Leveraging diverse capabilities to stand out from the competition Kahn Construction Corporation
For Tom Kahn, the President of Kahn Construction Corporation, of Centennial, Colorado, diversified experience is what sets his company apart from other contractors. “That’s one of the things that makes us uniquely different,” Tom says. Since its start in 1990, Kahn Construction has completed a wide variety of design-build construction projects, including mixed-use, multifamily, office, K-12 and higher education, restaurant, recreational, retail and industrial facilities.
Before starting his company, Tom began his career as a project manager for a large general contractor based in Denver. He then spent four years as the director of construction for a real estate development firm. “I’ve got a diverse background that includes both experience from the general contractor side as well as the development side,” Tom says. “That experience enabled me to build a successful company.”
Founded during the aftermath of the real estate recession of the late 1980s, Kahn Construction “started when the real estate market was at the bottom,” Tom says. “You could only go one way. Up is what we had to do.”
Rather than focusing on a single aspect of the industry, Tom cast as wide a net as possible. “I wanted to do all types of construction,” he says. Initially, this wide-ranging approach resulted in slower growth, as the company had to enter multiple construction sectors and compete against established players in each. However, this tactic paid off in the long run. “Now we’re seeing the benefits of having such a diverse portfolio,” he notes. “That’s helping us to grow even more now.”
That said, Kahn Construction is not just focused on growth for the sake of growth. “We’re not trying to become a $100 million company,” Tom says. “We don’t take on projects just to take on more work. We’re very selective about what we take and who we do business with.”
The company’s base of operations is in Colorado, mostly along the Front Range, though the team will go farther afield when necessary. “As long as we have enough work to fill up our plate, we stay close to home,” Tom says. “But if a client wants us to go out of state, we certainly would be willing to do that.”
Working with Municipalities
Clients of Kahn Construction benefit from more than just the company’s broad expertise in building. “If you understand a municipality’s agenda and system, you can work with them to get projects approved quickly,” Tom notes.
This understanding, Tom contends, is another aspect that distinguishes Kahn Construction from its competitors. “We’re about more than just the construction site,” he says. “Anybody can take a set of drawings and give you a price and build a building. That doesn’t make them uniquely different. But what makes us different is our heightened ability to work with a range of municipalities.”
Kahn Construction’s main offerings consist of pre-construction services, design-build and construction management. As part of its pre-construction efforts, the company can perform site selection evaluations, conduct cost analyses of building type options, provide value engineering of building components, and develop estimated budgets and schedules. “We have prepared turnkey development budgets for many of our clients,” Tom says.
The company’s experience lends itself particularly well to the estimating process. “We have the unique ability to put together pricing early on and hold that pricing through the course of the design,” Tom notes.
Project owners stand to benefit from the growing trend toward design-build in construction, and this is certainly the case for clients of Kahn Construction. “With what we offer, our getting on the team early helps clients get projects done quicker, on time and within budget,” Tom states. This team approach facilitates better ideas, better decisions and better planning, he adds, leading to overall savings and a more successful project.
When it comes to construction management, Kahn Construction collaborates closely with the owner as well as all other project participants, including architects, trade contractors and subcontractors. Depending on the project and the owner’s needs, Kahn Construction can act as an adviser and oversee construction contracts or operate at risk and assume the contractual obligation to deliver an entire project.
Like many construction companies, Kahn Construction is a family affair. The company is a 50/50 partnership between Tom and his wife, Leigh, who has her own market research business, Kahn Research Inc. Although Leigh is not involved in the day-to-day affairs of Kahn Construction, the company benefited significantly from her marketing acumen when it was just getting started. “She was very helpful in helping me market the company in its early years,” Tom says.
Tom and Leigh’s two older sons, Kevin and Jason, also work for Kahn Construction. Kevin, 42, began by sweeping floors for the company at the age of 13. “He’s grown up in the business,” Tom says. “He was willing to put the ‘sweat equity’ into it, working as a laborer.” Kevin went on to become a carpenter before going to college to earn a degree in construction management. After working in the field as a Superintendent, Kevin assumed his current role of Chief Operating Officer at Kahn Construction.
Jason, 33, works for the company as an Assistant Superintendent. He joined Kahn Construction after completing a four-year apprenticeship as a journeyman carpenter through the Construction Industry Training Council of Colorado. “We’re hoping that he’ll be able to become a full-fledged superintendent and then follow in Kevin’s footsteps,” Tom says.
The Kahns’ youngest son, Tyler, 27, previously worked for the family business. After completing a two-year internship at Kahn Construction, Tyler took a job with a wholesale landscaping company.
Although he ultimately plans to hand over the company reins to Kevin, Tom is in no hurry to do so. “As long as I’m having fun,” Tom says, “why would I want to quit?”
Kahn Construction has 15 employees. Although it took a while, the company was able to rehire most of the staff who were let go because of the economic downturn of 2008/2009. The employees’ willingness to return speaks to the positive, cooperative spirit of the company’s staff, Tom maintains. “We have a team around here,” he explains. “We’re more successful because people feel like they’re contributing to a team, rather than simply performing a job.”
The company also strives to ensure staff members have what they need to do a good job. “Our philosophy has always been to empower our employees and give them the tools they need to be successful,” he says. “Everybody understands their job and knows what they’re doing. It makes them and the company better—another distinction that makes us stand out in our highly competitive construction market.”