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Scott Knepper: An Innovator and Leader in the Construction of Hybrid Metal Buildings

2017 Metal Construction Hall of Fame

Knepper Scott

Scott Knepper is an innovator who helped pioneer the growing use of hybrid metal frame buildings. Today, he is vice president of the Schwob Steel Structures, a division of Schwob Cos., where he has worked since 1992. Through his efforts, along with company founder, John Schwob, the Dallasbased construction company has helped define the niche of large, hybrid frame buildings.

Mark Cogley is vice president of Bluescope Conventional Steel Services, Kansas City, Mo., which used to be Butler Heavy Structures, a division of Butler Manufacturing Co. Schwob has worked with Butler and Bluescope for years. Cogley says, “Having successfully completed some of the most complex and high-profile buildings projects in the country, Scott has helped to elevate the metal construction market. Because of Scott’s work, perceptions of what is possible in metal construction has changed for the better.”

A Start

Knepper, 61, got his start in the metal building industry when he was in his late teens and needed a summer job. A youth hockey coach, Ernie Horn, set him up with work, and he stayed with steel erection business for the rest of his career. “I worked for a company, Minnis Erection, that was the largest metal building erector in North Texas and probably all of Texas at one time. Minnis actually put Mesco Metal Buildings on the map.”

Knepper stayed with Minnis for eight years. His job management skills were recognized early and by the time he was 21 he had been promoted to superintendent. In the mid-80s, he went into business for himself as a local erector in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.

A fateful accident, though, changed Knepper’s fortunes. “I pursued the large complex metal buildings. I had always worked on large projects and didn’t have an interest the commodity buildings. Back in 1989, I fell off a hangar at Dallas Love Field and fractured my skull and broke my neck and my back and that changed everything.”

“Our highest priority is safety. It’s part of our culture. Everything is focused around the health and safety of all employees as Schwob and all other trades on a project site.”

Scott Knepper, vice president, Schwob Steel Structures 

Because he was sole proprietor and superintendent of his own company with only two crews, it left him in a precarious financial spot. On the rebound in 1991, he joint ventured with Schwob and Sage Building Co., on a Costco building in Billings, Mont. “We had to erect it in 45 days in the late fall,” he says. “it was a very, very successful project and [John Schwob] approached me to buy my company. So I agreed to make the move.”

A Niche

In 1999, Dan Sage left the company and it reorganized as Schwob Companies. Today, John’s son Scott Schwob is CEO and he owns the company in partnership with Andrew Erickson. He says of Knepper, “He is always detailed and organized in his planning. Always innovative in the way he looks at his work. Safety requirements are at the top of the list. The technical aspects of the steel erection … He really has a knack for visualizing the safest, most efficient way to erect these structures. He has been one of the industry trend setters of company with new and better and safer ways to erect these big projects.”

“Our company was one of the first to go to 100 percent tie-off on the steel erection,” Schwob says. “We sort innovated the tie-off procedures before OSHA required it.”

Under Knepper’s direction, Schwob Steel Structures became one of the few metal building erectors to become an American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) Advanced Certified Erector. Operations manager for the Steel Structures, Billy Marsh, says, “We used that program to raise ourselves up to help manage the quality and manage our processes. Scott was the driving force in doing that. He wanted to have that distinction.”

Separating from the competition and finding new niches is a theme with Knepper and Schwob Companies. They didn’t always chase the large hybrid buildings. In the 1990s, Schwob was one of the first companies to jump into erecting large distribution centers that major retailers were building around the country. Many were more than a million square feet. That work lasted for several years.

“I noticed the market was becoming a bit more saturated,” says Knepper. “Other erectors had noticed they could do the work, and the arena got pretty full.”

In 1998, Knepper changed the strategy, which would include more than just erection work. “I purposely made the shift into more complex and heavier hybrid structures,” says Knepper. “There were not a lot of people who could do that kind of work at the time. So I restructured the business model to design, provide and erect complex hybrid structures to major clients.”

Schwob points to the P302V Maintenance Hangar at Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Fla., as a great example of the kind of work Knepper can achieve. Working with Butler Heavy Structures, the team designed and erected a structure with 455-foot and 428-foot clear spans on the front of the hangar, which were record-setting spans.

That kind of capability for Schwob Cos. and the industry may not have been done if Knepper hadn’t been on board. “He’s unique,” says Schwob. “His experience and ability to organize people, schedule projects and create lift plans that are done safely.”

Marsh says, “The biggest compliment about Scott’s influence in the market is from an employer I had 15 years ago. He had a construction problem. His response was to call Scott and ask him what they should do. He used Scott as a sounding board to resolve a problem we were having with erecting a building.”