A Veteran’s Story: From A Troubled Youth To A Successful Entrepreneur, Via The USMC

Justin Taylor

Military Service: U.S. Marine Corps, E-5, FAST Sergeant

Current Job: Founder/Owner, Pure Power Contractors

As Justin stood in front of the judge in 1994 waiting to learn the consequences of serious adolescent trouble, he did not imagine that his future would literally be so bright…  

In fact, it is quite a stunning sight: Twenty-five thousand solar panels arrayed in a pattern stretching across tens of acres of beautiful North Carolina countryside, collecting the sun’s energy.  The project is so vast that a commercial-grade drone is used to monitor the condition of the equipment.

This nascent, but proven source of power is experiencing rapid growth in the residential, commercial and utility realms, and has generated lucrative opportunities for entrepreneurs and skilled tradesmen who are willing to take a risk on this green energy solution.

Former Marine Sergeant Justin Taylor is one man who recognized the opportunities available from the proliferation of solar power, and took the initiative to capitalize on the future growth of this alternative energy source.

Justin is the owner of Waxhaw, North Carolina based Pure Power Contractors, an electrical contractor who specializes in the installation of utility scale and commercial photovoltaic (solar) systems. The company designs, constructs, and maintains commercial rooftop and ground mounted PV systems. Pure Power employs 20 full-time professionals including electricians and foremen, as well as 80 flex-demand staffers.

After several years of demonstrating technical expertise and excellent performance, Pure Power is now in demand by prominent utility-scale investors such as Cypress Creek Renewables that sell solar power to several major utilities including Duke Energy, Southern Company and Dominion Resources. After a successful 2016 with revenues of $11 million, the company is competing for a massive 75 mega-watt utility-scale project for 2017, which will span over 500 acres, and connect over 234,000 solar panels.

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To understand the remarkable journey of how Justin transitioned from a Marine E-5 FAST Sergeant into a successful solar energy entrepreneur, you have to start with his unsettled adolescence in rural Richmond, New Hampshire, a small town with a population of about 1,000 people.

As far back as Justin can remember, he was mechanically inclined, and had an interest in fixing things. Initially, it was out of necessity, as he didn’t have a consistent presence of an adult male to teach him. As he aged, his interest was based on the natural curiosity to “tinker” in his rural environment with tractors, motorcycles and other moving equipment.  Justin’s favorite hobby was restoring cars.

In his teen-aged years, although bright and practical, Justin was a marginal student and eventually a borderline dropout. Consequently, Justin began to get into trouble that escalated to the point where he ended up in front of a judge. Fortunately, the judge put him on probation, instead of sending him to jail, which was the fate suffered by some of his running mates.

After that “I dodged a bullet” moment, Justin headed down to the local Armed Forces recruiter to inquire about what military opportunities existed to change the course of his life. After the U.S. Army did not grant him the necessary waiver, Justin joined the U.S. Marines Corps. The recruiter offered the job specialty of “combat engineer”, a natural fit for a kid who enjoyed construction (and demolition). It was 1996, and before he knew it, Justin was headed to Paris Island for basic training.

 

Unfortunately, the glamorous job description given by the recruiter, did not match up with the reality of daily life. Justin’s role as a combat engineer morphed into “utility maintenance” provider. Within one year, he was bored and applied for a position in the security forces, in FAST (Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team).

Upon joining the unit, Justin enjoyed the fast tempo and global force projection of U.S. Marine Corps, anywhere in the world within 24 hours. He was a natural leader, quick learner and demonstrated good common sense. These natural attributes resulted in a very fast promotion path up to E-5 Sergeant.

Sergeant Taylor, USMC. U.S. Embassy Macedonia during the Kosovo crisis

For the next 3 years, Justin experienced many exciting adventures and traveled to 17 countries. It was a remarkable “real-world” education, filled with intrigue, purpose and danger.  However in 2000, he was tired of living out of a duffel bag, and decided to leave the Marine Corps.

The natural transition for a high-speed Marine FAST operator, with current security clearances and finely honed skills, is into a civilian security force. Justin received a lucrative offer from Dyncorp International, a leading global provider of security solutions. However, after taking leave to re-connect with his family, who had relocated to Ft Meyers, Florida, Justin decided against a continuation of the nomadic lifestyle, and opted to put down roots instead.

He enrolled in Edison State College during the day to gain his Emergency Medical Technician credentials, and worked a night security job. One day, Justin was talking with his brother-in-law, an electrician with a local firm, about the extraordinary opportunities in Florida residential construction due to the real estate boom of the early 2000s. This conversation motivated Justin to join him to help with basic electrician tasks such as wiring residential developments.

