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Bob Ketenbrink: A leader in safety and education for metal building contractors

2012 Metal Construction Hall of Fame

Bob Ketenbrink

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).

"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 investment."

Bob Ketenbrink

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.