Like mother, like daughter
As RCC Associates embarks on an anniversary year, two generations of executive leadership look back on a general contracting journey like no other.
The CEO and chairwoman of RCC Associates, the nationally renowned general contractor celebrating 50 years in 2021, is proudly sharing dated news, not that it really matters. This is what mothers do when they’re beaming about their child’s accomplishments—and in this case, especially, Beverly Raphael-Altman has plenty about which to be proud.
In late October, her youngest of two daughters, Robyn Raphael-Dynan, was promoted from vice president of operations to president of the Deerfield Beach-based company—a title that Beverly had held (along with CEO) since the late 1990s. It’s the culmination of a 17-year journey for Robyn, through virtually every nook and cranny of RCC’s day-to-day operations.
As Beverly finishes her thought about Robyn’s promotion, she notes, “And we’re still going!”
“You mean I haven’t run the business into the ground?” Robyn quips.
“Actually, in the first two weeks that you were president, our numbers went up. Maybe we should have [made this move] sooner,” Beverly says, as mother and daughter share a laugh.
It’s true that the next chapter looks promising for a company that already has brought more than a thousand projects to fruition through the decades, most notably in the culinary sector—including more than 80 buildings across the United States for The Cheesecake Factory. RCC has had projects in the Tampa Bay market for more than 20 years, including the highly anticipated Tampa location of Shake Shack, which is currently under construction.
The company’s work outside the foodie category, meanwhile, includes the ongoing renovation of the historic Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.
But the RCC story is about more than just successful projects and satisfied clients. Or even about two women, both moms, who’ve changed the way that people view the male-dominated industry of commercial construction.
In that sense, it’s a story that continues to bind Beverly and Robyn in ways that neither woman could have imagined prior to 1998.
In the Beginning
Launched in 1971 as Raphael Construction Corporation in Chicago, RCC Associates relocated to South Florida in 1981, intent on becoming the market’s dominant interior buildout specialist. But it wasn’t long before Richard Raphael’s penchant for relationship building, and ability to deliver quality projects on time—and on budget—had put RCC on the map as a general contractor.
The steady climb spoke to Richard’s dogged focus on the business. Beverly once described him as all work and no play—except for his horses. She had sparked that interest with polo lessons at Casa de Campo, the sprawling seaside resort in the Dominican Republic, for his 40th birthday. Richard became so obsessed with the sport, and about riding, that he started buying horses that looked the same so Beverly wouldn’t notice. Of course, it was the number of horses, not their color, that tipped her off; Richard had seven.
The couple were set to move into a new home at Addison Reserve on the Boca Raton/Delray Beach border. On the day of the house inspection, Richard felt a tingling on the side of his head. Beverly also noticed that his speech seemed off. Worried that he had suffered a mini-stroke, she convinced him to see a doctor. Richard ended up spending that night in the hospital for observation.
The next morning, he was diagnosed with three malignant brain tumors—unreachable with surgery. The medical team gave him four months to live. The prognosis proved spot-on. Richard died on Aug. 25, 1998, at age 53.
The one-time plumber’s apprentice left behind an inspired entrepreneurial legacy, two whip-smart college-aged daughters—and a multimillion-dollar general contracting business suddenly in limbo. It fell to Richard’s grieving wife to decide RCC’s future.
The only problem was, she knew nothing about the construction industry.
Beverly could feel the weight of the moment. More than 650 people attended Richard’s memorial service, some of whom had worked with him for decades. They were looking to her for direction about the future of the company. She didn’t want to be perceived as weak, someone who would crumble in the face of a challenge. So Beverly steeled herself as she delivered her eulogy, refusing to shed tears.
It was a moment of early clarity, she would later say. She could feel Richard pushing her to hold it together.
There was early pressure to sell, some of it coming from a relative of Richard’s, who ran his own business. He told Beverly that RCC was going to take her down. That she didn’t know anything about construction. He introduced her to a group interested in buying the company. As she listened to the pitch, her stomach churned. Here were strangers, trying to tear RCC into pieces to devalue it—and suggesting that Beverly should be grateful for whatever crumbs they were offering.
She politely declined. “I think RCC is worth more than you think,” Beverly said.
