A Commitment to Excellence:
J. Fletcher Creamer & Son, Inc., Celebrates 100 Years in Business
By Anthony Attanasio
In 1923, J. Fletcher Creamer II did what so many others have done since our great country was founded: he took a chance and chased the American Dream when he started J. Fletcher Creamer & Son, Inc. (“Creamer”). With a single truck and a belief in his ability to work hard and succeed, he started a company that stands strong a century later as New Jersey’s premier infrastructure construction company.
What lasts 100 years? The original Yankee Stadium was opened the same year as Creamer, but it only lasted 85 years. Several Egyptian Dynasties did not make it to a century. In the business world, the answer to how many companies last 100 years is very few. For the millions of people who have set out as entrepreneurs in search of business success, many have succeeded but far more have failed. According to Harvard Business Review, the average lifespan of a U.S. S&P 500 company fell by 80% between 1938-2018 (from 67 to 15 years). When a company is celebrating its 100th anniversary, what can we point to as the reasons for its longevity and success? Much like the infrastructure that Creamer builds, the company has a dedicated purpose (commitment to excellence), is built with quality materials (its people), maintains proper stewardship (strong leadership), and strives to serve the greater community (industry and charitable leaders).
As we find ourselves celebrating the centennial anniversary of Creamer, it’s a testament to the vision, values, and constantly striving to bring out the best in each employee that every leader of this company has carried forward since the day it was founded.
From the onset, the most critical element to Creamer’s success has been the value it puts in its people. Every Creamer leader and every single one of the company’s friends and partners all share the opinion, it is their people that are the foundation of the company’s success. As a result, today the company is considered an industry leader in New Jersey and nationally (ENR Top 400 contractor for just under 30 years in a row) and boasts more than 700 employees.
Company President Martin (Marty) Downs, Jr., a 20+ year career employee of the company, says it best, “It’s the sense of pride, sense of community, sense of family and commitment to excellence that have been instilled in every one of our leaders that make this company such a success. The commitment to excellence they display each and every day shows that they share the vision of a company that still lives by the values of its founder and the entire Creamer family. Creamer is committed to service, our customers, and our community. We feel our leaders are the best in the business and we will continue to invest in them, develop them, and prepare them so that they are set up for success.”
This is the story of how sticking to core values, treating employees like family, having a commitment to community, and constantly striving for excellence in everything they do, led J. Fletcher Creamer and Son, Inc., to be a national leader in their field. By always focusing on people, the ones who work for the company, and the ones their work provides service for, Creamer has always been able to stay a step ahead of their competition. Through a solid mix of discipline and risk tolerance, this company that started with one man, a truck, and a dream, is now a national industry innovator and leader, ready to take on the next 100 years and beyond.
Shortly after J. Fletcher Creamer II started out with his one truck in 1923, he was forced to expand into other fields in anticipation of upcoming rocky financial times. In the late 1920’s Creamer began to deliver coal and simultaneously took on higher profile excavation projects. The company was an integral member of the team in 1931 that delivered the George Washington Bridge project, producing the company’s largest excavation project up to that point. He and his father grew the company very conservatively, but always with an eye to staying ahead of the curve of various changing markets. Then Fletch Creamer Sr. came home from the Navy and the company was never the same.
J. Fletcher Creamer III
When J. Fletcher Creamer III (Fletch Sr.) returned home after serving his country in the US Navy from 1943-1946, he joined his grandfather and father at the company, which had now expanded to a fleet of four trucks.
The very next year, the company purchased a brand new 2,200 gallon fuel truck, and Fletch Sr. had a new job, fuel truck driver. From there he would proceed to work his way up through the company ranks until he became President in 1970.
Everyone you ask will tell you that the journey from the Navy to President of Creamer and beyond was a colorful one. When asked how he remembers Fletch Sr., PSEG CEO Ralph LaRossa says, “He was larger than life in every imaginable way.”
