By: Ken Stickney
Robert P. “Popie” Billeaud can scarcely drive Lafayette’s streets without seeing the products of his company’s works.
Billeaud, 61, is president of JB Mouton Inc., the fifth consecutive family member to serve as president of the construction company that his great grandfather founded in 1915. The company’s 100th anniversary will be celebrated Saturday evening at a by-invitation picnic at Acadian Village.
“It’s very rewarding to drive through Acadiana and see the buildings we’ve built — schools, churches, medical facilities — that give back to the community,” Billeaud said. “That’s the most rewarding part of it.”
Here are some works that point to the breadth of accomplishment that JB Mouton Inc. has participated in over the last century in Lafayette:
•The 15-story First National Bank Towers, the tallest building in the city.
•The 227,000-square-foot Park Towers is the largest office complex in Lafayette.
•The 465,000-square-foot AutoZone distribution center is the largest facility of its kind in the city.
But JB Mouton claims more than building the tallest or biggest facilities. The company says it builds relationships with customers that span generations, and relationships are what built and maintained the business.
For example, Billeaud points to a framed image of a residential project his great grandfather built in 1927, a home for Pierre Gerac, the former fire chief. That building later became the Martin & Castille Funeral Home. In the 1960s, JB Mouton built a new Martin & Castille Funeral Home on St. Landry Street. Later, JB Mouton built a Martin & Castille Funeral Home on East Farrel Street.
Likewise, Billeaud said, JB Mouton built St. John Vianney Hall for Immaculata Seminary in Lafayette in 1960. In 1977, the company repurposed the building for office use. In 2014, JB Mouton remodeled the same building again.
“It’s an honor to have the opportunity to build for multigenerational clients,” Billeaud said. But it’s more than an honor — it’s a practice.
Billeaud’s great grandfather shared this business philosophy with his son Francis, who passed it down to Robert: “Always work hard for clients, always put a fair profit on a job, and you will never have to worry about having work.”
That how the company founder operated after he left his Carencro area home and moved to Lafayette, where he established his company primarily to build homes. By the 1930s, he had largely put residential construction aside in favor of commercial and institutional construction.
Mouton had been a farmer and did construction in his spare time, using the farm mule — “Blue” was the animal’s name — to help with the job. He settled with his family into a home at 1223 St. John St., two blocks from what is now the cathedral, where he operated his business from an office established in what had been his garage. As the business grew, so did the former garage. Billeaud said he used to visit his great grandfather at that home until he was 6 years old, when his great-grandfather died in 1960.
Billeaud studied construction management at what is now the University of Louisiana at Monroe and later joined the family business — his father, Manning F. Billeaud, was president. The company built its present office at 202 Toledo in 72 days in 1981.
“We needed an office fast,” he said; finding a contractor was not a problem.
The company has pulled through a couple of rough patches. During World War II, it discontinued business for a couple of years because of a shortage of construction materials. Everything went to the war effort in those days. Post-WWII, the company did substantial work in institutions: churches, schools, government buildings.
Over the years, the company built or remodeled schools like St. Pius Elementary, Our Lady of Fatima, Carencro High, Episcopal School of Acadiana, Crowley High, Breaux Bridge High and more. “That was the market back then,” Billeaud said.
In the 1980s, when the Oil Patch took a precipitous downturn, JB Mouton scrambled for business. For Billeaud, hard times hurt most when the company had to downsize its workforce of employees because of a lack of work.
But the business bounced back with commercial construction, building apartments and offices. Projects included the Iberia Bank Building at River Ranch, the LITE Center, Bayou Shadows apartments and more.
The company did several buildings on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus, including the addition of two floors on the DuPre Library and remodeled Griffin Hall.
“The success of our company has paralleled the growth of Acadiana,” Billeaud said.
The workforce and company structure has shifted, too. J.B. Mouton used craftsmen when he built homes in the first half of the 20th century. As time went on, sub-contractors, experts in what they did, emerged as a preferred labor pool. The company competed with the oilfield for workers; for many years, the oilfield was a more consistent employer. Nowadays, 80 to 90 percent of the workers are sub-contractors, as general contractors have transitioned into contract managers.
While sub-contractors are generally better and faster with their areas of expertise, contractors must still know how to do what sub-contractors do, said Stuart F. Billeaud, Robert Billeaud’s son, who works in business development and project management.
Looking ahead, Stuart Billeaud said, the company must prepare for a “shift change” within the organization, as veteran employees retire and new workers move up. Right now, he said, there is a lot of mentoring as the company prepares for the future.
No matter the transition, Robert Billeaud said, the company will move into new generations of leadership as JB Mouton grows with the community.
“The future for Acadiana is excellent,” he said.
Presidents of JB Mouton Inc.
J.B. Mouton, 1874-1960
William J. Mouton, 1904-1988
Francis R. Mouton, 1912-2006
Manning F. Billeaud, 1927-
Robert P. Billeaud, 1953-
Source: JB Mouton Inc.