HM Brandt, LLC Is Back for a Second Act
Second generation revives demolition business with sights on sustainability
Mike Brandt, Vice President of Operations at HM Brandt, LLC, can hardly remember a time when his son, Austin wasn’t working by his side, learning some aspect of the business.
“I’ve been teaching Austin everything I know since he could walk,” Mike says. “I would be running the backhoe and he’d be there sitting on my lap, his hands on my hands as I was operating the machine.”
HM Brandt, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based demolition and waste removal company, was started by Mike and his wife, Heidi in 1993 as HMB Contractors. Austin was always somewhere nearby, his father recalls.
As a child, Austin could often be found hanging out with the mechanic at his dad’s shop, so it wasn’t a surprise when the younger Brandt went to the local technical college to study diesel mechanics. But this path didn’t last long (proudly, Austin’s dad will say it’s because he knew more than the instructor), and soon Austin decided to go into the family demolition business.
By this time, Mike and Heidi had mostly shuttered the company as a result of the 2008-2009 recession. Mike was consulting for other businesses while Heidi went back to her first career as a schoolteacher. But when Austin said he was ready to follow in his father’s footsteps, they revived the family business as HM Brandt & Son in 2010. In 2018, Austin took over full ownership from his parents, becoming President of a new firm, HM Brandt, LLC.
Mike and Heidi had built a successful business once, and they are pleased to support Austin as he’s grown the revived business over the last decade. Along with continuing to teach, Heidi serves as the company’s CFO. Mike plays an active role in operations as well as teaching Austin the other aspects of the business, such as estimating.
Safety Is a Team Effort
While some demolition companies offer excavation and grading services, HM Brandt has focused strictly on demolition, of both entire structures as well as selective demolition, for industrial, commercial and retail customers.
That’s because demolition is a specialized niche—more than just knocking down a building.
“Pretty much every demo job you’re going to step foot onto is going to be different in one way or another,” Austin says. “You never have the same routine. It’s constantly changing from one job to another.”
Each demolition has its own set of considerations that require a fresh approach.
“Demolition is a puzzle. It truly is a puzzle,” Mike says. “Every single person takes their piece of the puzzle and is important in what they do.”
No matter the size or complexity of the project, safety is always the top consideration for HM Brandt.
“You can’t hire someone who doesn’t want to listen and doesn’t want to follow safety protocols,” Austin says. “If you can’t be safe while you’re working and you can’t adhere to the rules, then you have no business being in this line of work because you could get yourself or someone around you killed.”
Safety training is baked into everything employees learn at HM Brandt. New employees start out on the ground—not on a skid loader or excavator—building on skills as they go and learning the why of what they are doing each step of the way.
Lunchbox safety talks also keep the whole team sharp on safety protocols and up to date on regulations.
When hiring for their growing team, the Brandts are looking for people who want to commit, grow and learn the trade.
“You don’t just read in a book and learn about demolition. It’s hands-on,” Mike says.
“We’re looking for a guy, in our world, who is dedicated, believes in safety, and willing to learn,” he continues. “If the guy doesn’t buy into our safety culture, he doesn’t last very long.”
In fact, the safety culture is so strong, Mike says, employees do their own policing of new hires to make sure they are being safe.
But once someone proves to be a good fit, Austin says that person gels with the rest of the team and becomes part of the HM Brandt family. As a company, they celebrate birthdays with a cookout on the job site or by gathering for an after-work celebration.
“We’re all pretty tightknit,” Austin says of the team.
Big-Name Projects Get Noticed
While safety comes first on HM Brandt jobs, cleanliness is a close second. The company has developed a reputation for its spick-and-span job sites, which even led to snagging a contract as a preferred vendor for Milwaukee Tool.
Between 2017-2018, HM Brandt conducted an exterior demolition on the Milwaukee Tool headquarters building, completely stripping back the facade in preparation for a remodel. The headquarters remained in operation during the demolition, requiring the crew to work around the comings and goings of employees.
When it comes to cleanliness, “keeping things picked up throughout the day helps at the end of the day,” Austin says. Materials are separated into dumpsters over the course of the day for landfill and recycling, so getting the job site cleaned up at the end of the day isn’t a chore.
He notes that the company’s excellent work made a statement, and Milwaukee Tool added the firm to its preferred vendor list. HM Brandt has completed several more jobs for Milwaukee since then.
Another recent job the Brandts are proud of is the complete demolition of the old Roundy’s grocery chain headquarters that took place at the beginning of 2020. The buildings were demolished to make way for new development, including removing 300,000 square feet of foundation. Ninety percent of the building materials were recycled and the concrete from the foundation was crushed on-site—a total of 200,000 tons.
The HM Brandt team self-performed the entire job, including the roll-off service. Diversifying into not only hauling away the demolition debris but also recycling as much of the material as possible is an important new focus for the company. The company began offering roll-off services in 2018.
“Even though we’ve come a long way, there is currently a gap in the deconstruction and construction industry in regard to recycling and sustainability that we would like to close,” Austin says.
Sustainability Is Key to the Future
Reducing waste is something Mike and Heidi have cared about since the early days in the business, instilling those values in this next generation. Along with Austin, their daughter, Cheyenne has joined the business as a partner, bringing with her the knowledge she earned studying environmental science and sustainability at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Mike demonstrates those values as a board member for the Milwaukee-based nonprofit WasteCap Resource Solutions, Inc., an organization that provides waste reduction and recycling assistance to businesses. He believes it is important for businesses to step up to do their part to reduce waste, even if it’s not profitable. Prices for salvage—from scrap metal to vintage wood to brick—have dropped, but it remains important to divert materials from the waste stream, he says.
“It really has to come from oneself to do that—whether there’s money in it or not,” Mike says.
HM Brandt often donates anything that can be reused, such as furniture or heaters, to nonprofit organizations. Among the organizations receiving donations is Prairie Hill Waldorf School, where Austin and his siblings attended classes as children.
Austin says they are willing to go the extra mile to separate materials on the job site because it’s the right thing to do and because he believes it will become more of an imperative for the industry.
“I think there are eventually going to be requirements that certain percentages of materials have to be recycled,” Austin predicts.
And, by leading the way in sustainability today, he is hopeful this philosophy will give HM Brandt the leading edge in the future.
Mike says he is incredibly proud of the professional Austin has become since joining him in business a decade ago. Passing down his knowledge of the industry and helping him make connections has been fulfilling. As much as Mike has been a teacher to his son, he says the teaching goes both ways.
“Many times—I gotta be honest—I learn from him,” Mike says.
Now that Austin has a young son of his own, Mike is looking forward to seeing a new generation come up in the family business.
“I’m really looking forward to someday seeing my grandson, Myles, working right by the side of his dad,” Mike says.