30 in Their Thirties: John Rakolta III

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John Rakolta III // 35

Executive Vice President and Chief Administration Officer // Walbridge, Detroit // Employees: 1,200 // Revenue: $1.4B

New York University

When John Rakolta III was working for a development firm in New York City while attending graduate school, he saw firsthand how a company that grows too fast can make mistakes. “They were great in New York, but they tried to go into Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and they spread themselves too thin,” says Rakolta, executive vice president and chief administrative officer of Walbridge, a large construction firm headquartered in downtown Detroit.

“They were taking on large amounts of risk and moving into areas where they didn’t have core competencies.” While he was learning the development business “on someone else’s dime,” in 2007 he got a call from his father, John Rakolta Jr., chairman and CEO of Walbridge. “He asked if I wanted to come back to Detroit because there was an opening for a sales role in one of the divisions,” he says. “I’ve always loved construction, so I came back … and interviewed for the position. There were other candidates, so I was glad to get the job.”

Over the last nine years, Rakolta says he’s helped the company “refine its ability to manage risk, and to take the appropriate risk to expand the business.” That includes expansions into Brazil and Argentina, as well as finding additional opportunities in Mexico, where the company has operated for more than 30 years. Closer to home, the construction firm — in partnership with The Roxbury Group and Kraemer Design Group, both in Detroit — renovated the David Whitney Building overlooking Grand Circus Park in the central business district. Built in 1915, but vacant for more than a decade, the building required an extensive renovation. The refurbishments included 105 apartments, the 136-room Aloft Hotel, a sundry store, a bar, and a restaurant. “I’m having a lot of fun,” Rakolta says. “We’re just finishing a new headquarters in Detroit for Marathon Oil, and we’ve been working with General Motors Co. to renovate their Technical Center (in Warren) to help them move into mobility and the next century of automobiles and transportation. It will also help them attract and retain engineers.” — R.J. King 

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