Building with Giants: Honoring Those Who Impacted Our 90-Year Legacy

The Original Crain Construction Office Building

“I can’t imagine anybody telling you there’s something you can’t do,” says Sherry Crain Arledge, the granddaughter of Crain Construction’s original founder, J.E. Crain. 

In this case, Ms. Arledge was speaking to former Crain CEO Lewis Rankin about his golf game. However, the same can be said of Ms. Arledge herself, her father, her grandfather, Mr. Rankin’s sons, Mark and Michael—and, of course, Charles Gill. Crain’s 90-year legacy is built by men and women who don’t shy away from challenges easily. 

Crain Construction opened its doors in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression. With this bold move, Mr. J.E. — John Egbert—Crain laid the foundation for what would become a multi-generational, multi-family business. Through it all,  there was an ever-present emphasis on family in the truest sense of the word.  

A True Family Business

As business grew, beginning first in residential and later expanding into commercial, the focus stayed on the family. Relationships with contractors, employees, builders, and architects were a priority. Frequent phone and in-person conversations came naturally and made it easy to build personal connections with industry peers. 

This long-standing value remained when J.E. passed the business on to his son, and Ms. Arledge’s father, Mr. J.T. Crain. To honor J.T.’s new leadership role, a second crane was added to the business’s original single crane logo. 

J.T. joined the family business after serving in the Air Force and earning an architecture degree from Georgia Tech. Like his father, he treated his employees like family. In lean times, Sherry recalls, her father would cut his own pay in order to ensure his employees were paid and no one had to be let go. 

With two sons pursuing musical careers and working part-time at Crain, J.T. sought a like-minded individual he could trust to continue the Crain legacy. 

Defining Moments

In the early 1970s, Sherry was employed at a Nashville record store when a car wreck “turned her life upside down,” she says. It was after this she decided to join the family business full-time, marking the third generation of Crains to build a career with the construction firm. After Sherry completed her education in business and construction, she officially joined her father’s business. At the time, she was one of only a few women in construction. Her Crain Construction family was always supportive and trusted her expertise in many areas throughout her 35-year career. 

Leadership Changes Hands

Lewis Rankin joined Crain in 1972, originally hired by J.T. Crain. Lewis brought the same spirit of determination and family focus to Crain. 

While the industry continues to grow and change, he hopes the commitment to Crain’s values never does. “The family atmosphere and strong relationships with customers appealed to me from the beginning,” he says. “The company’s culture is a big differentiator from others in the industry. I hope it never changes, and I don’t think it ever will.”

“There was always Charles”

A source of industry knowledge if there ever was one, Charles Gill joined Crain Construction in 1956. He knew architecture and building codes better than most architects and inspectors, and they knew it. Charles had a keen eye and sharp skills that made it possible for Crain’s team of builders to complete complex projects. If something was left off a building draft, Charles would catch it. Then, he would sketch out his own draft, often while on the job site, send it back to the architect for approval, and keep the team moving along effectively and efficiently. 

Charles’s memory lives on in Nashville’s builds and facades that once were and those that will be. 

Looking Ahead

Crain Construction is now led by Mr. Rankin’s sons. Michael Rankin, who joined the company in 1992 and was “digging ditches and pouring concrete at 14,” serves as President. 

Mark Rankin, Executive Vice President, left his career in commercial photography to join the team in 1998. 

Much like those who came before them, Michael and Mark continue to emphasize the importance of family, doing the right thing, and embedding a people-first approach in the company culture. 

Today, a chaplain is on call 24/7, providing a valuable and trusted resource for anyone in need of help. There are also marriage retreats offered to employees and adoption fundraising support, where Michael offers to match any funds raised, dollar for dollar. 

For 90 years, J.E. Crain, J.T. Crain, Sherry Arledge, Charles Gill, Lewis Rankin and now Michael and Mark and others have worked hard to keep the company going. Mr. Rankin feels confident his boys will continue to do the hard work every day to keep it that way.

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