This is a simple story, not of epic proportions or ancient lore. A story that often isn’t, but should be told. Perhaps the tapestry of the world is not held together by the stories of glory of fame, but rather the consistent men and women who live with honesty, integrity, and hard work. This is the story of the Swartz; a family who opens their home to the community and provides a place for youth of every age to feel safe and loved; a family who not only proclaims faith, but lives it; a family who does all manner of work with excellence and hast eh special talent of entrepreneurship. I have had the privilege of knowing all the generations of the Swartz family throughout my high school years and am honored to tell their story.
It begins with a man in need of a job. Ron Swartz, the patriarch of the family, had previously worked for his dad’s remodeling company in Arizona and learned the trade of construction. He even used these skills to build his own home for his young family. It was this project that gave him not only a job, but also a business of his own. During the process of construction a neighbor, who happened to be a doctor, took notice of his skill and work ethic and offered him the opportunity to build his medical office. Ron Swartz proceeded to take out a $500 loan to fund his first project. It went so well that in four decades since, through word of mouth of excellent work, he has never been in need of employment. Ron loved to build and to be independent; it was the perfect combination of the two. Although $500 does not seem that much in the present day, ti was a calculated risk. A true entrepreneur, he was doing what he loved and always looking for new challenges. New and varied projects would com, as his entrance into the market was ripe. Phoenix, Arizona in the 1970’s was on the verge of unprecedented growth. In two previous decades alone, it had drown from 106,818 in 1950 to 584,303 in 1970, growing over 5 times its original size. (Heim, 2001) In the early years he grew slowly from one project to the next, ranging from commercial buildings to custom homes. His first large-scale project was landmark in terms of Arizona history. Hickman’s Family Egg Farm is a staple of the Arizona community. It has grown to be Arizona’s largest egg producer with over 5 million birds producing 3 million shell eggs per day. (August 2010) Ron Swartz Construction was a critical element of this process. Throughout the 1970’s when they were looking to expand their market share, they called on Ron Swartz, combing two integral families in the West Phoenix community. How did Ron Swartz survive in a crowded Phoenix construction market? Mutual trust. He only worked for people he knew and built relationships with his customers. This allowed him to use cost-plus contracts rather than competing for a fixed bid. In the early years of the company, it was an incredible risk to go for a fixed bid because if you estimate ended up being wrong, it could sink the company due to low capital. People new they were getting an excellent product, not because of massive experience in the industry, but because they knew Ron Swartz. He relied on his integrity, excellent work ethic, and innovative spirit to survive. He always worked out of his home, never bought new trucks, and kept overhead costs low. It all began with hard work and integrity, and those would be the hallmarks of the company as it continued to grow in the 80’s and 90’s.
“Slow and steady wins the race,” is the age-old saying. For Ron Swartz the importance was not huge growth and lucrative profits, but satisfied customers. Those customers would be his consistent source of new revenue as the company thrived on referrals, never having to advertise the service. The company continued to use cost-plus contracts on the foundation of trust. Ron did not rely on high margins per project, but build the company slowly. The company had a diverse array of services from custom home, to commercial buildings, to farm homes. The allowed the company to be sustainable through the real estate slump of the late 80’s and early 90’s; evening using his original skill set of remodeling. He didn’t ask for money up front and there was only a 5% profit margin per project; but the company made up for it in volume as the referrals continue to flow in. Ron states, “I would see other guys get rick quick, and that can lead to failure. It made me realize that slow growth is better,” (Swartz, 2013).
