Phillips & Jordan Founder Ted Phillips Dies at 87

Phillips & Jordan Founder Ted Phillips Dies at 87

Original Post: Knoxville News Sentinal | Brenna McDermot | July 31, 2018

William “Ted” Phillips Sr., founder of contractor Phillips & Jordan, died Monday after an extended illness. He was 87. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Avis Shuler Phillips; children Lesa Phillips Whitson (husband Handy); and W.T. “Teddy” Phillips Jr. (wife Christy); five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. “(Ted) was just a people person,” Avis said. “Loved people, loved his family.”

Early Days

Headquartered in Knoxville, Phillips & Jordan is a heavy civil and infrastructure contractor. It’s one of the 200 largest contractors in the U.S., employing more than 1,200 people with annual revenues of $500 million, according to a company press release.

Phillips was born in Graham County, North Carolina, in 1931. He took his first contracting job at 17 clearing land for TVA — it paid $495.

In 1952, he partnered with brother-in-law Ted Jordan to found Phillips & Jordan (known as P&J), initially pursuing land-clearing projects. The company incorporated in 1959, and Phillips was elected chairman of the board and president. He held those titles for more than 50 years.

In 1971, Phillips sold P&J to Kaneb Services Inc., a Houston-based publicly-traded energy company. Phillips stayed on with the company and bought P&J back in 1985.

Today, P&J works on site development, clearing projects, industrial and commercial site development, construction and repair of dams and reservoirs, and disaster response.

The company has worked in 43 states since 2000 and has additional offices in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Texas and California.

An Innovator and Inventor

Through his innovations, Phillips helped change the way land is cleared in the U.S. today, CEO Teddy Phillips said.

“If he had a need for a special attachment for a large piece of equipment, he had the ability to sit down, sketch what he wanted and how it was going to work, and his shop would build it,” Avis Phillips said.

One of the company’s most innovative projects was also the most significant and challenging: cleanup at Ground Zero after 9/11.

“As innovators in that specific line of work, 9/11 probably challenged us more than any (other) disaster response contract that we’d had up to that point,” President Patrick McMullen said. He’s worked for the Phillips family since 1989.

When the P&J team arrived in New York City, most of the clearing was happening by hand. Phillips designed a conveyor system that would speed up the separation and sorting of debris, personal belongings and remains.

“What would have probably taken two years took 10 months,” Teddy Phillips said.

A Mentor and Leader

Phillips created a culture of family at P&J, his family said.

“He really enjoyed working with younger people and with multi-generational families that work for our company. That’s a testimonial to the kind of person he was,” Teddy Phillips said.

Phillips would often hire young people if he thought they had a sharp mind and good work ethic, even if they knew nothing about the field, Avis Phillips said.

More: Knoxville Top Workplaces: Leadership lessons from the winners

His leadership style was hands-off. He’d ask questions, but let you make your own decisions and even mistakes.

“He made your best better,” McMullen said.

Phillips was a real estate investor, pilot, fisherman, hunter and family man. He was inducted into the Junior Achievement of East Tennessee Business Hall of Fame in 2010.

Services Planned

There will be a celebration of life service at 2 p.m. on Friday at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church. Rose Mortuary is in charge of funeral arrangements.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to their scholarship funds. More details can be found at

In lieu of food, the family requests friends privately perform a random act of kindness for a stranger and send a note to the family describing the act.