George Kreis is a 55-year employee of the company who went to high school with Fletch Jr. Fletch Sr. took a liking to George and gave him a job in the shop while he was still in high school. George would go on to work with the Creamers over the next several decades building the company into what it is today, eventually rising to Vice President of Operations. George called Fletch Sr. “A master marketer. Mr. Creamer could sit down with you for an hour or two the first time he met you at dinner, and then 4 years later remember everything about you. He made any and everyone feel special”. At 73 years old, and with a decorated career of his own that coincides with the company’s rise, George still calls Fletch Sr. “Mr. Creamer” and speaks of him like a son would a father.
Fletch Sr. was a man who loved his family and the people that made up his company with all his heart. He was also someone who loved his industry and his community as well. He was a leader that continued to instill and build on the company’s core values in a way that made the team want to deliver excellence in everything that they did.
“My father was a boss, a mentor, a best friend, and my dad, all at the same time. Working with him for all those years was amazing because to him, his most important job always was to be our dad” said J. Fletcher Creamer IV (Fletch Jr.), the eldest of the four Creamer brothers. “He was not only a great leader for our company, but also for the industry. He didn’t start the Utility & Transportation Contractors Association (“UTCA”), but he joined early on, and once he did, he made his presence known for the industry.” Fletch Sr. was inducted into the UTCA Hall of Fame in 1997.
Fletch Jr. began working for the company when he was 15 years old, working outside with the union trades in the summer. “I was known as “The Kid” because of my dad, but he made me earn it!” His father wanted him to learn the estimating and business side of the company. In the early days of his career, before computers and algorithms, he would sleep overnight at the office while working on estimating jobs.
“My father was a great leader for the company. He increased the types of work we performed and grew the size of the company significantly. Before naming me President, he had empowered me in whatever positions I held to make the right decisions, but he made sure I proved myself before moving me up in the company.” Fletch Jr. continued to work his way up in the management, and in 1982 he was named President of the company.
Glenn Creamer started working for the family business right out of HS in 1971 and stayed until his retirement in 2015. He worked in many project-based roles but eventually found his calling in safety because he loved working closely with the people of Creamer. When speaking about Fletch Sr., “Our father was a pioneer of so many things” Glenn exclaims. “He had so many different business ventures it was hard to keep track. But they always made money and he always created jobs. Add to that his involvement with the industry and his charity work, and we would always ask, where does he get the time?”
Like his brothers, Dale Creamer grew up in the family business and first went to work for the company in his early teens. He started off performing odd jobs and then found himself handling a myriad of tasks for his father. “He always kept you involved and was always teaching.” Fletch Sr. sent Dale to Farleigh Dickinson to get a degree, but also sent him with a beeper. “He told me I wasn’t going to be too busy that I couldn’t keep an eye on some jobs!”
Dale also talks about his father with a certain sense of wonder when trying to describe how Fletch Sr. accomplished all he did while being a great family man. “He instilled a passion in every employee, from the management to the field, that made us all want to make our company and our community a better place. He helped lead industry associations, hospital boards and even started the Bergen County 200 Club.”
Fletch Sr. not only started the Bergen County 200 Club, but when he was approached by first responders seeking to support the families of those who have fallen in the line of duty protecting others, he personally signed up the first 85 members.
Fletch Sr. led the company as President for 12 years from 1970-1982 before turning the reigns over to his eldest son. Prior to doing so, he oversaw the company’s expansion into more difficult and higher profile heavy highway and utility construction projects. He maintained and enhanced the relationship with Hackensack Water as it became United Water (now Veolia), while winning the company larger projects that allowed them to explore new disciplines.
When Fletch Jr. became President in 1982, his father stayed with the company for several years in a senior advisor role. As Fletch Jr. puts it, “He wanted to hang around and be helpful in case we had any questions. In 1987, he fully retired and let me know that there was officially only one boss. He really loved the company and the people, but he knew it was time to step away.”
