Kenny Bush – The Yates Companies Inc.

Providing leading employment and HR expertise for a top construction firm
Written by: 
Matt Dodge
Produced by: 
Ross Fields

The Yates Companies Inc. is a family of companies offering a full slate of value-added construction and engineering services. Companies under the Yates Companies umbrella include Yates Construction, Jesco Construction, Blaine Construction, Edwards Electric Service and Superior Asphalt.

Serving clients across a range of sectors including commercial, education, entertainment, federal, health care, retail, manufacturing and municipal, the family-owned company has been recognized as one of the nation’s top construction service providers. The companies also complete work internationally, with a portfolio of embassies in India and Mexico as well as work in Russia and the Caribbean.

Kenny Bush – The Yates Companies Inc.

Yates offers clients a number of delivery methods including construction management, program management, general construction, design-build and engineering, procurement and construction. As a leading construction service provider, Yates provides its clients with everything from conceptual estimating, program analysis and value engineering to quality control management, facility startup and disaster response.

Based in Philadelphia, Mississippi, with offices throughout the Southeast, the Yates family of companies employs over 8,500. With such a large roster, Yates faces a number of challenges unique to an employer of its size and often turns to general counsel and vice president of human resources and risk management Kenny Bush for legal guidance on a variety of issues related to employment law.

“I try to help our managers by helping them solve problems in a practical way rather than in a legalistic way,” says Bush. “I look at the entire picture and help them come up with a solution that is practical and helps the company as well as the individual involved in that situation. It’s not just about the letter of the law; it’s about getting to the best solution for all. ”

With over 24 years of experience at Yates alone, Bush is responsible for a variety of human resource and risk management issues including property and casualty insurance programs, loss control, EEO/Affirmative Action, benefits, substance abuse programs, policy writing, personnel and self-funded group health. Bush is also responsible for labor and employment legal matters, special projects and serves as the company’s media representative.

The road to Yates

While Bush had long considered a career in the legal profession, it was a fateful encounter in eighth grade that cemented his employment path. “I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer and when the family doctor let me watch some minor surgery I decided real quick that I didn’t want to go to medical school,” he says.

After earning a business degree from Freed-Hardeman University, Bush enrolled at the Ole Miss Law School. After spending a couple summers interning at a law firm in Tennessee, Bush decided private practice was not for him and started exploring other opportunities.

“I also figured that a law degree would just help me at whatever I decided to do in life,” he says. “Probably only one-third or one-half of the job deals with legal issues, but that law degree helps me in everything I deal with.”

Following law school, Bush landed his first position as assistant legal counsel at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. While he enjoyed the change of pace and location, Bush soon returned to Mississippi to take on the role of vice president of administration and development at Magnolia Bible College. After a one-year stint there, Bush signed on with mechanical contracting firm Ivey Mechanical where he would spend the next decade.

While Bush was laid-off because of a business downturn in 1992, he quickly landed a new position at Yates within a few weeks. “Bill Yates was looking for someone to come in and take charge of workers comp issues. I interviewed and was hired,” he says.

“Bill knew that I could bring something to the table and contribute to the company,” says Bush. “Every day is a learning process, and it does take focus and dedication, but I believe my organizational skills and interpersonal skills have been a big part of my success.” Bush credits his father, Bobby Bush, and Bill Yates for helping him develop into the person he is today.

While Bush plays a wider-ranging role than that of most general counsels, he actually cites the variety as one of his favorite aspects of the job. “You run into issues you’ve never faced before and the work itself is challenging enough that I think it’s really fun,” he says.

Salvaging valuable resources

As Yates’ vice president of human resources, one of Bush’s most vital jobs is handling the unpleasant matter of assisting in terminations for which the company employs a unique model that gives Bush an almost unprecedented level of influence.

“When it comes to terminations, they all have to be approved by me before they can take place,” he says. This process allows Bush to potentially save Yates the time and cost of finding new, qualified employees by putting all terminations under an additional level of scrutiny.

“My first question to the manager is always ‘Is this person salvageable?’ because if they are, we need to figure out how to put them in the right position, and if not, we need to figure out how to treat the person with dignity and respect while we let them go,” says Bush.

Bush is one of just four law professionals on the books at Yates. While the three others handle contracts on the construction side of the business, Bush’s role is solely focused on employment law. The company will occasionally hire time-tested outside counsel to handle employment litigation. “We’ve used the same law firm for about 40 years now,” Bush says.

Bush serves on Yates’ management committee and also handles licensing and insurance issues that might arise as the company completes projects across the nation. “If someone has a question about licensing or we have insurance issues with our subcontractors, I help senior management solve those,” he says.

As a family-owned and –oriented company, Yates has a number of initiatives to help the company’s 8,500-plus employees to feel a sense of community, commitment and cooperation. The company holds a Christmas card contest every fall, soliciting submissions from the children of Yates’ expansive workforce.

While all entrants earn $10, the winners are rewarded with $50, a letter from Bill Yates and their design reprinted 15,000 to 20,000 times and sent coast-to-coast to Yates’ employees, customers and partners. The company also established a scholarship over 12 years ago for students of Yates’ employees that awards $4,000 to as many as 35 students a year. “This actually covers tuition for a complete two-year community college program if the student chooses to live at home,” says Bush.

“We really care about our people and their families,” says Bush. “We encourage our people to put pictures of their family members on each locations’ safety board as a reminder that being safe is about going home to your family each day in the same way you left them in the morning — with all of your fingers and limbs.”

Bush counts his ability to relate to a diverse employee base as one of the skills he brings to the table in his role with Yates. “I’m good at listening and available 24 hours a day for anyone in the company who needs me,” he says.

When Bush isn’t busy overseeing the myriad legal, human resource and risk management issues at Yates, he can be found traveling with his wife or taking in a basketball game at nearby Mississippi State University or spending time with his grandchildren. Kenny and his wife are also active members of the 7th Street Church of Christ in Columbus, Mississippi, and he has served on a local school board, the Southern Region Education Board in Atlanta and the Mississippi Board of Education.

As a law professional who isn’t afraid to rise to new challenges and take on a variety of roles and responsibilities, vice president of human resources and risk management and general counsel, Kenny Bush will continue to help The Yates Companies Inc. achieve its goal of delivering value-added construction solutions to customers around the world. 

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