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Generations of Success

Overland Park, Kan.-based A.L. Huber has been constructing buildings since 1903, so it seems natural that they would turn to past customers for future work. According to Phillip W. Thomas, LEED AP, president, about 80 percent of the firms' work comes from building owners and designers it has have worked with previously. That kind of repeat business rate only comes when a company can deliver on its promises and provide value to the building owner. A.L. Huber has done that for generations, and there are a few reasons why.

A.L. Huber focuses extremely closely on the pre-construction process; the company culture respects and supports all members of the team, including staff and trade craftsmen; and company management takes an active leadership role in the industry, bringing back knowledge to the company and giving back to the industry.

 

Four generations of excellence

Huber Leadership Team
The leadership team includes three Huber brothers. (Front, L-R, Joseph, August and Randy.) President Phillip Thomas is in the back.

A.L. Huber is a fourth-generation commercial construction company that does most of its work in the Kansas City region, although it does take projects nationally-often for a former client-and has done projects internationally. The company is led by August L. Huber III, who is CEO, which is a position he has filled since the 1980s. Joseph T. Huber and Randy K. Huber, senior vice president, are Augie's brothers. Thomas is the only non-family member on the leadership team and has worked for the company for more than 29 years. "It's a family culture, and I feel very fortunate that my first job was at A.L. Huber," Thomas says.

The company works in multiple market segments including commercial, manufacturing, warehouse, education, retail, hospitality and historic. Organizationally, project managers are responsible for developing its own business, and have the expertise of the entire company on which to draw.

A.L. Huber self-performs very little work, but does do specialized work such as some carpentry and concrete. The decision is made, Thomas explains, based on whether the company feels the value it can by doing the work in-house is great enough compared to the cost. Slightly more than half of the 35 employees work in the field, with the majority of them serving in some project management capacity.

 

Pre-construction

When asked what the biggest differentiator between A.L. Huber and its quality competition is, Thomas answers succinctly. "Pre-construction. We see it as the number one way to deliver something of real value to our clients. As we started to do more and more negotiated projects and work more and more in pre-construction, we knew we had to work on those processes to make them the absolute best.

Metal BuildingMetal Building
Metal buildings are a key tool in the belt of A.L. Huber, andinclude such successes as the LEED Gold Missouri Gas Energy Service Center.

"Success through pre-construction goes from very early on developing a budget and a baseline for that budget, very early on controlling the schedule, and helping the design team analyze every design decision along the way," says Thomas. The consistent and regular feedback during the design phase that includes scheduling information and budget requirements helps A.L. Huber deliver more value to its clients and speaks to why the repeat rate is so high among both building owners and designers. "If we didn't have a reputation for great pre-construction and a proven track record, and have owners and designers trust us, we wouldn't be nearly as successful."

This is also the exact point during which the decisions are made about construction methods such as choosing a pre-engineered building. As Thomas explains, "A lot of times analyzing design decisions comes down to 'should this building be a metal building structure or should it be some other type of structure?'"

A.L. Huber has been affiliated with Memphis, Tenn.-based Varco Pruden Buildings since March 1977. That 37-year partnership has given A.L. Huber a breadth of experience in metal buildings that radiates throughout the organization. Thomas says, "Sometimes when we show up, the owner or design team may not have thought about a pre-engineered structure, and we bring that to the table, showing the advantages from a schedule point of view, a cost point of view, a quality point of view."

 

Market and industry leadership

Joe Huber is the company expert in metal buildings. His son, Andy, who is the great grandson of the founder, serves on the board of directors for the Metal Building Contractors & Erectors Association, and recently assumed an officers position as secretary of the organization. "I got involved because I wanted to know everything there is to know about metal buildings," Andy Huber says. He was recommended to serve on the Kansas City chapter board by Metal Construction Hall of Fame member Mary Farrar, of Olathe, Kan.-based All Pro Construction Inc., who was a past chair of the national organization. "I got a seat at the table with people who had been doing it for a very long time," Huber says. "Listening to people talk about the processes has been an invaluable experience."

Metal Building Gym

Huber works as an estimator and project manager for the company, and he's responsible for developing and managing his work. Being involved in an industry association, and the MBCEA in particular, has been important at this stage of his career. "What I've learned, I'm applying to our projects," he says. "I'm paying more attention to what the MBCEA talks about all the time: safety, production and training. There's so much training besides nuts and bolts."

The entire company is focused on playing a leadership role in the industry. Currently, Thomas serves as chair of the local builders association. Augie Huber has served as president of the local Associated General Contractors chapter. It's part of the company culture to take on these responsibilities. "Our company involvement in leadership in industry organizations is about leadership and relationships," says Thomas. "We're able to build relationships with people we're working within the industry. We're giving back to the industry. It's important to us."

Huber elaborates on the relationship even further. "When I'm looking for a metal building erector," he says, "I'm looking for someone involved in the association." He trusts they'll be trained, productive and safe.

 

Company culture

A.L. Huber is a family business, and it has developed a distinct culture that everyone in the organization recognizes. "It's going to sound a little simplistic," Thomas says, "but our whole culture is built around treating everyone as you would like to be treated."

That attitude migrates out from the company and immediate staff to building owners, designers and trade contractors. In fact, the implicit sense of respect in that concept shows in the term Thomas uses to describe the men and women working on the job sites: "craftsmen." A.L. Huber pays subs on the day they're paid and treats them with respect, but Thomas pushes a little further in what he expects from subs. "When their craftsman wake up on a morning when they have to go to an A.L. Huber job, we want them to wake up with a smile because they know they'll be treated with respect and be allowed to do their work to the best of their ability and they're going to have fun doing it."

Thomas boils it down to five tenets: "Cost, schedule, quality, safety and fun."

 

Into the future

During the recent downturn, a lot of construction companies failed to survive, even fourth-generation companies. But the underpinnings of respect that drive A.L. Huber were essential to its own success. You can't build a growing business on repeat customers without delivering quality and showing respect. Thomas feels like the tough times are in the rearview mirror, "but we still have plenty of capacity," he says.

Much of the future relies on pursuing the right opportunities. "There's still some people that are pretty desperate so there's pricing that doesn't make sense," Thomas says "A lot of those people went out of business. Now there might be enough opportunity if we make sure everything we do it prudent."

By relying on past customers, A.L. Huber has been able to avoid bidding projects, which forces the company up against lower-priced competition. As with any quality firm, there will always be someone cheaper than you.

But landing projects in a tight market from repeat customers requires a strategy. One of the successful tools was to extend the post-construction phase. "We have the typical one-year warranty," Thomas says. But by extending the phase during which the company is involved with the building after construction, such as making sure door closers are adjusting, they are able to build goodwill and remain in the building owner's eye.

The end goal is simple. "We want raving fans forever," Thomas says. "Not just a client who is satisfied but someone who is singing our praises."

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Company Profile

Year Founded: 1903
Location: Overland Park, Kan.
Metal Building Affiliation: Varco Pruden Buildings, Memphis, Tenn.
Geographic Areas of Service: National, but primarily Kansas City Region
Services Offered: General contracting, construction management at risk, design-build, pre-construction, LEED project services, pre-engineered metal buildings
Number of Employees: 35
2014 Revenue Projection: Approximately $40 million
2013 Total Revenue: Approximately $37 million

Management Team:
CEO: August L. Huber III
President: Phillip W. Thomas, LEED AP
Senior Vice President: Randy K. Huber
Joseph T. Huber, LEED AP