Matthew Avila had no plans to enter the construction business like his father, John.
When he was young, he wanted to be a rock star. His younger brother, Paul, fought the move to Fort Worth when their father bought Byrne Construction and stayed behind in Plano to finish his senior year of high school with his girlfriend, who is now his wife.
Of course, plans rarely go the way they’re first imagined. The brothers now run their father’s company, Byrne Construction. Matthew, 48, is the CEO and Paul, 45, is the COO.
Byrne Construction has been in the Avila family since 1995, when John bought the company. Byrne is approaching its 100th year anniversary. Although most of the work today is done in North Texas, the company also has some projects in the Austin and San Antonio markets.
The elder Avila served in the U.S. military in Vietnam and Korea and then joined the Texas National Guard, which paid for his college education. From there, he studied engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and worked in construction for several companies.
Meanwhile, Byrne Construction started shrinking. It had completed several major projects, but was earning only about $15-20 million in revenue a year. Avila pulled everything he had together and bought the company.
“He put together a team and reinvigorated Byrne for the modern age,” Matthew said.
About 60% of the company’s work is in the public sector, Matthew said, building city halls, libraries and recreation centers. It also has private clients like American Airlines, Bell Helicopters and Lockheed Martin.
The company operates with just under 100 employees and has completed several significant projects in Fort Worth, including the Amon Carter Museum, Kimbell Art Museum, Will Rogers Coliseum and the original Texas Christian University football stadium and the Sinclair Hotel, Matthew said.
One of Paul’s favorite projects is Montgomery Plaza on West 7th Street, he said. The building was originally built in the 1920s, then renovated several times. In the early 2000s, Byrne Construction completed it to make the complex what it is today, with condominiums on top and a shopping center at the ground level.
The elder Avila’s reinvigoration of the company did not include his sons at first. Matthew was off at college and Paul did not want to move to Fort Worth, so he got an apartment with his girlfriend in Plano to finish high school.
So, with their father focusing on growing the company, the family was scattered. Avila said he knew his sons would grow up to be leaders, though.
“They’re type A personalities, if I can put it in those terms,” Avila said. “And they were both in Scouts, and they were both active, and, when they were in high school, they were in leadership positions.”
As Paul started looking into his future, he decided to go to Texas A&M, unlike the rest of his family who went to UT.
Paul said it was actually his father who wanted him to go to A&M after finding out he was interested in construction. Growing up, many of his dad’s colleagues were like uncles to the brothers, and Paul said he liked the fraternal nature of the industry.
Upon hearing this, Paul said his father told him “Cool, you’re going to A&M.” The university has a construction science program, versus his father’s study of engineering, which is broader.
“At that point, I was partying and having fun in high school. I wasn’t thinking about the future versus Dr. Avila over here has got 18 different degrees,” Paul said, referring to his brother, “and is very focused on what he wanted to do. None of which was construction, by the way.”
While Paul followed a more traditional path to the family business, Matthew did not. He started with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UT, then went to the East Coast and got a doctorate degree in behavioral medicine from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and then a juris doctorate degree from the Texas A&M School University School of Law.
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In Maryland, Matthew worked in the university’s research center. He had to get grants to do his research, and in that process he ended up mostly writing grant requests instead of doing the scientific research he wanted to do.
About the same time, his mother was starting the nonprofit The Art Station, so Matthew said he came to Fort Worth to help with that. But nonprofit management was not what he wanted to be doing, so he pitched a chance to be a business partner with his dad.
That was in 2006. Since then he’s been at Byrne Construction. Paul said he was surprised to see his brother in the office, and it was not part of the plan.
“He literally showed up in the office one day and said, ‘This is my office,’ and I was like,
‘Why is he in an office, and I’m in a cubicle? Why isn’t he at the Art Station where he works?’”
At that moment, Matthew and Paul realized they had to learn to work together. And Paul described that process as “steel sharpens steel.”
But the brothers discovered complementary skills that, when put together, can help create a successful company. Matthew said Paul likes to be behind the scenes and he is effective there, but Paul also is much more of a people person and is relatable. Matthew is more technical and data-driven and not as charismatic as his brother, he said.
“People will get inspired by him and rally around them,” Matthew said about Paul. “He’s like the man of the people. And I’m kind of like the weird Wizard of Oz guy behind him.”
Whether it’s written or spoken, Matthew is articulate and able to get his point across, Paul said. In a room full of Fortune 100 board members, Matthew can sell the need for the building, but Paul can build it.
Vice President of Byrne Construction Benjamin Robertson, 40, said the brothers running the company keeps the family aspect in the business, where he said they work hard and play hard.
It’s common for the company to have one week filled with a hard bid and long days, but an officewide ping-pong tournament the next week, he said.
