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T.K. Frahm: A career to metal buildings with a focus on safety and quality

2016 Metal Construction Hall of Fame

Frahm  Tk Lores

T.K. Frahm has walked both sides of the street. In considering him for the Hall of Fame, the judges needed to decide between entering him in the contractor/installer category or the manufacturer/supplier category. Frahm has done it all. In the end, though, it is his grounding in the contractor side that informed the decision.

No matter whether Frahm was working in his own metal building erection company or through the manufacturer side, his focus throughout his life-long devotion to the metal building industry has been on the safety of the participants and the integrity of the product.

An On-Site Career

Frahm grew up on a farm near Hastings, Neb., but by the end of his high school, his father had decided to work with Frahm's uncle in Decatur, Ill., for Lasco Construction, a metal building contractor. That brought Frahm to Decatur during the summers, where he learned the ropes of the industry. After graduating from the University of Nebraska in 1966 with a degree in business and doing a stint in the army, he returned to Decatur and started working for his uncle full time.

Opportunity came calling in 1972 in the voice of Jim Rice, Rice Construction, Denver. Rice asked Frahm to come work for him and sell metal buildings. The company was affiliated with Houston-based Metallic Building Co. and during that time was, according to Frahm, one of the largest contractors selling Metallic. Although Frahm had little experience in sales, he took on the challenge.

"My motto has been 'S-Q-S.' Safety first, quality second and then speed will result from it."

T.K. Frahm

"We sold a lot of buildings," Frahm says, "but I didn't like the quality of the craftsmanship. I had $1,000 in pocket so I started my own erection company. I would sell Metallic buildings through Rice, then do the erection through my company."

Frahm started that company in 1973, and it was the impulse to improve the quality of construction that pushed him forward, an impulse that he has carried throughout his career.

For 23 years, Frahm ran his construction company until Butler Manufacturing Inc., Kansas City, Mo., called and asked him to come work for it. For the next phase of his career, he worked on the manufacturer side, helping to make sure construction of Butler buildings was done safely and properly.

After briefly owning a resort in the Ozarks, he returned to the industry and Butler where he became the national manager of construction. Eventually, Frahm ended back on the contracting side of the industry, taking a position in 2007 as director of operations for Span Construction and Engineering, Madera, Calif., the largest metal building contractor in the country.

Sharing his Knowledge

Through his involvement in the Metal Building Manufacturers Association (MBMA), where he served as chair of the construction committee and the Metal Building Contractors & Erectors Association (MBCEA), which he had been involved with for more than 40 years and now serves as president of the Southern California Chapter, Frahm has also driven the word of safety. And he has done it for a very good purpose. His older brother, who he valued as his best friend and a mentor, died in 1983 on the job site from a 25-foot fall.

"My motto has been 'S-Q-S.' Safety first, quality second and then speed will result from it," Frahm says. "I remember the days of climbing columns, standing on a bull pin stuck in a punched hole while making a connection, or hanging upside down for a haunch connection with only your heel hooked under a flange. Safety requirements have definitely changed and will always need continuous improvement."

Mentoring New Talent

His devotion to improving the industry can be seen in the Metal Building Institute's Quality and Craftsmanship training modules, which he helped develop and served on camera as an instructor. He also assisted in creating the curriculum for MBCEA's AC478 accreditation program.

Those interests aren't unusual, according to Wesley Young, director of product training and development for NCI Building Systems, Houston. Young is on the board of directors for MBCEA, and he worked with Frahm at Butler in the mid-1990s. "In a very short time, he became a go-to person when needing technical information and guidance regarding the assembly and general product approach to metal buildings," Young says. "His experiences as an installer and consultant were immeasurable to young recruits coming into the metal building industry."

Later, Young worked for Frahm as a field consultant. "In this role, it was evident to see Tom wanting to mentor and help his employees to success," he says. "Many times is it was by challenging them with things and job site issues outside their comfort zone to get them to expand their own capabilities."

When nominating Frahm for the Hall of Fame as a founder, MBCEA noted his devotion to helping others in the same way Young has, and said, "Everyone considers him a go-to guy. He is often the calming voice the eases the way between erectors and manufacturers. He has a unique ability to see both sides of a problem and facilitate a solution that is a win-win for everyone."

"If it helps the metal building industry, I'll do it," says Frahm. "My thrill is working with people and trailing them on how to do it correctly. And just give them field knowledge. What I've learned through the years."