Making It

By Margaret Webb Pressler
Sunday, September 2, 2007

Emmanuel Caudron was adrift for 15 years after graduating from Arlington's Washington and Lee High School. He worked a series of odd jobs, such as cleaning pools and waiting tables. He almost became a chef, too, like his father Henri Caudron, a well-known Washington restaurateur in the 1980s.

But mostly, what Emmanuel cared about in those years from teen to 30-something was rowing. His goal was to reach the top of the sport and row on the Olympic crew team.

When that didn't pan out, Emmanuel had to figure out what a hard-working guy with no college degree could do. So he turned to the job that had always been good to him: moving. Fit and strong, Emmanuel had worked off and on for years for two local companies hauling furniture in and out of houses. Before that he'd driven plenty of trailers packed with rowing shells.

So, three years ago, Emmanuel rented a truck and started Mighty Men Moving Inc. in Fairfax. He still rows often and hopes someday to win at the Head of the Charles, a premier crew race in Boston. But, at nearly 41, there are other milestones to celebrate. He's gotten married, bought a house in Gainesville and this year his company will have about $180,000 in sales, he says. He'll also pay himself $50,000 to $60,000 -- the most he has ever made in a year.

Growing up in Arlington after moving here from France at age 6, Emmanuel never heard much talk about going to college. His father had quit school very young. "I don't think he knew how to point us kids in the direction of college," Emmanuel says.

That left Emmanuel free to chase his rowing dream, until the moment he realized that he wouldn't be an elite competitor and also couldn't coach college crew because he had no degree.

"Focusing is very difficult if you don't know how," Emmanuel says of his failed efforts to finish college at George Mason University. "I had to train myself to focus."

The biggest impetus for Emmanuel's entrepreneurialism was a job at Columbia Island Marina in Arlington from 2000 to 2004. He began in maintenance and ended up running the marina's rowing program. "Then I realized, I'm working a lot and not making any money," he recalls. "It didn't make any sense."

That's when he rented the truck. His first jobs were funneled to him by his former employers, with whom he'd remained friendly. He hired guys from among his athletic friends, and, even now, "all my guys row crew or are rugby players," he says. After a year in business, he financed a brand-new truck, saving hours a day in rental hassles. He was so busy, he had to turn down jobs this summer, so next year he hopes to buy a second truck, used, which he might outfit with a crane.

"We do hoisting. We'll get your armoire through the second floor. Not a lot of guys will do that," he says. "That's a niche."

He'll also move pianos, unlike some movers. It's a form of competition for him.

"Getting a full upright piano down four flights? That's scary," Emmanuel says. "I love that thrill."

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