In 2008, when the company was celebrating its 85th anniversary, Fletch Sr. had this to say as some of his final words about the company, its growth and success, “When the truth finally dawned, we realized it wasn’t pure luck. It was our people who were helping the company grow to what it is. Their dedication and perseverance, then and today, cannot and will not ever be forgotten… I send a “tip of the hat” to one and all for their tremendous contributions to our company.”
Fletch Sr. passed away in 2012.
J. Fletcher Creamer IV
Fletch Jr. hit the ground running as President after spending his entire life and career learning every aspect of the company from his father and the other leaders he was surrounded by. He had a vision to expand the company to new reaches and created several new business lines that still thrive today.
Tragedy struck shortly after Fletch Jr. became President of the company, when in 1984, while working on a project near Boston, the youngest Creamer brother Jeff, was murdered while trying to protect a robbery victim. Not only was the task of taking over the company reigns from his father difficult enough, but now Fletch Jr. had to rally the family and the company to move forward in the face of this terrible tragedy. The employees of the company supported the Creamer family when they needed it most in recognition of how well the family had treated them. The living brothers, their father and mother Kissie, banded together, and the company carried on but always kept Jeff’s memory alive.
When it came to the day-to-day business, with the three Creamer brothers now running the business, it was definitely a new day for the company. “It took three brothers to try to fill our father’s shoes” says Dale Creamer, “but the passion he placed in us to always make it a better place, that really carried forward and especially to my brother Fletch.”
“When it comes to the three brothers, Fletch is the backbone” states Glenn Creamer. “He was a different type of leader than our father, but he was a great leader in his own way.”
Early in his tenure as President, the company won its first National Utility Contractor Safety Award and entered the ENR Top 400 National Contractors list for the first time and has never missed it since.
Andy Wood, longtime company CFO, had this to say about Fletch Sr. and his sons, “The Creamers are wonderful people to work for and to work with. Fletch Sr. was tough. He had a presence and a certain mystique. I always called him Mr. Creamer. Fletch Jr. on the other hand has never raised his voice in the almost 30 years I’ve known him, yet he commands the same respect as his dad. What I love most about working for the Creamers is that they hire great people and then trust and empower them to do their jobs. They never micromanage, they allow leaders to emerge through their work. That continued through Joe Walsh and now Marty Downs.”
One opportunity he saw was to create a joint venture with his good friend Joe Sanzari. While Creamer continued to grow and take a larger portion of the utility infrastructure market, a JV with the Sanzari companies allowed them to stay active in the heavy highway sector, specifically with bridges. The JV proved to be quite a success, constantly earning praise for their quality of work from the public agencies they worked for.
Joe Sanzari reflected on his time working with the JV, “Creamer is a good company and a good partner. All their people are professionals and at all levels. Fletch Jr. and I worked very well together. We weren’t afraid to take risks, and we felt we could tackle anything. They’re still great to work with to this very day.”
Fletch Jr. took an already successful company and looked for new ways to grow it while always making sure to find time to help lead the industry. Fletch served in many roles for many different industry organizations, but the one he took the most pride in was his service as a Board member of the UTCA, where he went on to serve as Association President in 1997. There he is often credited for always having his pulse on where things were in our state. In 2014, like his father before him, Fletch Jr. was installed into the UTCA Hall of Fame.
Another relationship that Fletch Jr. built, and his successor Joe Walsh made flourish, was with Public Service Electric & Gas (“PSEG”). Over the last 30 years, Creamer has become the go-to civil contractor for New Jersey’s largest utility company.
PSEG CEO Ralph LaRossa reflected on the relationship with Creamer, “I first started working with Fletch Jr. when we were both working handling issues in the field. Over the years, Creamer has been a real difference maker for me and for our company. They never over promise and under deliver, you can always count on what they say they’re going to do.”
When asked to give an example of a time Creamer went above and beyond to save a project or handle an unforeseen condition, LaRossa firmly states, “There are no projects like that, because they always deliver. There are no amazing kick saves and there is never a need for any.”
