2019 Metal Construction Hall of Fame
For metal building contractors, the opportunity to influence an industry is rare and requires substantial devotion and energy. Bill Johnson, Evans Building Co., Wichita, Kan., took a relatively small platform—a metal building contracting company—in a small market and through his devotion and energy helped convert building owners far beyond his reach to the value of pre-engineered metal buildings (PEMB). That success came through his efforts on two fronts: through the Kansas Systems Builders Association (KSBA) and through the company he grew up in and bought in 1993: Evans Building Co.
KSBA was a chapter of the Systems Builders Association, which eventually became the Metal Building Contractors & Erectors Association (MBCEA), and in its nomination of Johnson, MBCEA said, “Bill Johnson has been a driving force in the pre-engineered metal building industry for over 45 years. He is continually trying to push the industry ahead in the Wichita area and in pre-engineered metal building’s industry.”
We hope that when we’re done, no matter what it’s cost, it looks like it’s worth more than it cost.
Bill Johnson, Evan’s Building Co.
Richard Fortner, CPA, Fortner & Short LLC, Wichita, became involved in the KSBA in the 1970s as a young CPA because he did a lot of work with contractors. Even at that time, Evans Building was a strong force in the industry, with the founder, John Evans, Johnsons’ uncle, being instrumental in the association. “We were dealing with a perception of metal buildings as a negative image,” says Fortner. “I saw them—[Evans Building Co. and KSBA]—educating people about pre-engineered metal buildings. Johnson was synonymous with Evans Building Co. and KSBA and has been instrumental in developing the current images of PEMB, which I think is real strong.”
KSBA tackled promotional, zoning and code issues and gave a voice to the industry. At that time, in Wichita, it represented the heart of the metal building industry. “When I think of KSBA,” says Fortner, “I think of a handful of people and companies, and Evans Building was prominent. Bill almost would have carried it on his shoulders to make sure it kept going. He didn’t understand why KSBA couldn’t continue, and if it ever came up, he never sat still for any discussion other than the importance of the association and its role in the industry.”
A Life in the Industry
Johnson’s uncle, John Evans, founded Evans Building Co. in the 1960s with two partners, and Johnson began working with him when he was a junior in high school. After graduating from Friends University, Wichita, in 1971, he took a position with an engineering firm in Colorado, but had an offer from a car dealer in his hometown, Goodland, Kan., to sell cars. “I’ve always been a car nut,” says Johnson, “and as a hobby I sold cars to people in Colorado.” His uncle heard of the offer and made a counter offer. Johnson recalled telling his uncle, “I don’t want to be stuck at a desk. My uncle said, ‘Why don’t you sell metal buildings for us?’”
Johnson started working at Evans Building in 1973 and rather than being behind a desk, he sold metal building systems. Beyond that, throughout his career, Johnson took on most of the roles in the company from field to estimating to sales. In 1996, he bought the company after his uncle passed away. In the interim, he had purchased a previous partner’s shares of the company, making him sole owner and president.
During that time, Johnson used the platform of Evans Building to become involved not just in KSBA, but also the Associated General Contractors and the Wichita Independent Business Association. Through those organizations, Johnson has brought the construction industry—and specifically the metal building industry—together with the general business industry. In particular, his involvement with the Sedgwick County Planning Commission over the last 22 years has promoted the industry at the most important local level. He has continually worked to improve people’s knowledge of PEMB systems by hosting lunch and learns with architects, city council members and other groups.
“Originally, we started out with Mesco [Building Solutions],” says Johnson, “Then we switched to Inland Ryerson [now Inland Building Systems]. After that [we] went with a company called Breeden, out of Tulsa, Okla. They ended up consolidating with Metallic [Building Co.], so when we knew were going to have change, we came up with Varco Pruden [Buildings].” Evans Building has been a Varco Pruden Builder since 1982, and that indication of loyalty has been a watchword and defining characteristic of the company throughout its tenure.
“One of our things has always been to be loyal and committed to our team,” says Johnson, “Whether it’s to our team or a manufacturer, banker, insurer or whoever. We don’t jump around.”
In other words, Evans Building doesn’t shop price; it promotes value in all of its partnerships. “We’ve been with Varco since the ‘80s,” says Johnson. “We’ve been with the same bank since the ’80s; probably the same insurance carrier. Of course, our subs and our suppliers have worked with us for over 30 years.”
That extends to Evan’s Building’s customers. “We have some companies we’ve built eight to 10 buildings for,” Johnson says. “We don’t go after a one-shot deal. We feel like we sell value, and we do about 99 percent of our stuff design-build, where you can be very open to an owner and tell them what it costs. We hope that when we’re done, no matter what it’s cost, it looks like it’s worth more than it cost. It becomes kind of a landmark of its own. Wherever it’s set, we want to draw attention to it.”