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Fast-growing WDG built on years of industry experience: Veteran of Kite, Lauth branches out on his own

November 5, 2007

For Mike Wyman, a devastating fire that gutted the family home during his teen-age years laid the foundation for a rewarding career in construction.

The 41-year-old Wyman climbed from carpenter to become a leader of projects at two of the city's largest commercial developers before launching his own company in 2005.

WDG Construction & Development Services Inc. on East Washington Street downtown has since grown into a firm that expects to top $30 million in revenue next year-double this year's figure.

The rapid growth can be attributed to the contacts Wyman has made in his nearly 20-year career and a willingness to embrace out-of-state projects-perhaps most notably, building the headquarters of the controversial Blackwater USA security provider in Charlotte, N.C.

But his late father, a small residential contractor, and the experience of helping him rebuild their house may be the real motive for success.

"I spent every night after school building it back up," he recalled. "To create something from your own hands was pretty cool."

These days, he's busy creating a company that boasts nearly 30 employees, including a director of business development hired about a month ago to generate new clientele.

WDG, or Wyman Development Group, is a general contractor and construction manager more than a developer. In fact, Wyman is contemplating a name change.

Even so, he's not about to alter his code of conduct that stresses completing projects on time. If necessary, Wyman even will go so far as to spend his fee to finish in a timely fashion, he said.

The philosophy is serving him well, said Alan Armstrong, an owner's representative who operates AJR Armstrong Inc. Armstrong came to know Wyman as he climbed the ranks at previous jobs and continues to contract with him.

The two currently are teaming on the Independent Residential Living of Central Indiana Inc. offices at East 56th Street and Keystone Avenue and just finished MedTech College in Greenwood.

"Mike will perform exactly as he promises," Armstrong said. "His schedule is very dependable. He's basically all the things you want in a contractor."

Learning the industry

Wyman credits a handful of mentors for helping him get to this stage of his career. His parents, however, initially had reservations about his interest in construction.

As a youngster, he was encouraged to get a college education. Neither of his par- ents wanted him to follow in their footsteps. His restaurateur mother once operated three eateries and still owns Peppy's Grill on Virginia Avenue in Fountain Square.

He enrolled at IUPUI, but the finance and business courses he took failed to light a spark.

In the late 1980s, he landed at locally based construction contractor CPM Inc., where he helped build numerous restaurants. The irony of that-his link to the two professions from which his parents tried to steer him away-nonetheless gave them a good chuckle.

Besides, Wyman's imposing stature-he stands about 6-foot-5-is a natural fit for the brawny building trade.

His ascension to superintendent and then project manager at CPM was no laughing matter, however. The latter title gave him an opportunity to juggle numerous projects concurrently, from the bid process to completion, unlike a superintendent who oversees one project for the duration.

A four-year stint at CPM, under the helm of President Jerry Williams, led him to become head of construction at what is now Lauth Property Group, the secondlargest commercial real estate developer in Indianapolis.

There, he got to build "more and bigger stuff," including CrossPoint Plaza and Intech Park buildings, and learned about the design-build concept of overseeing both facets of a project.

Wyman traded his time at Lauth in the mid-1990s for a similar position at Indianapolis-based Kite Realty Group, where he oversaw construction of the Traders Point shopping center at West 86th Street and Zionsville Road. Other projects included major renovations of struggling Glendale Mall and the posh Columbia Club. As director of construction, he got his first taste of how to run a company by learning from Chief Operating Officer Tom McGowan.

Wyman left to do just that for himself as Kite completed the process of becoming a publicly traded company in 2004.

Notorious first project

His first project flying solo may be WDG's most prominent, simply due to the intense scrutiny his client has come under regarding its role in Iraq.

The Iraqi government remains determined to expel the Blackwater security firm after an Iraqi investigative committee determined its guards, without provocation, killed 17 Iraqis last month in western Baghdad. Blackwater is in Iraq to provide U.S. diplomats protection.

One may wonder how an upstart construction company in Indianapolis got selected to build Blackwater's headquarters in North Carolina. The answer can be traced to the contacts Wyman has made during his career.

One of those is Bill Mathews, Blackwater's executive vice president and a former executive of locally based Auction Broadcasting Co., the nation's third-largest vehicle auction company.

Wyman befriended the former Navy SEAL while performing work for Auction Broadcasting before founding WDG. Despite Blackwater's recent troubles, Wyman remains proud of the headquarters he constructed.

"They're an unbelievable client," he said. "I'm not defending them, but I'm sorry for what they are going through."

Other projects WDG has outside Indiana include a contract to construct a Hyatt Place hotel in Gilbert, Ariz., a rapidly growing suburb of Phoenix, and work for Noble Investments Group Ltd. in Atlanta. He is chasing a lead on a Florida condo project as well.

WDG's fee often is lower than competitors' costs outside the Midwest, making it an attractive alternative, said Wyman, who prefers out-of-state jobs. Because he's unable to be on site every day, he's more attentive, he reasoned, and is unlikely to become complacent.

His company is not even 3 years old yet, but already he is thinking about its longterm future.

Wyman and his wife have two sons, 8 and 5. And unlike his parents, Wyman is hopeful the boys will follow in his footsteps and one day take ownership of the company.
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