New Leadership Emerges
Indeed, the adherence to the employees and the value placed in the company’s leadership is evident by the tenures of a majority of their workforce, but especially their leadership team. As I met with and interviewed employees, past and present, what struck me was how long each of them have been with Creamer. Marty Downs started as an intern while at Stevens Institute of Technology. Just over 21 years later, having risen through engineering and project management, he is the company’s second non-Creamer family member to become President after his mentor Joe Walsh. Joe was with Creamer for 24 years when he passed. George Kreis is celebrating his 55th year with the company. The list of employees who have been with Creamer 20, 30 and 40 years is longer than you could imagine.
One such leader is VP of Operations Rick DeNicola, who is celebrating his 32nd year with Creamer. Rick’s first exposure to Creamer came through his father who worked for the company for 35 years. Rick would play in the back of his father’s Creamer truck when he came home from work and dreamed of joining Creamer himself one day. Once he started working for the company, it was everything he had hoped for, “Fletch always made me feel like I was part of the family. I really got started with Dale, but both brothers always taught me to do the right thing and allowed me to grow as an employee. I got to work with my dad for a bit and now my son is an employee too. It’s a legacy we’re very proud of.”
Throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s, Creamer delivered high profile projects, added new services & construction disciplines, and continued to grow successfully. During this time, future leaders like Joe Walsh, Andy Wood, Marty
Downs, and many of the current Vice Presidents and managers were joining the company and working their way up the leadership ladder. The Creamers prepared to fulfill a succession plan, that for the first time, wouldn’t have a Creamer at the helm of the ship.
Joe Walsh joined the company in 1997 as the General Superintendent of Utilities. Within 2 years he was promoted to Vice President, and in 2006, was the first non-Creamer to be named company President. His final title with the company was CEO of Creamer and Segment Leader for the APi Group. Joe’s untimely passing in August of 2021 cut short one of the most incredible runs a construction industry leader ever had in the history of New Jersey.
When Joe joined Creamer, the company was enjoying annual revenue of around $50 million. Under Joe’s leadership, and along with the steady support of the Creamer family, the company’s growth accelerated at a pace few other companies could ever hope to match and resulted in annual revenues of more than $500 million. Joe’s success was driven by his unrivaled work ethic, managing by metrics, a selfless approach to customer service and of course, supporting the people of Creamer.
In addition to the incredible success Joe saw with Creamer, he was also a true leader of the construction industry. Joe represented Creamer as the President of the UTCA, not once but twice (2012-2013 and 2018-2019). Joe was a Trustee for the Heavy Highway Laborer’s fund local 172/472 and prior to his passing, had founded the New Jersey Chapter of the National Utility Contractors Association (“NUCA”).
Who better to speak to the memory of a man who can best be described as having been one of the titans of our industry, than the men he worked with:
“When Joe walked into a room his presence was immediately felt. He would command the room and was respected by all. No one worked harder… ever! And when you worked for him, you always knew where you stood” Marty Downs
“He took the company to the next level. He truly understood the business of business.” George Kreis
“Joe was one of a kind. I could never figure out how he did so much each day!” Bob Briant.
“Joe was a great leader, and a friend. Joe married the Creamer way with his own brand of leadership. He added a new emphasis on metrics. Creamer has always been great at construction. Joe found a way to run jobs more efficiently, which greatly improved profitability.” Andy Wood
“Growth under Joe was astronomical. His passion for growth and success was incredible.” Rick DeNicola.
“Joe knew how to balance being my boss, mentor, and friend. It’s true what they say. You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone.” Marty Downs.
Joe’s memory will last for generations to come in the New Jersey construction industry, and thanks to Creamer, it will also keep the future generations of Creamer employees safe while delivering the highest quality construction for its customers. Joe’s constant priories were figuring out how to improve his employees’ safety and how to train them to build the Creamer way.
When he approached Fletch Jr. about building a safety and training facility in Wall, NJ, Fletch didn’t hesitate, and in 2017, Creamer opened a facility aimed at giving all its employees the safety and leadership training they would need to stay safe on the job and to build the best infrastructure a customer could hope for. On April 8, 2022, Creamer renamed the facility and dedicated it to Joe’s memory. Now every Creamer employee spends time learning how to be a leader at the Joseph T. Walsh Leadership & Training Center.