Digging in Her Heels
Soon after Richard died, a local competitor began trying to poach RCC employees. They used Beverly’s inexperience against her, warning that she would cripple the company with poor decisions. Beverly caught wind that RCC’s nickname, in certain circles, had become “The Girls Club.” The joke was that RCC didn’t have urinals.
But a funny thing happened on the way to RCC’s demise. The company became stronger. Beverly offered minority stock to Rick Rhodes, who knew the construction end of the business and had worked with Richard for years; to this day, Rhodes, instrumental in RCC’s growth and nationwide reputation, serves as executive vice president.
Meanwhile, Beverly spent those first six months observing, listening and learning. It wasn’t that she didn’t have the business chops. For 15 years, she ran a national apparel company (BRA Inc.) with a showroom at the Merchandise Mart in Miami; she started her fashion career by selling pieces out of the trunk of her car.
She just needed time to see the big picture. In an effort to further stabilize the company, she took over as president. Beverly was all in; she and Rhodes would embark on this business journey together. They hired top talent to fill needed positions. They traveled from state to state to earn business. And they tended to the company’s culture. Instead of leaving, the people being lured by competitors hitched their wagon to RCC and its unlikely leader.
What employees, unfamiliar with her story, didn’t know was that Beverly would never give up the fight. She couldn’t. She only had quit once in her life, when she dropped out of college. It haunted her. After that, Beverly vowed to finish everything she started.
RCC, it turned out, was in the best possible hands.
The Next Generation
Within a decade of Richard’s death, RCC had increased annual revenue by five times, driving it from roughly $20 million to more than $100 million by the late 2000s. The firm had emerged as one of the nation’s premier restaurant and retail build-out specialists with a client list that featured the likes of The Cheesecake Factory and Victoria’s Secret. Along the way, Beverly had found love again; in 2004, she married residential real estate developer Joel Altman.
That same year, RCC hired a young woman, only a few years removed from college, as a project coordinator. At the time, like Beverly in 1998, Robyn knew nothing about construction. She graduated from Florida State University in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in business; prior to joining RCC, she’d been the director of public relations for a Palm Beach-based firm, Altima International, that specialized in representing real estate developers.
But a 2003 trip to Las Vegas, with her mom and older sister, Lindsay (who runs her own law practice in Boca Raton), for the International Council of Shopping Centers conference began to pique Robyn’s interest in the family business. She met people who knew her father, and RCC employees who implored her to join the team; they promised they’d show her the ropes. The opportunity to work with her mom, and to connect with her late father through the firm he started, ultimately proved irresistible.
Unlike her mother, however, Robyn was about to learn RCC from the bottom up. Still, she followed Mom’s playbook, doing more listening than talking, during her entry-level period. She took notes at meetings, made cheat sheets for herself, learned the language of construction, paid attention to how her project executive spoke to and dealt with clients—and did anything and everything that was asked of her. Robyn wanted no preferential treatment.
She also maintained professional distance at work, between herself and Beverly. Robyn didn’t want people to think that she was running into Mom’s office every five minutes. “I had to gain my co-workers’ confidence that I wasn’t just some mole,” she says.
Just the opposite. Robyn was soon leading by example. She not only climbed the company ladder—becoming a director of project management, followed by director of operations—she mastered each rung along the way until being named vice president of operations in 2017.
Seeing the Future
It’s a crapshoot, Beverly says, when two family members work together. She’s heard the nightmarish stories about parents and children having fallouts because goals weren’t being met and disappointments were becoming corrosive. So, she set a reasonable expectation for Robyn. Her daughter would fall in love with the business or discover within a year that it wasn’t for her.
By the fourth year, Beverly had recalibrated that expectation.
“The light bulb, for me, was one day when Robyn and I were riding in the car on our way to lunch,” Beverly says. “She was a project manager at the time. She was in the middle of a conversation with a superintendent on one of her projects, and then she carried the conversation to another level in a discussion with the owner. I listened to how she handled it, and I was so impressed that I remember saying to her, ‘Who are you?’
“It was one of those situations in general contracting that could have become a really difficult moment. She handled it so calmly, and with such finesse, that the super was saying he would take care of everything. And the client/owner was telling her how much better they felt about the situation—and how much they appreciated her getting involved at that level.”
