Meet DL Jordan

Story and Images by Carrie Beth Wallace

My morning with Donald L. Jordan was one I'll never forget. Though interviews are a regular part of my work, this one was different from the very beginning. I knew it immediately. Intuition speaks, and when it does? As a writer, I've learned listen.

"I want you to meet my friend DL," my colleague said. "He's the most incredible man. He's had a very interesting life, but no one really knows much about him. He's humble and quiet, a writer, and the person who established the Jordan Literary Prize at CSU. Would you like to have coffee with us? I think you'd love him, and I think your audience needs to hear what he's got to say."

That's all there was to it for me.

Who was this man? I had to know. And what did he have to say?

A few weeks later, I found myself in the middle of one of the most compelling conversations I've had in my life. So much so that I struggled to find the words to place here.

DL Jordan is a man who needs no introduction, but with a cup of coffee in hand, proved to me quickly that my colleague was right about him. Jordan is a man with an incredible story, and yes, something profound to say.

I'll be grateful for the following conversation for years to come. Not because I had the privilege of sharing it - because I had the gift of being the one to hear it first.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You started a business in your teens. What was that like?

A: My dad had intestinal cancer, so at 16, I had to leave Columbus High to become the breadwinner for a family of four people in the hardware store business. I began running the hardware store, but it was just a dead loss. It was very hard to make money, mainly because it was in a really bad location.

I began by putting up chain link fences, which was a really difficult job because I was working outside year round. It was pretty hard, and I saw the need to do other things. I began repairing roofs and doing paint jobs. Then, I worked my way up to adding on a room for people here and there.

I taught myself how to do everything. For a while, I was content with small jobs. Then, I began to want to bid on bigger remodeling jobs. I actually charmed a banker and a bonding company into backing me. You have to have banking capability to get backed, but I had zero charge credit and collateral. They were kind enough to back me anyway. So, slowly I began to bid on small jobs and take them on as I could.

Q: Did things pick up quickly for you at that point?

A: Not exactly. As a rule, I really didn't make any money for the first few years. I just stayed alive and took care of mom and dad, and my little sister. Above that, I kept investing in the business to grow it as much as I could with what I had.

Q: How did you do that at such a young age?

A: I had to. Being self taught was the most difficult part, but I had to learn it all. I have never been taught anything. Never had a mentor. Think about it.

Q: That's incredible.

The big jump was when I decided I could get into developing. I started traveling up to Atlanta to the Dodge Room. It was a place you could purchase sets of building plans. I went and purchased some, and taught myself how to read them. I didn't understand what they meant at all at first. It looked like Greek to me, but I began studying these big construction plans and trying to figure out what they were talking about. Eventually, I learned how to read them well enough to build.

Q: This is an amazing story. How did you scale your business?

A: Once I had some contracts, I began to bid on jobs and started hiring people. By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I probably had 50 people working for me. The business grew from there. I had some debt of my father's to pay off initially, so it took me awhile, but eventually I began to make a profit.

Q: And you did this all by yourself? How?

A: I don't know. I was too busy working. But now, I look back and I realize it was pretty spectacular because construction repair is incredibly difficult.

Q: I can't imagine. When did you know you were going to make it?

A: By the time I was 32, I had enough that I was able to take care of my parents and sister pretty much for the rest of their lives. I continued to work and develop the business from there. I became a builder, an investor, and a landlord.

Q: What made you make those transitions?

I realized if I was making a profit, I could sure enough stop building at that time under bids and contracts for others. So, I kept on developing land and putting buildings up. By d