R.I.P. Joe, you are truly missed.
The Model of Corporate Citizenry
Creamer’s care and support for people has thus far been focused on the Creamer business, however, Creamer’s focus on people goes beyond their employees, but also to the greater community at large. The Creamer family and the company’s commitment to community is the true definition of an exemplary corporate citizen. Creamer has been a significant financial contributor to such charities as the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the Bergen County 200 Club, Holy Name Hospital, Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce, Felician College, Stevens Institute of Technology, NJ Institute of Technology, American Red Cross, the Archdiocese of Newark and so many more. However, no institution has received more of the Creamer’s time and philanthropic support than the Hackensack Meridian Health Network (“HMH”).
The Creamer’s involvement with HMH began many years ago when it was still a single community hospital named the Hackensack University Medical Center (“HUMC”). HUMC is now the flagship of New Jersey’s largest health system consisting of 18 hospitals. Fletch Jr. was a member of the HUMC and then HMH Board of Governors for 28 years, from 1991 to 2019 and served as Chairman of the Board from 2007 to 2010. He began his service when he replaced his father on the board of HUMC.
Bob Garrett, CEO of HMH, shares an exceptional friendship and working relationship with Fletch Jr. that was forged after 30 years of history and mutual respect. “I have counted on Fletch’s guidance and wisdom throughout my entire career
at HUMC and at HMH. His exceptional judgment and
unwavering commitment to our organization and healthcare has left a profound impact on the region and the state.”
Garrett continued, “Fletch genuinely has had the interest of our hospitals, our patients, and our communities we serve at heart in everything he did during his long tenure on the board and as Chair. Think about it – in the most consequential development of the HUMC campus…and later the merger that created Hackensack Meridian Health – Fletch played a major role in our progress and his impact was tremendous.”
“Because of his connections and breadth of experience in business and New Jersey
government and politics, Fletch had a type of knowledge and experience that is rare and benefited so many projects including the creation of the John Theurer Cancer Center, mergers with other hospitals and ultimately the merger that created HMH in 2016. Fletch genuinely understands the role of governance versus management. He is a great man of integrity who is respected by all.”
The Creamer commitment to HUMC and healthcare allowed them to honor the legacy of their fallen son and brother, when in 1994, the Creamers donated the funds to build the Jeffery M. Creamer Trauma Center. The family also supported the construction of the J. Fletcher Creamer Sr. Cardiac Wing of HUMC. The reoccurring theme for the Creamers and their company is using their influence for the greater good, this time through advancing better health care for the people of Bergen County and New Jersey.
“Yours is truly the classic American success story…launched in humble beginnings, grown through visionary leadership, and generously giving back to support communities in the most important ways. Congratulations on 100 impressive years!” Garrett concluded.
Construction Industry Leaders
Just as Creamer has been a dominant force in the business world and through its charitable efforts, the impact the company has had for its industry, specifically through service to industry and business associations, has been second to none amongst its peers. Creamer had held leadership roles and Board seats on several industry groups and business organizations including but not limited to: UTCA, American Road & Transportation Builders Association (“ARTBA”), NJ Alliance for Action, NJ Chamber of Commerce, ACE Mentoring Program, and the Associated Construction Contractors of NJ (“ACCNJ”).
No organization has felt the impact of the Creamer organization more than UTCA. Creamer boasts three past Presidents (Tony Cammarata, Fletch Creamer Jr., and Joe Walsh) as well as three members in the UTCA Hall of Fame (Fletch Creamer Sr., Fletch Creamer Jr., and Joe Walsh). Creamer has been a constant voice on the UTCA’s Board of Directors for more than 40 years and that service continues thanks to current Creamer President Marty Downs, who is serving his third year on the Board.
