By Builders, 4 Builders
One of Austin’s fastest growing businesses is headed by four former students from the Texas A&M Department of Construction Science.
Opifex, LLC, a construction equipment rental company with $10 million in assets, was established in 2018 by Joseph “Jay” Vaughn lll ’19. Soon after its founding, Stefan Gresham, Jr. ’18, Connor Navalta ’18 and Cooper Hicks ’18 joined the company as partners and the business was transformed into the only historically underutilized/minority-owned business in the construction equipment rental space.
Whether they’re closing multimillion deals for equipment loans with some of the nation’s largest manufacturers or troubleshooting daily mechanical problems on a jobsite, the relative newcomers’ education, strengths and unique experiences help them earn market share in a competitive economy that rewards longevity, scale, and experience.
How did construction science professors, internships and the Aggie Network shape their success and Opifex’s future?
Stefan Gresham, Jr. ’18 – Chief Executive Officer
“Professor Gary Boldt helped prepare me for my current role. He was very practical in his approach, and brought real industry experience into the classroom,” Gresham said. “He helped me become more flexible, as very few things go exactly as planned on a project. Organization and focus are key in working in our fast-paced industry.”
Gresham manages all revenue-producing activities including fee structures, major client relations, and the sales team. He also manages strategic business decisions including market analysis, strategic growth opportunities, and future capital expenditure planning.
Cooper Hicks, ’18 – Vice President
“The impact Texas A&M made on my life is huge. The Aggie Network is something that is discussed a lot, but it never ceases to amaze me,” Hicks said. “While I didn’t specifically learn how to start and manage a business at Texas A&M, my education gave me the tools and connections I needed to be successful. I believe the same could be said by anyone who graduated from this great university.”
Hicks is the team’s “internal consultant”, he moves around the company to focus on process improvement in every facet of the business. He has supported everything from sales to operations, with a current focus on managing assets to maximize profits through the development of the company’s growing service department.
Connor Navalta ’18 – Chief Operating Officer
“My internship with SEDALCO Construction made a huge impact on my career,” Navalta said. “I was part of the project team building the Texas A&M White Creek Community Center. Working with vendors is one of my major responsibilities with Opifex, and the internship helped me develop better communication skills and taught me how to build positive work relationships.”
Navalta has final authority over all daily operations of the company and oversees a multimillion-dollar budget requiring sound management of trucking, labor, and maintenance costs. In addition to his role overseeing the business, he is currently managing the construction process for Opifex’s new multimillion-dollar facility.
Joseph “Jay” Vaughn III ’19 – Chief Financial Officer
“My internship with world-renowned architect Luis Vidal + arquitectos in their home office in Madrid, opened my eyes to how massive some construction companies are,” Vaughn said. “Some of the Spanish construction companies own the largest U.S. contracting firms, the roads we drive on, and even famous professional sports teams. It gave me a broader understanding of the scale and intricacies of the industry and it helped me think big!”
A fifth-generation builder, Vaughn manages relationships with lenders and manufacturers, oversees the company’s investment portfolio and maintains its capital structure.
Vaughn will pursue a Master of Business Administration degree at Harvard Business School beginning in fall 2021. Academics will fill much of his time, so Opifex’s future growth will be dependent on the continued leadership of Gresham, Hicks and Navalta.
They might be newly minted former students, but they have momentum and are building a bright future as entrepreneurs and construction industry leaders.
How becoming a student intern helped me get more out of college
College presents a host of exciting opportunities, but juggling schoolwork, student organizations, and gaining job experience can seem daunting.
Tell Us Your Story
Former students are encouraged to participate in the college’s Oral History Project which will launch in late February 2021.