Robert Billeaud, who has always been known as “Popie”, is our guest. He serves as President of JB Mouton, the construction company established by his great-grandfather, John Berchman Mouton, in 1915. This interview gives the listener an opportunity to hear Popie speak of his love of building and the satisfaction the team at JB Mouton derives from creating structures built to withstand the test of time. As Popie tells clients, “You can pay for the building but it will always be ours!”
One of 17 children raised by Lillie and Manning “Bozo” Billeaud, Popie was raised in a warm and loving family. While Bozo encouraged all of his children to follow their own path in life and “just get an education,” Popie always loved the construction business. A graduate of Northeast Louisiana (now UL-Monroe), he studied Construction Management and joined his father at JB Mouton in 1976 as a Project Manager.
The success of JB Mouton is attributable to its reputation for integrity and the ability to get the job done on time, if not early, with quality workmanship. Popie explained that building skills are such that you either have them or you don’t, that you can’t teach the innately given craft of building. So the company looks for team members with that gift and nurtures them and their talent, while always challenging the team to build the best building they can. Ongoing craft and safety training are important components of the company’s culture.
JB Mouton has built many of our community’s most iconic landmarks, schools, and churches such as the LITE Center, St. Pius Catholic Church and Elementary School, ESA’s lower school, CGI, the IberiaBank Tower in River Ranch, Moss BMW and Kia Sterling. They’ve also renovated St. John Cathedral, the Academy of the Sacred Heart, the Cajun Dome, Hub City Ford, IberiaBank Tower downtown, and St. Charles College in Grand Coteau.
Surviving economic ups and downs and two World Wars has not been easy for the company, and the early days were tough. JB Mouton was originally a farmer who turned to carpentry to make a living. A jack of all trades, he learned the craft of building in early jobs he worked on, and in 1915 started building homes on his own.
An early remodeling job JB Mouton took on was the home of Joshua Hays and Mary Laboye Town, the parents of A. Hays Town. Town was only 14 years old at the time and drew up the architectural plans for the remodel. He was so talented that he was hired by JB Mouton to draw up other plans and Town would recount later that his first commission ever made was paid by JB.
By the 1930s, JB Mouton’s sons, Bill and Francis, joined the firm and they began working commercial construction. U. S involvement in WWII resulted in the rationing of supplies so the firm put its work on hold with Francis going into the service and Bill taking their equipment to Fort Polk to be of service to the military.
By 1949, Popie’s father, Bozo, went to work at JB Mouton with his granddad and uncles. Commercial construction projects were in high demand and one of Bozo’s first jobs was a contemporary A. Hays Town building on the airbase in New Iberia. The ensuing years led to the building of Pecan Island High School, Crowley High, Carencro High, and remodel/additions to Lafayette High, Woodvale, Alleman, Comeaux High, J. W. Faulk, and S. J. Montgomery.
In the mid-1960’s, JB Mouton added two stories to UL’s Dupre Library, and Bozo joked that no books got wet in the process! The firm also built Lafayette’s airport in the early 1960’s and remodeled it in the late 1980’s.
From 1973 to 1975, JB Mouton worked on the construction of FNB Tower, now known as Chase Tower, designed by Jerry Gossen and Don O’Rourke. It is still the tallest building in Lafayette, LA. This iconic project was the first time that JB Mouton utilized the now commonly used design-assist-build process, working directly with the architects and owner on the project, and they still use this system today.
The boom time of the 1970’s resulted in a great number of apartments and oil business structures being built by JB Mouton, including Bayou Shadows Apartments, the Chevron Building, Park Tower on Kaliste Saloom, and one of Popie’s favorites, the Stone Energy Building. But by 1982, the local economy tanked with the oil crash. Popie spoke of the heartache he experienced in seeing JB Mouton’s staff dwindle from 350 employees in 1982 to 28 employees in 1985 when there were just no opportunities for new work in a region that was severely depressed.
JB Mouton carried on through the 1980’s keeping some of the older employees and a few of the promising new ones. Building lags economic recovery by one to two year, so even when the economy picked up, there weren’t many opportunities for work.
Today, some of the employees who stayed in the hard times of the ’80s are still with the company and have worked their entire career at JB Mouton. Popie shared that he learned more during that tough economic time than he ever did when he received his formal education in college.
Recent projects of JB Mouton that were designed by architect Kevin Gossen include the remodel of Hub City Ford and Our Lady of Fatima School, and the construction of ESA’s lower school and Our Lady Queen of Peace. Popie expressed admiration for local architectural talent saying JB Mouton has worked with nearly every architect in town.
One life dream that Popie has had come to fruition was his desire to build a traditional church, as not many churches use traditional designs today. With the completion of St. Pius Catholic Church in 2017, this dream came true. It was also a landmark accomplishment as this was the first new church built in Lafayette since 1999, at a cost of $21 million.
Stuart Billeaud, Popie’s son, is the fifth-generation working for JB Mouton. While the odds of a family-owned company even surviving the third generation of leadership are slim, Stuart brings the same passion for building as his ancestors before him. Today, Stuart handles the day to day operations of JB Mouton while Popie handles client relations, as well as preliminary budgeting of projects for which he has a reputation for being spot on. The future looks bright for this family business which has added so much to our region’s landscape.
For more information, please visit https://jbmouton.com