During that time, the company has also held Board seats with ACCNJ, NUCA and the Alliance for Action, and has not only been instrumental in helping Association staff better understand the nuances of construction and contract specifications but has also been one of the industry’s strongest voices when it comes to advocating to NJ’s elected officials. Creamer’s leaders have always understood that contractors need a strong voice in the state government process, and the way to do that is through strong industry associations. By giving so much of their time, energy, and money to the industry, all Association members have benefited tremendously.
Utility & Transportation Contractor Association CEO Bob Briant Jr. has worked with Creamer for more than 40 years. Bob doesn’t mince words when asked to describe his feelings about the company, “Tremendously high-quality work and people. They are industry leaders in ALL respects. Their name has become one of the true gold standards of our industry over the years due to their work and their knowledge of NJ government, politics, and process. It started with Fletch Sr. who worked very closely with Governor Tom Kean during the creation of the Transportation Trust Fund. Fletch Jr. took everything to the next level as did Joe Walsh and now Marty Downs. Due to their capabilities, their politics, their technology, and techniques, J. Fletcher Creamer is one of the top leaders of our industry, and there are only a handful of contractors that have impacted the industry in such a way. I’m sure they’ll be around for another 100 years.”
PSEG CEO Ralph LaRossa noted that the Creamers and their company have always truly cared about New Jersey. They always worked to understand what was happening in Trenton and throughout the state, to position themselves to have a positive impact for their customers, company, industry, and community.
“Creamer always had their finger on the pulse of where New Jersey was going. We have always been aligned with them that way. Fletch and his team always knew where NJ went so did the success of our companies. That goes for both the business, our people, and the communities we serve.”
The Future – Another Century of Excellence & Service
The future looks bright for J. Fletcher Creamer and Son, Inc. While the company had organically expanded its operations and footprint as far as California and Florida, after the company’s acquisition in 2016 by the APi Group, Inc. (“APi”), Creamer is now supported by a national ownership team with significant resources to help keep them one step ahead of the competition. Creamer will continue to be the type of company that is looking to find solutions today for tomorrow’s challenges in infrastructure.
The adherence to succession planning, leadership development, and overall employee support has positioned Creamer to continue to build on its success for many years to come. Speaking about future growth and support from APi, Marty Downs states “We’re now in a better position to expand our capabilities in order to continue to succeed for our customers as a service provider.”
The company is in great hands to realize this growth with Marty at the helm and the leadership team he has assembled. This new leadership group continues to take the company to new heights. Joe Walsh handpicked Downs to be his successor, and other company leaders saw the same spark that Joe did. George Kreis had this to say about Downs, “Even as an intern, you could tell that Marty had the full toolbox. Smarts, personality, a project engineer. This kid was the real deal and look at him now!”
“When I retire, I plan to leave the company in a position where it will be well situated for another 100 years of success.” says Downs. “We will continue to focus on our people and look to develop in-house leaders for the future of the company.
We’ll continue to strive for excellence servicing our clients and push ourselves in leveraging technology to help overcome our industry’s challenges. I believe it’s important that we support and advance the clean and renewable energy markets, as well as other emerging markets that will benefit the people that utilize the infrastructure we build and the environment we live in. Our course over the next 100 years obviously cannot be precisely charted, but one thing is for certain, whatever direction we chose to go, we’ll always do it the Creamer way.”
“PSEG turned 120 years old this year. If we didn’t have a partner like Creamer, a company that cares about us as a customer, cares about their state, and is always delivering their best, we wouldn’t be turning 120 this year.” Ralph LaRossa, CEO, PSEG.
What lasts 100 years? A business that was founded on core values that focuses on people, service, and community. A company that remains true to its roots and legacy, but always seeks to innovate and be excellent at everything it does. Through the Great Depression, a World War, global pandemics and more, Creamer has withstood the test of time by sticking to its core principles and values. Whether building world class infrastructure, developing tomorrow’s leaders or serving their industry, community, or state, J. Fletcher Creamer and Son, Inc. remains a brand name that can be counted on. Creamer stands stronger than ever and is ready to face the next 100 years as it did the first, striving for excellence on behalf of all they serve.