Committed to the Company
Employee-owners bring their best to Ancon Construction
Every business owner wants employees who work like they own the company—a culture where everyone gives their all. That’s an everyday occurrence in this 100% employee-owned firm, according to John Place, President of Ancon Construction.
Andy Frech founded Ancon in 1975, performing new construction and additions of metal buildings, later evolving and diversifying service lines within the construction industry. Today, Ancon is a design-build construction firm with an in-house design team.
Think Like an Owner
As the company grew in the ’80s and ’90s, Andy realized his children weren’t interested in taking over the business, so he started exploring the creation of an employee-owned company. It took him about 10 years to get it all in place for the employees to buy him out. That was 1999. He retired at that time and now serves on the company’s board of directors.
John joined the company in 1994 and was immediately intrigued by the employee-owned concept, which was finalized in 1999. “It was very appealing to me. I had my own business previously, and I liked having a chunk of the company as a part owner. The idea works well because it attracts some of the best talent who think like an owner,” he explains.
“We believe people get better service with their projects because the employees’ stock accounts rely on how well the company does each year,” John adds. “This practice also helps with retention.”
Here’s the way it works for Ancon team members: After 1,000 hours of work, they become eligible for stock ownership. There is no cost to the employee. Once a year, the company’s performance is evaluated by a third-party Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) management firm to review Ancon’s financial statements, determine what the value is and advise the company on how much stock to distribute. The amount in each employee’s account continues to increase until retirement. Once retired, the amount is paid out over a four-year time period. If an employee leaves before retirement, there is a two-year waiting period to claim what they accrued.
“To me, it is great,” John says. “For those employees who live paycheck-to-paycheck, they may have several hundred thousand dollars saved when they retire,” he adds. “We do extensive training about what ESOP means for people, and we make sure that they understand that their efforts pay off.”
John believes that the ESOP component has also helped as the team works harder. “The effort is there, and they are consistently working for the welfare of the company, which makes a big difference. Our culture is founded on our employees and their ownership stake; we want them to be successful and have a prosperous retirement. Now, having been successfully 100% employee-owned for 20 years, we look forward to the future and adding an entirely new generation of employee-owners to our Ancon team,” he says.
Being employee-owned is also a great marketing tool, he says. “It is a selling point for us. People perk up when we talk about our ESOP program because everyone acts as an owner. Our team wants to help you, as a customer, create a successful end-product,” John adds.
Want a Virtual Tour?
John says Ancon has morphed into a company that excels in high-end, high-quality design-build projects. With an architect and two designers in-house, they help design structures for the construction team to build. “We are truly a one-stop shop, and we continue to expand our in-house architecture team while utilizing state-of-the-art technology like 3D modeling and virtual walk-throughs of buildings,” he says.
The kinds of construction projects Ancon completes is diverse. Projects range from offices to retail, manufacturing to dental and everything in between.
With construction costs on the rise, John says the design-build capabilities are essential because Ancon’s architect and designers understand that clients want a great-looking project that is constructible, aesthetically pleasing and affordable, as well. “Something may look great on paper, but once it gets to the construction firm, a project may have to be redesigned because the original architects didn’t understand the costs,” he adds.
Ancon Chief Financial Officer Rhett Fisher says he never wants to dampen creativity, but “we have to deliver a project that the customer wants to be in, but doesn’t cost more than they can afford. We work with outside architects routinely; but when our design-build team works together on both aspects, it is amazing at how much simpler the process can be.”
About 60 to 80% of Ancon’s construction projects each year come from the design-build process, Rhett says.
A Look at How It Works
A great example of a design-build project is the Goshen Aquatic Center, a community project that was difficult to get within budget—but John proudly says that the end result is one of the top aquatic centers in Indiana. “It is an incredible high-end swim facility for the school and community,” he says.
The project includes an aquatic center, a cafeteria and a music addition for Goshen Community Schools. After being selected from more than a half-dozen competitive bids, John says the original design had to be scrapped to save money. The original wish list from the school district was about $4 million more than the school’s fixed budget of $15.88 million. The Ancon team, Goshen schools personnel and the architects from Barton-Coe-Vilamaa worked together over several months to retool the design to get the project in budget.
“We are transparent and upfront with realistic expectations and budgets. We want our clients to understand early on, before we get too deep into it, what will work better. We won’t surprise them at the end with something they didn’t want or expect,” John explains.
