All the President’s Trash
I recently interviewed Mr. Freddie Winston, the founder of F&L Construction, Inc., a minority-owned general contracting, construction management, and solid waste and recycling services corporation. In addition to running a great company entering its fourth decade, F&L manages the waste and recycling for the most famous house in the world: The White House. He also happens to be part of the Rubicon family of haulers. We are grateful for his time discussing his career history, servicing The White House and other government buildings, and the importance of family and faith that inspire his life every day.
Nate Morris: Tell us about the story of F&L Construction. How was the company founded?
Freddie Winston: I began my minority-owned firm at the age of 29. I started my career in construction working with my family, and I improved my craft over the years, working various odd jobs.
I spent my summers learning the craft while I was doing school. After school I would go work at various construction companies building. At the early age of 19 I started managing cleaning companies as a part time job. My full time job was with Fairfax Hospital working at the engineering department form 1981-87. I left in 1987 and went to work with a few different companies that were doing government contracts in the construction field. I started my company in 1991, in Northern Virginia and focused primarily on providing carpentry services to local small businesses in my community. I spent many years growing and establishing my brand as reliable and affordable, emphasizing quality service.
After about 12 years working for the federal government, I became SBA (Small Business Administration) certified, allowing me to get sole-sourced contracts under the SBA program. After working in that program I was awarded Business of the Year, and presented with an award by congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. I visited the White House and met with Marie Johns, the Administrator of the SBA, to talk about the program and how the program could be better for businesses in the program. It was a great experience for me, and I would like to say that any businesses that want to get certified, I would suggest before they get certified they should work with the government for 3-4 years to understand how the government works and operates before learning that hard lesson while enrolling in the program.
After about 20 years of doing business on a smaller scale, I decided to get my SBA certification, and things accelerated quickly. I went from being a one-man shop that sub-contracted work when needed to hiring and maintaining full-time staff.
After setting up a professional office with staff, an opportunity presented itself that allowed me to expand my company's services from construction and add on a Solid Waste and Recycling division. This new division allowed me to bid and take on large-scale contracts with the Government's General Services Administration, the White House, and the Justice Department, to name a few. The company's accelerated growth combined with exemplary work ethic and community activism meant the company was nominated and received many awards. F&L was listed as a TOP 100 Minority Company, and I was awarded "Entrepreneur of the Year." This afforded me the opportunity to be interviewed by Black Enterprise Business Report and more.
I've been blessed to be able to affect other people's lives to afford them a job and opportunity.
NM: How long have you been in business?
FW: F&L Construction and Solid Waste, Inc. have been serving the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area since 1991.
NM: What kind of services do you provide?
FW: F&L is a full-service General Contractor performing large-scale construction projections, including site work and demolition, along with a very productive Solid Waste and Recycling Division. We just recently added Business Development to our portfolio. We acquired land and are now building a 5-story 100,000 square foot medical office building to be delivered around 2023.
NM: How Large are your operations? Number of trucks, employees, etc.?
FW: F&L has around 50 trucks and 65 employees.
NM: How has COVID impacted your operations? Any special precautions or changes in procedures?
FW: Fortunately, F&L Construction and Solid Waste, Inc. was deemed an essential business when the pandemic hit, so our services were not impacted much. Although F&L has remained operational throughout the COVID crisis, new measures had to be put in place. Listed below are some changes the company made to ensure our employees' safety and the communities we serve.
- COVID 19 Specific Procedures:
- Reduce Exposure Wherever Possible: Before COVID 19, F&L's team would be on projects with multiple teams performing construction services. This has since been reduced to staggering hours and shifts so that F&L employees can work alone. On the Solid Waste side, trucks are cleaned and sanitized after each use. All employees are required to social distance, wear masks, monitor and report symptoms, if any, complete daily temperature checks, and get routine testing.
