In 2008, Gorham native Kendrick Ballantyne was presented with a tough choice — a choice that many aspiring professional athletes have been faced with at one time or another: stay in the NFL and continue pursuing his dream or hang up the helmet and make a new career move.
While staying on as a professional football player with the Baltimore Ravens held an appeal, Ballantyne was honest with himself.
“I was a third string tight end, and I knew that was where I’d be for my career, whether that be two years or four years. It was time to move on from that dream; it had run its course,” says Ballantyne.
And just as quickly as his career began, Ballantyne found himself on the sidelines. Luckily for him, pursuing a life in football also gave him the opportunity to earn a world-class education at Northeastern University in Boston. Ballantyne had juggled his football commitment with a major in finance and a minor in construction management.
He returned to his alma mater to pick up a construction project management position, but shortly after doing so, he had a realization: With his NFL career behind him, it was time to return a place where he could live a life that would make him happy. So in 2010, at the age of 27, he left his job at Northeastern and made the jump to opening his own construction company, Optimum Construction, based in Portland.
Now seven years in, Ballantyne found that there is, indeed, a life after football.
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From a young age, Ballantyne knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur and own his own business. The industry was just starting to recover after the economic downturn in 2008, so starting a new company was a risk for Ballantyne. But he knew he liked construction, was good with math and had a solid background in finance. He had family with experience in the industry, and he knew he wanted to build his own company back home.
For Ballantyne, the appeal of construction work is that it brings together so many people to complete one design. From all of the engineers and architects involved, right through to the completion of the project, Ballantyne observes that, “Construction is all about people, managing people and relationships with people.”
There are two aspects Ballantyne loves most about the industry: working with people, and finding solutions to the inevitable challenges that will come up. One of his company’s core values is captioned “New Ways,” which means “enjoying problems as an opportunity to invent solutions.” He knows that there is never going to be a construction project without hiccups or roadblocks, but when faced with those situations, Ballantyne takes the opportunity to work with the client to find the solution that best serves the relationship.
Ballantyne is willing to listen to anyone, at anytime, if he can learn from them. He says he keeps his ears and eyes open at all times, and pays particular attention to more established Maine construction firms like Landry/French and Wright/Ryan that Ballantyne credits with running “an efficient model.”
He also brings what he learned from his years as an athlete into his company, describing the role of general contractor as that of coach. And just like on the gridiron, communication is key. Ballantyne aims to bring together everyone working on a project as a way to ensure that everyone benefits from working together.
Ballantyne’s business has grown by leaps and bounds since it first started seven years ago; a fitting outcome for someone who was all too glad to trade big-city paydays for time with family and easy access to the woods and ocean. To him, that means more than a huge paycheck ever could.
“Success can’t just be measured in dollars, it’s really about the depth and quality of relationships you have,” he says.
Ballantyne sees much more than the potential to make a comfortable living as a builder here in Maine. The growth in and around Portland, in particular, he believes will increase the opportunities for young people in the industry. For companies like his, the demand for construction and tradespeople is just going to keep growing.
With an optimistic view for the future of the industry as a whole, what does Ballantyne see for the future of his own company?
“I just want to see where it goes, to show up every day and work hard, to serve my coworkers and clients well, and whatever direction that takes it, I’ll go. I feel blessed already to have a business that provides for myself and my family as well as other people’s families.”
Ballantyne gave up a career in the NFL to return to his home state to follow his dream. Instead of chasing some glamorous big-city future, he opted to open a company with real values, bring jobs to Maine and live a life surrounded by better relationships.
That’s why Kendrick Ballantyne is an Emerging Icon.