Perhaps the moment hit home because it spoke to a lesson Beverly learned early in her fashion industry days. When someone had an issue with a garment, she always took it back and worried about dealing with the manufacturer later. In that moment, the customer came first. It’s a golden rule that became a pillar at RCC under Beverly: “We never say that we can’t do something. We always figure out a way to fix the problem.”
At lunch that day, Beverly saw herself in Robyn. And, so, she told her daughter what Beverly already knew in her heart to be true.
“You know, Robyn,” she said, “you’re going to be running this company one day.”
Early in her time at RCC, Beverly didn’t shy away from the woman-in-a-male-dominated-industry storyline that media outlets wanted to pursue. It brought attention to the company and bought her and Rhodes time to change that narrative.
But even today, Beverly and Robyn elicit the occasional double-take in construction settings from people who don’t know that they’re running the show. It happened recently, they both recall, on the site of a renovation project. “Isn’t this the funniest thing I’ve ever seen,” the man said. “Women on a construction site!”
For her part, Robyn laughs it off. She’s so confident in the complementary mix of talent, in departments throughout RCC, that the random sexist remark is neither here nor there. Not for nothing, but she also believes women are naturals at keeping several plates spinning at once, a staple of any complex construction project.
“You have to have great communication, you have to be able to multitask, and some of those detail-oriented aspects just come naturally to women,” she says. “Also, working moms like myself understand that there’s a set amount of time in a day that you have to get things done. It makes you learn how to work efficiently.”
Over the past two decades, Beverly has elevated women into key executive positions at RCC. It’s not because they have two X chromosomes, she says.
“It’s because they’re great at what they do.”
Beverly admits that her confidence in Robyn, as president, is greater than the confidence she had in herself 22 years ago, in large part because the hurdles for RCC that existed following Richard’s death have long since been cleared. But it’s also about having a president who soaks up nuance like a sponge, who’s constantly looking for ways to improve systems or enhance communication with clients, office staff and on-site workers. There isn’t a process implemented at RCC today that Robyn hasn’t created, experienced or altered to make more efficient.
Thanks to Robyn’s innovations and tweaks to processes and procedures, RCC increased its gross profit by 12%—and buoyed operating margins by 42%—over the past six years. As president, she manages the company’s approximately 100 employees (roughly 60 in the office and 40 in the field); at any given time, she oversees as many as 40 projects.
And that, for good reason, brings out a mother’s pride.
“What greater pleasure could a parent have than to have the person you trust the most in the world [run the company],” she says. “It’s not about filling my shoes. I never tried, or could, fill Richard’s shoes. I had to find my own way and my own vision.
“It’s the same for Robyn. From day one, she was so willing to do whatever it took. We’ve worked together for more than 17 years, and she’s constantly looking to learn—and then she applies that to her natural talent. Before she makes a recommendation, she’s already thought it out so that she can show us how it can be implemented and what the potential outcome might be. I can’t ask for more than that, in terms of the proper leadership for the company.”
The appreciation is mutual. No matter how many times Robyn listens to her mom share the RCC story, she’s inevitably moved. It’s in her mother’s voice, she says. To hear Beverly speak about RCC is to understand not only how much the company and its history mean to her, but how grateful she is to the people who’ve contributed to its success.
“Everybody was always so drawn in by how my mom leads,” Robyn says. “She takes an active interest in everybody’s life, and everybody has access to her office. You can walk in at any point throughout the day and just have a laugh with her. That feels important because instead of it being a construction company, it’s a people company. And even though some days are stressful, everybody in the end knows this is where they want to be.
“The other thing is her grace. She’s treated everybody in the business with such integrity that you don’t hear a bad thing about her. She doesn’t have to be the loudest in the room but when she walks in, everyone knows she’s there.”
The Last Word
Asked if one of the two children (daughter Riley, 13; and son Brody, 9) she has with husband Jason Dynan might one day climb the RCC ladder, Robyn doesn’t hesitate.
“My parents never put that pressure on me or my sister,” she says. “It was so natural, and organic, the way that it happened. And I would want the same for my children.
“But, obviously, I would be so happy to have the same experience that my mom is having right now—and watch our company grow. That would be a dream.” ♦
Kevin Kaminksi is group editor at Lifestyle Magazines, the parent company of TBBW.
Profile photos by James Woodley | Project photos provided by RCC Associates