- Plan for now and the future: F&L is continuing to work on current contracts and has successfully acquired new ones. Although the pace of servicing some of the contracts is slower because of the institutions' safety protocol, the work is steady and consistent. During this uncertain time and seeing so many small businesses struggle and close their operations, I decided to take this time to shore up and restructure the company. We ramped up customer service and created a new marketing division to ensure steady workflow.
NM: What Motivates You?
FW: There are so many things that motivate me in this life. My beautiful wife of 24 years is at the top of that list, along with my son, stepson, and grandson that I am raising as my own. I love waking up in the morning, knowing that God has given me another opportunity to make a difference. I enjoy working hard and giving back to the community that supports me. I, along with my staff, volunteer and have cleaned local parks in the city, provide school supplies and tutoring services to schools that have a high enrollment of students below the federal poverty level, purchased tickets for students to attend professional sporting events, conducted food and toy drives and host an annual barbecue at our D.C. office to feed residents. I also work hard to employ and train ex-offenders who wouldn't ordinarily be given a chance to reinvent themselves. It excites me when one shares their story of purchasing a home or buying a new car. It just further reaffirms for me that I am doing the work I was intended to do.
NM: How Long have you serviced the White House?
FW: F&L has serviced the White House for almost 25 years.
NM: How did you land that contract?
FW: I was a certified SBA contractor, and this was a contract set aside under the Small Business Administration Minority Set Aside program. I successfully bid and won amongst companies my size.
NM: What services do you provide for the White House?
FW: We provide solid waste removal and recycling. One of the most important things is the White House never in 20 something years had an administration that really cared about recycling, but they were every heavily on recycling during the Obama administration. I helped them design their recycling program.
NM: What special precautions do you have to take to ensure everyone's security and safety at the White House?
FW: The drivers that service the White House are vetted and receive security clearance along with periodic internal safety training. These individuals are professionals, and they follow the White House protocols to ensure their safety and the safety of the White House and staff.
NM: What kinds of precautions do you have to take handling the waste from the White House?
FW: Anything that goes in the trash from the White House is taken directly to the waste management facility. We don’t mix the trash with anybody else’s trash. We go straight from one spot to the next.
NM: How do you become credentialed to handle that waste?
FW: We have to go through a security clearance. All of our drivers have to be cleared to get on the White House grounds. Then they have to be cleared to get into certain areas. Depending on where you’re going, you might have to have more than one clearance.
I was told 15 years ago when I had a driver doing this job, those people know everything about you in case you come in and something happens. They’ve been to your house, and they know where you parked your truck, whether you realize it or not. If anything were to go down, they want to know where to find you. The Secret Service checks you out.
NM: How long does the security clearance take?
FW: It can take a week up to two weeks depending on the circumstances. Everybody in the company — anybody who wants to do work on the White House has to go through the same procedure.
NM: What would happen if the White House’s waste fell into the wrong hands?
FW: Trash is trash. All the top secret stuff is shredded. That’s classified. I’m picking up the garbage. We don’t take classified information.
NM: We like to say that "No amount of money will make your waste more glamorous than anyone else's. "Is that true? Is the garbage coming from the White House the same as waste coming from anywhere else?
FW: It's indeed true that waste is waste regardless of where it's coming from. The White House Waste is no different from waste from other places, but it does present a sense of pride and bragging rights for the drivers to say that they serve the White House.
NM: What other Iconic DC institutions do you service?
FW: We service the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Joint Base Andrews, Joint Base Bolling, Presidential Motorcade, the Commerce Department, The Kennedy Center, The Entertainment and Sports complex where the Washington Mystics Play, and Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
NM: In general, what is the most significant difference between servicing a governmental institution and servicing an average business?
FW: The difference is most government institutions require a certain level of clearance along with other standard operating procedures that you don't have with an average business.
NM: What is the most unusual thing you've picked up at the White House (that you can tell us about)?
FW: In all the years servicing this contract, we've never picked up anything unusual. And, if we did, that would most definitely be something we couldn't share.
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn on June 29, 2021.