Justin’s natural mechanical/electrical inclination, combined with the intangibles honed in the Marine Corps of hard work, focus, punctuality, discipline, competence and astuteness, resulted in him operating his own truck within a mere 3 months. Within two years, Justin was in charge of the entire sub-division, and a year later, he was running four sub-divisions. Within four years from the conversation with his brother-in-law, he was running the company’s field operations. All seemed well, but the electrical firm’s owner was dealing with personal demons (substance abuse) and that eventually lead to the dissolution of the business, and Justin was forced to find new employment.

Justin then went to work for the local electrical union for six months, where he learned “like a sponge” from older, master electricians. However, the union framework constrained his growth and entrepreneurial spirit, so he decided to partner with a colleague to start a residential company in 2005 called Aces Electrical Contractors with six employees. Although the business was quickly profitable, it did not last long due to more exciting developments. In April 2006, Justin got married, and they decided to sell the business and relocate to North Carolina to start a new life together.

The residential real estate bubble was beginning to burst, so Justin intentionally identified and secured a job with Simpson Electric, an established firm that was sure to weather the economic depression. It was a good bet, as the employment consistency carried him beyond the critical 7-year experience level to qualify for Master Electrician. Justin continued his history of self-learning, and secured the books to study for the exam.

It was tough sledding with the work and study routine, but as Justin says, “Anything worth having doesn’t come easy”. He decided to gamble and take the test for the top-level certification, “Unlimited Licensed Contractor”, and he passed the first time.

So in February 2008, Justin joined the Southern Energy Management, a relatively new firm specializing in residential solar power, as their 2nd electrician on the payroll, but sole Master Electrician. Justin learned solar power from the “solar die-hard hippies”, known for their relaxed grooming habits and “change the world” ideology, and in return he taught them the electrical side.

The business was expanding rapidly, and Justin gained licenses in nine states between 2009-2012. He was promoted to Project manager, then ultimately Director of Solar Operations. The company employed 68 full-time technicians, and 300 flex-demand staff workers. Most importantly, the company shifted operations from a Residential to Utility-Scale focus, and grew into the biggest solar contractor in North Carolina.  The annual commercial solar revenues grew from $300,000 to more than $30 million, and the operational area expanded from one state to more than nine.

The growth came with a downside; excessive debt and insufficient capital funding, and that ultimately lead to a forced sale of the commercial division in 2012 to another firm. Justin was asked to stay on, but in May 2012, he followed his entrepreneurial instincts and launched Pure Power Contractors.  He and his staff of two employees initially focused the residential projects and sub-contracting work for Southern Energy Management.  Simultaneously, he studied for his General Partner GP license.

Pure Power Contractors – Residential Solar

In late 2014, Pure Power was awarded their first utility scale project (5 mega-watt job), and that began the transition from small residential jobs into more profitable utility scale/commercial projects. Since then, the momentum has continued to build rapidly.

Justin on a Utility-Scale Project job site.

In 2015, the business completed 85 mega-watts worth of projects, and generated $5 million in revenues. In 2016, Pure Power completed a more selective and profitable 42 mega-watts worth of projects, and generated $11 million in revenues. Revenues for 2017 are projected at $15 million.

Life and Military Transition Lessons

  • Learn how to learn. If you can teach yourself new skills and gain knowledge, every day is an education.
  • Targeted Education. Constantly attempt to improve yourself by building knowledge, degrees, certifications and licenses that have real-world, practical applications.
  • Leadership. It is the primary lesson taught early in military training. It allows you to have the personal fortitude to remain disciplined, take charge when appropriate, and motivate others to effectively execute their responsibilities.
  • Stress is relative. If veterans remember the risks they took serving in the military, most issues in the civilian world are manageable.
  • A business is like a team. Start by giving employees responsibilities that match their strengths, and then help them grow by developing additional skills.
  • Entry-level jobs are not below you. The cream always rises to the top. Often times, if you do it well, it may lead to better opportunities.
  • Sometimes a negative turns into a positive. Justin’s transition into the civilian world was difficult socially, because after four years of high tempo Marine Corps life, he could not relate to his (civilian) peers’ Reality-TV culture that emphasized the wrong attributes. This lack of social interest turned out to be a benefit because it afforded Justin the opportunity to submerse himself in work and educational pursuits, which ultimately paid off.

Justin Taylor is the embodiment of the American self-made success and redemption story. After struggling early in life, he built a solid foundation of core attributes in the U.S. Marine Corps.  Without a network of enablers, Justin acquired valuable technical skills, and then used self-motivation, work ethic and vision to seize opportunities as they emerged.

Ultimately, this approach to life developed the preparation, vision and audacity necessary to secure the rewarding position he holds today as owner of the rapidly growing Pure Power Contractors.

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