The role of a contractor in the metal construction
industry can be isolating and one where it's difficult to exert
influence. Certainly, contractors can drive excellence and
improvements within their own companies, but they need leverage to
make changes on the national level.
Robert Ketenbrink, CEO of Spacemark Inc., Decatur, Ill., has
used the leverage of association involvement to make a difference
for everyone in the industry. For that, he earns a spot in the
inaugural class of the Metal Construction Hall of Fame.
Ketenbrink began his career in his first summer out of high
school. He was raised on a farm in the Pontiac, Ill., area and
landed a job helping to erect grain storage buildings at local
grain elevators. That work led to a full-time spot at Lasco Inc., a
metal fabricator out of Decatur, erecting buildings all over the
country, beginning in 1957.
In 1972, Ketenbrink had tired of the travel. "I had a stomach
full of ulcers and was tired of fighting," he says. So, he started
Spacemark and through that company became much more involved with
the Metal Building Dealers Association (MBDA), which became the
System Builders Association (SBA) and eventually morphed in the
Metal Building Contractors & Erectors Association (MBCEA).
At MBDA, he helped form the Erector Division and served as its
first chairman. That change helped raise the profile of all
erectors, who had only been associate members of the association,
but then became full members, giving them a greater say in the
industry. He also served a term as president of SBA.
"My biggest focus," he says of his efforts with MBCEA, "was
trying to get some kind of training involved on a national basis to
train people to get in our industry." A large amount of his effort
was working with manufacturers and others to get the funding to put
together a training series. "Finally, I just said, 'I'll put in
$40,000 and let's get it started.'"
The association found someone to do filming and they put
together a complete educational series, which was produced on DVD.
Now, erectors across the country can educate both new and
experienced crew in proper techniques, improved safety and more
efficient construction. The effect is to substantially raise the
consistency and quality of metal building erection nationwide.
Ketenbrink has leveraged involvement in other associations as
well. He helped form the Metal Building Institute and currently
serves as executive advisor. He has been active in the National
Metal Building Council of the Associated Builders & Contractors
trade group. He serves on the State Leadership Council of the
National Federation of Independent Businesses, working to improve
conditions for business in Illinois. And, he has successfully
lobbied U.S. Department Labor Secretary Ray Donovan to get a trade
classification for metal building assembly
Of course, in his spare time, Ketenbrink has operated a highly
successful business at Spacemark, which is transitioning to an
employeeowned operation, with 66 percent of the stock currently
owned by employees. "With some decent years," he says, "employees
will own 100 percent in five years." The company works in 26
states, going where the jobs are. It handles metal building
erection as well as roof retrofit.
His legacy is in training though. "I've always strived real hard
to train people, to be safe and to put a project together the right
way. We see so many products that are installed incorrectly, that
are problems for the users. Once I learned the business, I strived
to do it right."
That impulse has led to his mentoring many building erectors. As
a result, the MBCEA renamed its prestigious "Oil Can" award the
"Bob and Bev Ketenbrink" award. For a lifetime of service and
influence on the metal construction industry, Ketenbrink has earned
his place in the Metal Construction Hall of Fame.
"The most important thing in the metal construction industry
today is the training that is needed to safely and correctly
install the material so the end user gets the best quality for his