with his daughter and an understanding between those born to be entrepreneurs.  Qualities he insisted upon are imprinted upon Breaking Ground Contracting.

There are far too many memories over twenty-five years to fit into one blog post, but what stands out the most are the people. So many amazing people have supported our organization, and me personally. I am beyond grateful.

As the poster continues to remind me: “Cherish the Good People Including Yourself.”

Cheers to all that lies ahead.