As the company was expanding steadily, construction in Phoenix was booming. Planned suburban communities contributed to the next wave of commercial growth. A study by the American Journal of Economics and Sociology showed that, “By 1997 21 large scale developments, each with more than 1000 acres of land, were under construction and another 10 proposed in the Phoenix urban area…Development under construction included The Foothills to the south, Estrella to the southwest, Sun City Grand to the northwest, and Desert Ridge to the northeast,” (Heim, 2001). It was the new wave of construction, entire communities built to meet the needs of their target markets. Ron Swartz Construction participated in this market growth by building the planned Christian retirement community entitled, Glencroft in Glendale, Arizona. Their website description explains, “Today, Glencroft provides quality housing for 900 residents who experience a broad continuum of retirement living and care,” (Glencroft). Their services consist of independent living, assisted living, skilled care, and memory care. This project provided a steady stream of revenue, over 10 million in 10 years for Ron Swartz Construction. Glencroft and Ron Swartz Construction had and continue to have a special relationship. There was so much trust between the two parties that not a single contract was written over the ten years and Ron even put the roads in the facility at no cost. This relationship continues today, as I know the entire Swartz family participates in the annual quilt auction at Glencroft, and the great grandparents have also lived at the facility. The owners of Glencroft wanted Ron to quit custom home building and focus solely on Glencroft, but Ron decided against it. Glencroft was not Ron Swartz project. He explains, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket…I knew that one day the Glencroft work would end, and then where would I be? I ran 2 crews, one on custom homes and one at Glencroft, because I knew I had to keep the custom home work for the future. I have seen general contractors and subcontractors become dependent on a particular customer, and they end up eventually out of work,” (Swartz, 2013). This foresight made the transition easy when the Glencroft work ended and commercial work became more and more competitive because the company had a niche market in custom home building. This market would become essential as the business moved to the the present day.
As the business expanded, Ron had solicited the help of his wife, Bonnie, their daughter, Cindy, and their son-in-law, Ted. His daughter, Cindy, has had a number of roles in the RSC office. With 33 years of experience working for the company, and several interior design classes under her belt, she is now the main design consultant for the company making sure the projects are designed to the taste of the customer; she is also the main contact for estimates and bidding. As Ron nears retirement age most of the day-to-day operations have been transferred to his son-in-law Ted, Cindy’s husband of 34 years. His official title is Field Project Manager, and “Ted trains and supervises the day-to-day construction workers and recruits our tradespeople. He manager the formal scheduling system and maintains all job schedules. Ted supervises the company’s day-in and day-out projects,” (Swartz). Ron now works more as a consultant with home design and permitting, spending more of his time with his wife and grandchildren. The company is in its second generation and will continue to be for at least another 10 years. It’s not clear yet whether the third generation will take over, but the seeds of entrepreneurship are alive and well. Luke Swartz, a grandson of Ron Swartz, is already a serial entrepreneur with an egg business in middle school and a t-shirt business in high school. The whole family, in fact, is a master of “the good deal.” I remember going to their house and every three months they would have a different car as they bought as sold them for profit. They have a gift, and they have been using it to serve their community for decades.
Ron Swartz started a company on the foundation of honesty and integrity. They legacy is not in terms of thousands of homes built, but rather innumerable satisfied customers who they now call friends. Ron Swartz was a deft entrepreneur, diversifying his service abilities, moving into planned communities, and training managers to run the company from the ground up. Senator Jon Kyl spoke of the family, “It is said the United States is a nation of doers and builders and this goes along well with that theme. This city would not be what it is today if not for the Swartz family,” (Jackman). They have, and continue to have, an indelible impact on their community.
Essay Written by family friend Brian Bates, who at the time, was a college student writing on assignment for a class.
August, J. (2010). Eggs for Arizona: Hickman family farms. Arizona Food Industry Journal.
Glencroft. About us: A faith based senior living community. Retrieved from http://glencroft.com/about_us.php
Heim, C. (2001). Leapfrogging, urban sprawl, and growth management: Phoenix, 1950-2000. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 60(1).
Jackman, E. Swartz Family honored with Business of the Year award. The Glendale Star.
Swartz, R. (2013, November 12). Interview by Shannon Swartz. History of the Swartz family business.
Swartz. Ted Christner: Field project manager. Retrieved from http://ronswartz.com/about/ted-w-christner/