Terry Keast: Born to Build
By Matt Solis, Editor
SAN RAFAEL – When Terry Keast was a boy, he looked forward to spending every summer swimming in the local dam with his friends. But during the summer of his 14th year, something happened as he made his way to the dam that would alter the course of his life: he walked past a construction site. “We passed this site every day on the way to go swimming and I thought to myself, ‘You know, I’d rather be working,’” he remembers. “One day I went up and asked them for a job, which they gave me—hauling logs and doing labor work for $1.25 an hour. I was so happy to be working while my friends were fooling around at the dam.”
Terry spent the next several years working part-time for other Marin County contractors, and by the time he was a junior in high school, his boss wanted him to make a serious commitment. “He said, ‘Can’t you get out on a work experience program or something? I need you here more often!’ I went to see the Dean of Boys and he told me there wasn’t any work experience program for juniors, but my boss talked to him and he ended up bending the rules. From then on, I went to five periods of school before noon and then went to work for the rest of the day.”
After he graduated high school, Terry started working full-time and eventually made his way through the ranks of the construction industry, first as a laborer, then as an apprentice, carpenter, lead man, trim foreman and general foreman. After working on single-wall construction houses in Tamalpais Valley, he found the niche that would lead him into the rest of his career. “In single-wall construction, the foundation has to be perfect or else everything shows up dramatically in the exterior and floor boards,” he explains. “The foundation of one house was a foot out of square, and I told my boss I didn’t want to work in those kinds of conditions. I had a background in earthwork from a contractor I used to work for as a teenager, so when I told the boss I was going to handle the foundation work from now on, he said fine. I did that for quite a while until I left to start my own company. That was 38 years ago!”
In 1995, Terry decided to leave general construction behind to focus solely on foundations and drainage/earthwork/sitework/structural repairs. “I was frustrated by the inability of the industry to meet the demands for earthwork, concrete, waterproof membranes and drainage, so I decided to specialize in those services so I could provide them correctly,” he explains. “If the foundation is off on a building project, everything is off.”
A Bay Area resident since he was three years old (he was born in Washington), Terry says he finds comfort in the familiarity and idyllic beauty of the region. “We’re close to the ocean, the desert, skiing and lakes. When you add the food and entertainment, there’s nothing missing in the Bay Area. It’s a fantastic place to live.”
The temperate weather and natural landscapes of Northern California are ideal for Terry’s two favorite hobbies: golf and riding motorcycles. “I’ve been playing golf for about 25 years, and I play one and a half rounds a week, sometimes two. I also own two motorcycles. In fact, the first thing I bought when I saved up my money from that first job when I was 14 was a 1948 BSA Gold Star. It was single-cylinder bike with a gigantic flywheel and knobby tires, and I paid $75 for it.”
Terry’s passion for construction work has never waned since that summer day when he walked past the construction site and was fascinated by what he saw, and he says he continually finds new ways to get excited about the industry in which he’s spent his entire life. “I like the foundation business because it’s the only one the big-box stores can’t take away,” he says. “I never went into the army, I never sold vacuums, I never did anything else—I’ve always loved this industry.”
Ask Me Anything!
Q: What’s your favorite sports team?
A: I’m a Giants and 49ers fan, but my wife is the real sports person. I do yard work until I hear her screaming, then I go in and watch the replay.
Q: What’s your favorite type of music?
A: I love all music, but I don’t like synthesized sound. I believe music must be played by a musician, not equipment. My mother sang and played the piano, my grandfather could play any instrument, and my brother plays bass in a band called Firewheel. We go to his gigs to dance and have fun.
Q: If you could immediately master an instrument, what would you choose?
A: Saxophone—it has a deep vibration and it’s the sexiest instrument.
Q: Do you have a favorite type of food?
A: I love seafood. We ride out to Marshall and have lunch at some good seafood places.
Q: Ever read a book more than once?
A: I like to read books that are part of a series, like Vince Flynn’s series about Mitch Rapp.
Q: What advice would you give to a construction newcomer?
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A: Never think inside the box, never take no for an answer, and there are no problems, only solutions. If you take what people in this industry tell you for gospel, you’ll never make it.