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Home | SAN ANTONIO | Spotlight | Spotlight - Robert D. Saldaña, RDS Excavations

Spotlight - Robert D. Saldaña, RDS Excavations

image Robert D. Saldaña, President/Owner, RDS Excavations, Atascosa, TX

SAN ANTONIO - Construction is all Robert D. Saldana has ever known, thanks to his father and grandfather who worked in the industry. As owner of RDS Excavations, he hopes to pass on three generations of wisdom to his kids and treat customers the way his family has always treated them.




Share about your background.

    I was raised in Atascosa, TX on our family farm, TCQ Farm. My wife and I have now built our home here and my business and shop is based here as well.
    My family was in the construction industry for over 30 years. My mom’s father, Tony C. Quintanilla, was a general contractor and had a construction company, TCQ Construction. My whole family and I worked in construction because of him at one time or another. He was a Seabee in the U.S. Navy (Construction Battalion). When he came back from Vietnam, he started his own construction company in the early ‘70s.
    I was later born in the 1980s right into the middle of it when he was blowing and going.  I was his right-hand man ever since I could remember. While my mom was running the office, they would send me with him to ride around the job sites and check on jobs.
Was a construction career your goal?

    That was my plan. I grew up in it and had no intentions of doing anything else. My dad, Robert Saldaña, was also in the trucking business and I took a lot of interest in that as well. When my grandpa passed away in 1998, my mom, Cynthia, and my uncle continued running the business. When I graduated high school in 2002, they decided they’d had enough with the business – they had been in it since they were teenagers – and shut the doors. I begged my mom to let me take over; I had already been doing the work every chance I got when I was out of school. During my senior year, I had learned some of the business part of it, going to bid openings and bidding jobs. I grew up doing it and that’s all I knew. I wanted to take over, but she was adamant that she didn’t want me in this business and industry; she said she would pay for me to go to college just so I would get out of this business. I finally gave in and went to Palo Alto for one semester.
    In the middle of that, I picked up a few jobs clearing property with one of my grandpa’s old dozers. I realized I liked it, even with the heat, the dust and the bees. I had hired a couple of guys to do the work while I was in school, but they would call me and ask me “What do we do now?” or “We broke this” and I couldn’t do anything about it because I was in class. After the fall semester, I just said, “I’m going to take the semester off and see how this goes,” and I established RDS Excavations.

How were those first years?

    The first years came really naturally. It was in my blood I guess. I wasn’t scared of anything. I’ve always been the type to gamble or just jump in with both feet. I started picking up jobs and making pretty good money. I figured if I was going to do this eight to ten hours a day, I needed to get a machine with a cab that had AC, since that was going to be my office. The summer of 2003, I went and bought a semi-new John Deere dozer. I was only 18 years old and my dad co-signed for me. Afterward, he walked away and said, “If they take it, they take it. It’s sink or swim. If you think you can do it and make the payments, go for it.” But he believed in me. I was a one-man army and I didn’t have anyone working for me. When I needed somebody, I could call my dad and he would run a piece of machinery for me or be my escort for oversized hauls. He was there whenever I needed him.

What were some challenges?

    I had many people try to get one over on me because I was young. After I had finished one job, a man who signed a contract with me told me he wasn’t going to pay me what he owed because I was too young to be making that much money. It was nothing the great state of Texas couldn’t take care of in court.
    In 2005 after Hurricane Katrina I had hit another roadblock. I made some contacts in New Orleans and was promised to make a few million dollars. I went there with a crew and all of the contractors I had dealt with walked away from the deal with signed contracts. At that point, I was 21 years old, I had bought some new equipment which my dad had co-signed on and I got about $250,000 in debt on my own. I ended up making only a small portion of that back. I stayed there almost a year trying to chase my money, hoping something would work out. When I finally came back in 2006, I had lost all of my contacts here, had no work lined up, and it was hell. It taught me that things can be too good to be true and to not trust everything I hear. I’ve paid so much “tuition” in this business, more than people with degrees.

Who has influenced you most?

    I hear my grandfather’s and my father’s voices and use both of their quotes all of the time. I’m most like my grandpa because he had a “can-do” and “don’t give a crap” attitude, just get it done no matter what. His favorite saying was, “You’re not building a piano, just get it done!” My dad was totally different. He was a jokester with a very good work ethic and was clean, meticulous, very detailed, a perfectionist. His vehicles and trucks were always spotless; I grew up always at the carwash with my dad. If your rig and equipment look good you’re all set. It’s a reflection of you as a business.

How has your business evolved?

    I started with mainly land clearing and then I evolved into a full site work company. I do roads and driveways, commercial pads and development, parking lots, asphalt and seal coat. I also have gone into hauling equipment and freight and I’ve added more machinery.
    I’ve tried hiring guys and tried to make the business bigger and realized that’s kind of not where I want to be just yet. I’m still a one-man army. I’m owner and operator and run the whole show; I’ve hired guys and they don’t care about my equipment, they don’t care to do the work to my standards. If I have to go back and fix it and clean it up, I might as well have done it in the first place. Being that rain comes and work gets slow, I don’t like the stress of having to worry about other people’s families. It’s worked for me for 16 years.

What do you enjoy about your work?
    I enjoy the development. I like to see the change from start to finish. I’m really big on before-and-after pictures; that’s so cool to see the change. My favorite jobs are when I do them on road frontages or major highways where people can see my work, since I do a lot of clearing for farmers and ranchers where no one knows what’s going on. I think other people appreciate it as well.
Share about your personal life.
    My wife Lauren and I just celebrated our 11-year wedding anniversary and we’ve been together 19 years. She handles all of my invoicing and paperwork for the business, and has even run the equipment when I need a hand. We have two sons, 8-year-old Rylen and 4-year-old Daylen, and we just had our daughter, Chloe Loren, who just turned five months. So really, we don’t have time for many hobbies. Since I’m self-employed every day is a workday. Whatever little free time we have we spend with the kids and go on family trips as often as we can.
    A big thing for my wife and I is to go to Vegas at least once a year, especially for the National Finals Rodeo in December. I grew up showing animals and around the stock show; I have served on the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo’s livestock committee for 16 years. We live on 200 acres right outside San Antonio. We have cattle, horses and do coastal hay. Working the property is my other full-time job. My oldest son will be old enough next year to start showing animals so we can’t wait to see what that adventure has in store for us.

Do your kids go to work with you?

    They’re everywhere with me! My oldest has gone with me hauling equipment to jobs and sits in the machine with me while I work. He’s in school now so my little one is with me all of the time and is all about it. It reminds me of the days I would go to work with my grandpa, just a lot more laid back. My grandfather did big commercial and government jobs and schools; he was well-known in the area. He had at least two crews and 100 guys working for him. At the shop there was always commotion; with me, it’s much more relaxed. I wish my kids could experience what I did but times are different.

What do you hope the future holds?

    I hope one if not both of my sons would want to take over the business. My goal is to one day be really big and finally step up to the big leagues and take on bigger contracts. I’m not the biggest company out there but I’m successful in my own right and I’m comfortable in life and lifestyle.
    Subcontractor RDS Excavations specializes in site work construction and land clearing in and around south Texas. –mjm

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Author Info

Melissa Jones-Meyer dfweditor@constructionnews.net