New Builders’ Board Chairman calls the right plays for success

Former NFL player, business owner Eddy Whitley always has a game plan

“Hard work, positive thinking, fair dealing, right treatment of people and the proper kind of praying always get results.”

If the words of Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 self-help guide “The Power of Positive Thinking” were a checklist, Eddy Whitley, Chairman of the 2021 Builders’ Association Board of Directors, could mark off every box. But Whitley has always had his own personal checklist.

“I’m going to graduate from college, play professional football, have a beautiful wife, drive a nice car, live in a nice place, and own my own company,” young Eddy would say.

He would end up fulfilling Peale’s list and his own.

Whitley was born in 1958 in Port Arthur, Texas, a Gulf Coast town that’s home to the largest oil refinery in North America. He and his brother used to cut grass along the railroad tracks that separated the Black part of town from its white counterpart. His father was a shift worker at the refinery; Whitley’s mother cleaned house for the family doctor.

As he neared high school graduation, people told Whitley to lower his expectations for his future. He overheard his father talking about being passed over for a promotion to foreman because he was Black. But Whitley had inherited his parents’ strong work ethic and big dreams.

“If you don’t dream big, what’s the use of dreaming?” he said, citing another Peale-ism. “Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

He asked his parents what they thought he should do.

“Go to college, and get the heck out of Texas,” they said.

So he did — leaving Port Arthur for Manhattan, Kansas, to get a construction management degree while playing football at Kansas State University.


Above: Eddy Whitley, Whitley Construction Company, LLC, stands near the theater entrance of Liberty High School’s Performing Arts Center in Liberty, Missouri. His company provided framing, insulation, drywall, various types of ceilings and specialty carpentry for the project.

Photo by Diana Gonzalez.

Above: Project Carpenter Superintendent Jason Gillman and Whitley showcase their team’s work on the Performing Arts Center.

Photo by Diana Gonzalez.

On his 20th birthday, out with some friends, he met a sports information major named Tracie Dittemore. They both loved football (watching games, Whitley says Dittemore frequently calls the fouls before the announcers). He asked for her number.

“I told him to look it up,” Dittemore recalls. “And he did!”

The two were married in a courthouse in St. Louis in 1989. (Have a beautiful wife: check.) They have a 28-year-old daughter, Grace, a professional makeup artist in New York City.

Whitley was a four-year letterman at K-State.

Before graduation, the opportunity came to play professionally, and he took it. He was selected in the 11th round, 280th overall by the Baltimore Colts in the 1980 NFL Draft.

Stints with several teams followed; one day on the practice field for the San Francisco 49ers, Whitley had a sudden urge to call his dad. “Dad, I made it,” he said simply.

In the 49ers’ locker room one day, he was drawn to a player sitting quietly reading a book. It was “The Power of Positive Thinking.” The player recommended he get a copy, and they talked about their plans for life after football.

“I bought that book from a store nearby and read it, and oh my gosh,” Whitley said. He was struck by Peale’s message of cultivating optimism through visualization, affirmations and spirituality.

Whitley suffered two serious concussions in his NFL career. After the second one, he mistakenly wobbled into the other team’s huddle before the next play.

“Had there been video, that clip would have made some kind of top 10, all-time sports blooper list,” he joked.

It felt like a signal — time to accept he wasn’t quite good enough to play professionally. He needed to move on.

Play professional football: check, almost.

Next, Whitley did what many former players never do: He returned to Manhattan in 1985, and two years later earned his construction science degree from K-State like he always said he would. Graduate from college: check.

Whitley spent the 1990s and early 2000s traveling frequently for construction companies in St. Louis and Kansas City. When his daughter was two years old, she told her dad she didn’t see him enough.

“It kind of hit me that we lived in Kansas City, but I didn’t know anyone in our neighborhood,” he said. “I was traveling during the week, coming home on Friday nights to pay bills and do laundry, and leaving again. It was time for a change.”

Something told him he should get out of the construction industry entirely. It turned out to be a fortuitous notion, because another signal was coming: He got laid off.

Between careers, he began attending legendary K-State football coach Bill Snyder’s Kansas City networking events, helping make introductions between student athletes and employers in their chosen fields. An acquaintance at one event asked if he’d ever thought about selling insurance.


Left: Whitley’s official photo from when he played football at K-State.

Right: (Pictured left to right) Whitley’s daughter, Grace; Whitley; and Whitley’s wife, Tracie Dittemore.

Photos provided by Eddy Whitley.

Whitley then found his stride in the financial industry. He leaned into his natural communication skills to broker insurance, mortgages, investments, mergers and acquisitions.

Then in 2008 came the economic downturn and one more signal from the powers that be. He got laid off, again.

“I believe the good Lord mysteriously makes things work and you don’t even know it,” Whitley said.

A fellow parishioner at his church read Whitley’s resume and connected him with a national company about to close an underperforming drywall business in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

It was a rare opportunity in the industry: A legitimate chance for independent ownership. But it would not be handed to him. Several banks turned him down for financing. Finally, Whitley worked out a seller-financed agreement to establish Whitley Construction Company in 2009 as its President/CEO and majority shareholder.

Own a company: check.

He operates WCC like a football team, and this time he’s the coach. Whitley sees all the right moves for his company in an evolving construction industry.

“We’re teammates, all with a common goal,” he said. “Continued growth.”

Above: Builders’ Board Immediate Past Chairman Chris Stanton, McCownGordon Construction, and Whitley filmed their “gavel handoff” conversation to air virtually. Typically, this takes place during the annual Builders’ anniversary banquet event. Whitley has chaired the association’s marketing focus group along with several other committees and sub-organizations.

Photo by Diana Gonzalez.

Soon he began attending Builders’ events and getting to know association President Don Greenwell. 

“Eddy certainly has business acumen. But more than that, he makes time for his employees’ development and industry advancement,” Greenwell said. “He’s very willing to help others get their start.”

A few years ago, after a meeting of the association’s Scholarship Foundation, Greenwell asked Whitley to join the Board of Directors with the intention of eventually becoming chairman.

“We have placed deliberate focus on diversification throughout our membership. Eddy has been one of the drivers,” Greenwell said.

“Having diversity in leadership models pathways. Above all, Eddy Whitley is a role model. He embodies the power of positivity.”

Chris Stanton, vice president for preconstruction at McCownGordon Construction and immediate past chairman, said one of Whitley’s strengths is his ability to ask the right questions.

“He’s always inquisitive,” Stanton said. “And as a business owner himself, Eddy has a constant eye out for what’s going on in the industry and the world.”

Greenwell noted a technique he’s seen Whitley use in board and committee meetings.

“Eddy will come to the end of a meeting and take a moment to go around the room and ask everyone what’s on their mind. He sees to it that everyone in the room gets an opportunity to express their thoughts and have their voice heard.”

He plans to ensure Builders’ keeps providing full services to members through the pandemic while staying on track to meet the goals of its Plan 2023.

“We will be successful,” Whitley said.

And Whitley knows about success. He and Dittemore settled in the Brookside area of Kansas City (live in a nice house: check), before moving to the Plaza in recent years. He drives a car that checks off the remaining item on his list. Dittemore retired in early 2020; they’re at the beginning of the conversation about when he’s going to do the same.

“Owning this construction company has been the perfect job for Eddy,” Dittemore said. “He gets to use all of his skills and passion. It wasn’t always easy, but I am so proud of what he has accomplished.”

Whitley will probably wait for that signal from above telling him it’s time for retirement. Until then, in the words of Norman Vincent Peale, “It’s always too early to quit.”