“We try really hard to make sure that we’re acknowledging everyone and their contribution,” Robertson said. “Because all of us have been at companies throughout our careers where you forget that every piece of the puzzle is just as important of a piece. And that’s part of our family mentality.”
It’s also common for a company executive to take a new employee to a nice dinner or give out gift cards, Robertson said, because it is important to the Avila brothers to make everyone feel valued. Employees often go to Matthew or Paul with personal issues to seek mentorship.
Together, that builds one of the largest construction companies in Fort Worth with an annual revenue of nearly $200 million and over $500 million in contract volume. To the Avila brothers, it’s not just about what they build, but the people who build the buildings.
The elder Avila said his sons have ushered in the next generation of Byrne Construction, and that’s led to innovative thinking.
“They’re very thoughtful in what they pursue in terms of projects,” said Avila, who now serves as chairman of the board. “They’re very quality-oriented, service-oriented, and that reputation does speak for itself to garner repeat work, so it’s very effective and going very well.”
Matthew said the company wants to be part of building community, not just infrastructure. “If you have dedicated, smart, hard-working people, that’s how you pull off those complex projects,” he said.
One way they do that is with Trimble Tech High School, Paul said. The school was adopted by the company and it has given cars to the campus as a prize for perfect attendance and hired students for summer work. This made it even more special when Byrne won the project to renovate the school in October of 2019, Paul said.
“We do it with a sense of community pride,” Paul said. “One of the things we like to say is, ‘We don’t just build in the communities that we live in, we build the communities that we live in,’ and that’s a perfect example. Yes, we make a profit when we do it. And, yes, that’s part of what we do, but the joy that we get for doing it for those kids that we see, that we’re taking a very dilapidated old high school and making it into state-of-the-art labs, and it’s a game-changer.”
Robertson said the brothers encourage community involvement and employees serving on boards, even if it means time away from the office.
The company could make plenty of money building Walmarts or 7-Eleven gas stations, Paul said. But the Avilas prefer helping to define Fort Worth.
And it’s possible the family will keep doing that. Paul said two of his children are interested in continuing the family business.
His 17-year-old son, Connor, attends Nolan Catholic High School and has taken engineering courses. He interned with the equipment manager over the summer. While he has an interest in the equipment side, Paul said his daughter, Caitlin, is interested in the human aspect of the company through human resources and business.
Her interest in the company fits why John Avila bought the company all those years ago, Matthew said.
“It was meant to be a vehicle. I mean it’s a business to grow it and make money and do all that, but he meant it to be a place to support the employees that worked with him and to support the family,” Matthew said. “We were being groomed and transitioned into leadership positions here. It was very overtly like, ‘Hey, we’re doing this for a particular reason, and we have a responsibility to families, workforce, and we have responsibility to your own family and we have a responsibility to the community.’ We take that very seriously.”
Matthew Avila bio
Birthplace: San Antonio, Texas
Moved to Fort Worth: 2004
Family: Wife, Kamela; son, Oren, 15; daughter, Ila Jane, 14
Education: B.S. from the University of Texas at Austin (1995); Ph.D., behavioral medicine from the University of Maryland Baltimore County (2004), J.D. from Texas A&M University School of Law (2012)
Work experience: First career – Behavioral scientist studying the genetics of serious mental illness; University of Maryland Medical School and the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center. Second career – family construction business (Byrne Construction) starting in 2006. Various positions with departmental responsibilities in the areas of business administration, human resources, risk management, and legal affairs. Named Byrne’s chief executive officer in 2014.
Volunteer experience: Volunteer positions in family related non-profit efforts – The Art Station (Community Art Therapy Center) and the Byrne Foundation. Served as an elected member of the FWISD Board of Trustees representing District 8 (2013 – 2017). Numerous volunteer board positions: Fort Worth Sister Cities, Downtown Fort Worth Inc., Mental Health Association of Tarrant County, FWISD Human Relations Committee
First job: Kitchen prep cook at Grandy’s
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: Develop a deep appreciation for your God-given talents and use those talents in the service of others to work collaboratively on things you are deeply passionate about. That kind of mindset will keep you focused on what’s important and help you to inspire others while maintaining integrity, grace and humility.
Best advice ever received: Growing up as a young teenager when I would start to behave obnoxiously (which at that time was not uncommon), my mom would tell me to “Get a grip. It’s not all about you!” That’s the best advice/reminder I ever received.
Paul Avila bio
Birthplace: Houston, Texas
Moved to Fort Worth: 2005
Family: Heather, wife; Connor, 17, son; Caitlin, 16, daughter; Megan, 16, daughter
Education: B. S. in Construction Science, Texas A&M University
Work experience: SpawGlass construction 2002-2005, Byrne Construction Services 2005-present
First job: Pizza Hut cook
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: Do not lie. Do not be disrespectful. Do what you say you are going to do.
Best advice ever received: An adequate plan violently executed today is better than the perfect plan executed too late.
Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.