John says Ancon forges partnerships with many of its clients, resulting in multiple projects. Over the years, Ancon has built more than 45 buildings for Goodwill. “Even before I joined Ancon, the firm was working with Goodwill. Every year, we do about two new facilities. We are fortunate that they reach out to us because of our relationship. We will help with site selection to determine cost issues that might be associated with different sites, and they appreciate our work with them,” he says.
The Goodwill projects that Ancon has completed include retail stores, donation drop-off sites (typically ranging from about 15,000 to 20,000 square feet), as well as a 105,000-square-foot warehouse in Gary, Indiana, where the organization does its sorting.
“We are taking on more of their educational projects, as well,” Rhett says. “These include GED-equivalent classrooms. They’re growing great educational initiatives in our area and have been a strong partner to the schools and community. The Goodwill locations here do wonderful things for people who need assistance to get back on their feet. We are pleased to see them expanding in all kinds of wonderful ways. It has been super rewarding, not only for us, but for the community.”
An example of one of the educational projects is The Excel Center operated by Goodwill Education Initiatives, Inc., a not-for-profit organization formed by Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana. The center provides support services such as on-site child care, transportation assistance and college credit and industry-recognized certification courses—all at no cost.
Creating a Cornerstone
In 2007, Ancon built the NIBCO Water and Ice Park in Elkhart, Indiana, as part of the city’s downtown revitalization effort. The NIBCO Ice Park was the first of its kind in the United States, John says. Going beyond a traditional ice-skating rink, it features a 13-foot-wide path that travels approximately 410 feet around and connects to a 90-foot round skating area. On the grounds is a warming hut with lockers, a skate rental area and a concession stand. During the summer, the circular portion is a splash pad, and the path can be used for inline skating.
“This project required a massive amount of underground piping that had to be installed with specialized concrete, which our crews are adept at pouring. We didn’t have a single issue with that project, and it is a great place to come in the winter as well as in the summer when it transforms into a splash pad,” John says.
“This was a cornerstone project for downtown Elkhart,” Rhett adds. “They wanted something to serve as a catalyst to draw people back into town and it’s worked; they’ve already expanded this area block by block.”
Can We Fix It? Yes, We Can
Ancon Building Services (ABS) is a division, added in 1988, to meet the growing need to service small commercial and industrial projects, Rhett says. “The division is dedicated to commercial and industrial building repairs and projects like office remodeling, routine maintenance as well as preventative maintenance, structural repairs, roof leaks, ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance upgrades and much more.”
Rhett says ABS can handle small projects such as remodeling and building repairs, metal building repairs, small concrete projects, etc. ABS started in late 1980s because it was growing harder to pull employees from a big project to do small repairs.
“The challenge we have with ABS is that many people don’t realize this division exists. We can do anything from a small building repair up to projects in the millions,” Rhett explains.
Accolades & Giving Back
Ancon has won a number of awards for design and construction excellence from the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of Indiana/Kentucky in categories such as commercial, specialty, site work, health care, renovation, interiors and education.
“When you are selling yourself as a one-stop shop for design-build construction, the award-winning projects illustrate our expertise in the industry,” Rhett says.
Beyond the recognition for a job well done, John says it is extremely important to Ancon to also give back to the community. “Andy Frech had the philosophy of community service from the start,” John says.
Ancon has supplied labor and materials for multiple Habitat for Humanity houses over recent years. The Ancon team voted on small nonprofits to serve, and ABS has been a great resource for those projects, Rhett says. In addition to their Habitat service, Ancon built a new deck for New Start 2020 (a home for women who have endured domestic violence), participated in The Big Give, which provides toys and gifts to needy children during the holidays, and assisted with the Elkhart County 4-H Fair.
“When we have some down time, we have the tools and the manpower to make repairs for nonprofits,” Rhett says. “Giving back to our communities is vital to growth and prosperity. We live and work here.”
“Everything we do is to help our clients and our team members be successful,” John says. “We often hear a client tell us that a builder or architect didn’t listen to them, which means they may end up with a space that doesn’t function well for them. Our motto is: ‘Before We Design, Before We Build…We Listen.’ “
John emphasizes that their motto is much more than “just lip service. Our employees do the right thing. We strive for that, and if there is an issue on the job, we tell our team to look at it from the customer’s perspective and to do the right thing,” he says.