Billy Branch

Billy H. Branch, a native of Bells, Tennessee was one of four children born to E. H. Branch and Grace Mae Colvett.  Mr. E. H. Branch worked as a railroad clerk for the GM & O lines.  The Branch grandparents had been agrarians in West Tennessee.  Bill’s schooling took place during the depression and World War II and as a starter for the Jackson high school basketball team which had no coach.  Bill was able to convince the principal they needed to have a team and Bill helped to find uniforms for everyone who wanted to play.  Despite the challenging conditions his team went to the state tournament hitchhiking the whole way.   He graduated high school in 1946 and then earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech.

His first job after college was with Southeast Underwriters, an arm of Fire Insurance Companies, which offered him a chance to transfer to Roanoke as an inspector.  While he was getting acclimated to the work world and Roanoke, he had his eye on Betty McAlister whom he met at Roanoke Church of Christ.   She was beginning her college career at David Lipscomb College but set those plans aside to marry Billy in 1952.   Betty later finished her college education at Hollins University.  Soon after the marriage Bill was drafted for the Korean War and his tour took him to the Bureau of Standards in Washington D.C. for two years.   The short-term war assignment ended, and Bill accepted a Management position with South Wire Company – this new start up industry was a manufacturer of transmission wire. 

With the family growing, fortunately Bill’s career was ramping up and growing as well.  His management position morphed into starting a construction company with his Father-in-Law.  A highway construction company named McAlister Construction Co.  He bought out his Father-in-Law in 1964 and continued the business as Branch & Associates.  VDOT Highways were the bulk of the construction jobs being completed by the company at that time.  Bill moved into construction including estimating, accounting, and supervision of a highway job in Hurley, Virginia, changing his life forever.  He and his family took on a modified nomadic existence living in Virginia in such places as Grundy, Virginia before settling in Roanoke in the 1960s.

What started out for Bill as a highway/site grading business, later expanded into commercial and residential land development because Bill had insight of just what would work with parcels that he has purchased.   As a result, in the early years at Branch & Associates from the late 1960s – 1986 the workers were a part of three divisions: building, highways and mechanical.   Branch & Associates diversified into four companies: The Branch Group as the holding company, Branch & Associates- General Contractors, Branch Highways – highway construction, G. J. Hopkins – mechanical, HVAC each growing to be the largest company in their specialty in the region, and E.V. Williams (in Virginia Beach) – paving and grading.   There have been times when the four businesses have been involved in a total of 100 projects at the same time.  The four companies evolved at the same time Bill Branch had the vision to create an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Program).  Bill Branch’s business profits provided for this program to all 800 employees and was 100% ESOP funded by the corporation.  This business decision has generated retirement benefits and a new sense of pride and responsibility for all its employees.  

It is safe to say that most office complexes and a sprinkling of retail spaces on the 419 corridors from Brambleton Avenue to Franklin Road have been crafted by Bill Branch and partners.  He also developed some housing areas like Canterbury Park and Windy Gap Mountain Village which was the first “green” development on 600 acres and using all natural materials dating back to 1976.   In addition, The Branch Group engaged in the construction of many significant buildings such as a prison in Buckingham County, and buildings on Radford University, Virginia Tech and UVA campuses.

The proudest accomplishment outside of his family and business success has been the time and love that he put into developing a 150-acre site for Young Life.  This non-denominational religious retreat is in Rockbridge County amongst the lovely tree covered hills.  This site has 20,000 young people annually coming together on the well-manicured grounds, lovely sleeping lodges, dining hall, and meeting areas.

Bill Branch reflected on the many projects that he has had a hand in from the first highway site to the excavation for Community Hospital and building at Snowshoe Resort in West Virginia, he has developed “Branch Philosophy” that he freely shares with those who are looking to succeed in business.  

  • When starting up a business, know every job.
  • Overhead is part of the cost of doing business.
  • Don’t panic when hearing bad news.
  • Don’t take risks greater than you can afford.
  • Have a goal to improve your company each year.
  • A textbook education is great … but common-sense trumps.

A factor in Bill’s life has been the willingness to learn and this has led to a nine-week program on the campus of Harvard enrolled in the Small Business – President’s Course.  In addition to the strong spiritual life that has melded with the entire Branch clan, Bill attended religion courses at Roanoke College, and attended two summers in Vancouver BC for seminary courses.

Leadership is innate and for Bill Branch starting with helping his high school basketball team to State, to working in his start-up grading company to Chairman of the Board of Branch Management Corp., it has had its rewards.   Recognition in the Engineering News Record magazine as one of the top 400 construction companies in the United States and various safety awards.

Personally, Bill has served the community as Chair of the Economic Development Authority of Roanoke County and charter member of the Roanoke Regional Partnership.   Plus, board members of Downtown Rotary Club, Central Fidelity Bank, Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, David Lipscomb College, James River Limestone Company, Habitat for Humanity, Roanoke Rescue Mission, and Young Life.

Officially, Billy H. Branch retired in 1994, but his son Tom had other thoughts for Dad, and in Bill’s words, “I am back in debt”.   At age 80 Mr. Branch reports to work five days a week as Chairman of the Board and volunteers his time on construction projects for non-profits.  It is his Christian based faith that has kept him balanced between his family and career.  Bill is physically active playing tennis and golfing weekly.  His hours of “leisure” include riding his tractors while mowing and enjoying the peaceful scenery at his Cow Pasture River and Smith Mountain Lake properties (the family get-a-ways).

Billy Branch was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2008.

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