By BECKY GILLETTE
David Blackburn, 39, president/CEO, The Blackburn Group, LLC, Oxford, oversees quite an impressive array of developments for someone who is not yet 40. His company, which is the parent company of R.J. Allen & Associates, Inc., general contractors, Blackburn Communities, Fitness Holdings and other related development entities, is involved in some of Oxford’s largest residential, retail and mixed-use developments. Those include the Oxford Commons, the Oxford Square Townhomes and Highland Court.
But that is just the starting point. The company also has developments in Starkville and Southaven, and considerable activity outside of the state. Currently, The Blackburn Group has more than $100 million in real estate projects under development in Tennessee, Mississippi and Texas. The company has made the Inc. 5000 list for fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. for five consecutive years.
“Starting in 2002, we have grown to a total of more than 30 companies in the real estate development, general construction, property management, land mitigation, and fitness industries with $115 million in total annual revenue,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn considers his most significant professional accomplishment guiding their companies through the untimely death of his father-in-law and partner, Julian Allen, in 2012.
“Julian had provided the financial backing and the experience for us to start,” Blackburn said. “When he died unexpectedly in a plane crash, my world (and our company’s world) got turned upside down overnight. The national economy still had not recovered at this time, especially in real estate, which was our main focus. We had several banks and investors that had really invested in us due to Julian.”
Both Blackburn and Allen were guarantors on all of their debt, and they had no life insurance on Allen. Two days after his death, Blackburn formed an advisory board that became a key group for him to communicate with over the next 12 months.
“I personally met with all of our banks within two weeks and communicated to our investors immediately our plan going forward,” he said. “I also met with all of our employees and communicated with them our plan moving forward. The banks, investors, and employees all bought into the plan and allowed us to not only stabilize, but grow exponentially over the next five years. That continues today as our growth rate for the past three years is 58 percent.”
He attributes their success to great employees.
“You don’t do something like this yourself,” Blackburn said. “It’s the people. It takes a big team of people who are dedicated and love what they do. We also have been able to provide great professional growth opportunities for our employees with all of our management staff starting in non-managerial roles and being able to promote from within through training and staff development.”
In addition to his strengths in team building, Blackburn is also known for excelling in identifying new business and development opportunities.
Back in 2006 Blackburn and Allen wanted to get more dedicated to the real estate development side of their business, but felt Oxford where they lived was overbuilt. They had a small plane with the ability to fly 500 miles without refueling. Austin, Texas, was right at 450 miles, and was attractive due to being the state capital, a technology hub and a university town.
“People are looking for more than a place to live,” Blackburn said. “University towns like Austin, Starkville and Oxford offer great cultural opportunities.”
Another point in pride is being the kind of business where people are proud to work. Blackburn Group has been named Mississippi Best Places to Work by the Mississippi Business Journal 2016 and 2017 and Austin Best Places to Work by Austin Business Journal in 2017.
“We are obviously working hard, but we are also providing a great place to work where people really enjoy what they are doing,” he said. “There has to be something that inspires you when you come to work every day. We have been real fortunate in having that kind of culture.”
Making customers happy is important at Blackburn. It has been able to maintain a high customer satisfaction rating with their single-family home division being recognized for the Guildmaster Award by GuildQuality, which represents more than 90 percent homeowner customer satisfaction and referral rate.
Blackburn said their relationship with Dollar General has allowed them to grow their repeat business with clients on the general construction and development side.
“Dollar General has been a great company to work with that was willing to take a chance on a small, young developer,” Blackburn said. “They have really helped us grow our commercial side. They provide such a great product for rural towns, so it is a great team to be a part of.”
The Blackburn Group belongs to chambers of commerce in all 10 communities where they have ongoing business operations, and support philanthropic causes. For example, they recently created a trail of more than three miles through the conservation areas in their Oxford Commons development and made it available to the Oxford High School cross country teams to use for training and meets.
Blackburn, a graduate of the Ole Miss with both bachelor and master’s degrees in accountancy, is on the boards of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation and the Ole Miss Alumni Association. He has also been on the board of directors for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Ole Miss. While a student athlete himself at Ole Miss, Blackburn was a member of 1997 and 1999 SEC Championship tennis teams.
Blackburn is active with St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.
Blackburn and his wife, Karen, have been married since 2002.
“I could not have accomplished any of our many projects without the love and support of my wife, Karen,” Blackburn said. “She has brought balance to my life and has been a great advisor who looks at things from a totally different perspective than I do. We have two sons, Collins and Niles, who have brought happiness and purpose to our lives.”
His favorite hobby is snow skiing, and he also enjoys hunting and travel.
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