June 26, 2014

Builders Plus Concrete strives to collaborate, communicate

There’s inter-generational conflict at Builders Plus Concrete. And the family who owns it wouldn’t have it any other way.

There’s inter-generational conflict at Builders Plus Concrete. And the family who owns it wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s definitely that clash and conflict between old and new,” said Chris Callen, who recently took over as chief executive officer of the company his father founded. “That’s definitely the relationship I have with my father, with mutual respect and open minds.”

Not that Callen’s father, Hal, opposes innovation. In fact, his son said, it was Hal Callen’s decision to invest in some high-tech equipment early on that helped fuel the company’s growth.

Hal Callen started Builders Plus Concrete in Garden City in 1985, mainly doing driveways, patios and other residential work.

“He would be out in the field every day, all day,” Chris Callen said.

The company started landing bigger, commercial jobs after his father invested in equipment like a laser screed – a concrete leveling device used to produce “super flat” floors, Callen said.

“Once we made the jump to that machinery, we kind of cut the residential line and really got started with big-box retail stores. Walmart, we’ve done 10 or 12 of those. Dillons and Target, those are really what our specialty was.”

By 2003, he said, 60 percent of the company’s work was in the Wichita area, although it still keeps a crew in Garden City.

The recession of the late 2000s forced another adjustment. To continue working on the same kind of commercial jobs, the company would have been forced to operate “coast to coast,” Callen said.

“We weren’t really wanting to be that traveling company. We want to be basically Kansas. We’ll look at anything there. We’ve tested the waters in the surrounding states, but we’re kind of focusing right there” in Kansas.

Currently, the company is doing a lot of work with schools and hospitals, in addition to an extensive contract just finished on a new ethanol plant in Hugoton. It recently won a job for a dormitory at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, and is also working on Circle High School, Whole Foods and SunStone Apartments, among others.

Chris Callen grew up working in Builders Plus. After earning a business degree with an emphasis on information systems from KU, he spent a year working for a company in Denver before deciding to rejoin his family’s business.

“I never knew my father to have a boss, so that kind of ingrained it in me.”

He worked as an estimator and project manager for about a year before taking over his new role. Hal Callen assumed the job of chief operations officer, bringing in business and making estimates.

“He grew up in the field,” Chris Callen said. “He has more experience than anyone in the company, and that’s where his passion is.”

Chris’ mother, Donna, is continuing in her position as chief compliance officer, handling financial and legal matters. The company employs 49 people.

Chris Callen said his goal is to set the company apart from competitors by making it “communication and collaboration oriented,” using technology such as 3D modeling to improve outcomes. That technology caught several potential problems with the KU project before concrete was ever poured, he said.

“We have a very experienced crew, a lot of guys who’ve been in the industry for decades,” he said. “We’re really trying to mesh that experience with talented, formally educated construction graduates. That creates the kind of clash we really enjoy.”

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