Not Different, But Better
Bayland Buildings, Inc. rallies its team to embrace challenges and change
In 1991, Steve Ambrosius and his partner pooled $50,000, converted a home washroom into an office and formed Bayland Buildings, Inc. (Bayland).
“One person couldn’t move a chair without hitting the other,” Steve remembers. “We had one desk phone and two pagers. We put every waking minute into the work.” Projects one, two and three were a home garage, an orchard building and a homebuilder’s workshop. The first year’s sales of $256,000 left no salary for the Bayland owners but they managed to pay their two employees.
So much for history. Steve eventually bought out his partner, and today Bayland is an employee-owned powerhouse of some 250 people. The firm grosses about $125 million a year as they design and construct offices, warehouses, apartments, assisted living facilities, hotels, restaurants, farms and megafarms, and retail and manufacturing complexes. Bayland’s own buildings stretch from its headquarters outside of Green Bay to its Seymour, Wisconsin, agriculture division, to AgriSteel in Oshkosh, which produces structural components for any size barn or agricultural facility anywhere in the country.
Thirty years after two chairs made a crowd, Bayland’s company buildings alone cover more than 160,000 square feet.
The Credit Goes To…
Who gets credit for this company’s fast three-decade rise? For that Steve salutes the competition. In the endless chess game for clients and workers, he says, Bayland’s repeated best move is to “put in more hours, put up with more stress and take the chances.” Client goodwill keeps work flowing in, he says, and great benefits keep great employees.
The Bayland team learned early on, Steve says, to value-engineer with “the coolest products we could get a company to sell us” and “step up the wow factor.”
The company’s first big break came in a bid against “the big dogs,” in Steve’s words. Bayland won a $6 million contract to build the Hoida Lumber company’s new relocation in Ashwaubenon, Wisconsin. “We sold as hard as we could,” he recalls. “When we got word that they were going to take a chance on us, we were crazy nervous, wondering if we underbid, wondering if we would be in business after it all. We were all crazy and excited at the same time.”
As time passed, Bayland built its brand—consistently completing work on schedule, persistently shaving expenses, doggedly searching for better ideas—using technology to involve clients in the day-to-day as much or as little as they wished. Eventually, word-of-mouth referrals shot to 80%.
“It’s less about being different than being better,” Bayland CEO Chad Calmes says, and Steve nods. Then Steve adds, “That applies to our teams, too.”
Giving Employees the Business
“Team members” is Bayland-speak for its “employees,” who now own 100% of their company through its Employee Stock Ownership Program. The ownership transition began in 2006 at 30% and soared, 10 years later, to 100%. In a tight market, to secure the best people, Bayland’s move was to share the business to everyone’s benefit. “You set a structure and the employees take it to a new level,” Steve says.
The construction industry has traditionally been a steppingstone, Steve explains. Twenty years ago that changed when the best construction companies added 401(k) programs, retirement packages, profit sharing and insurance. Now building and design careers offer security, longevity and prosperity.
But careers alone don’t keep the best people. A company of professionals that grew by working together Monday through Friday and socializing with families on weekends naturally serves up more than financials. “Even at this size, it’s about community,” Steve says. “Every crew is a team with a team leader and a spirit of mutual support. You look out for your co-workers.”
This year, in a major milestone, Bayland marked 1 million manhours with no lost time due to accidents—a testament, Chad says, to Bayland disciplines and to its employees’ relentless attention in looking out for each other. His term is cross- accountability. “We all know it’s more than a job,” he says.
“More than a job” is evident on Fridays when management staff may appear on a worksite to grill burgers. Summers in the office bring cookouts for the staff there as well. “We’re in it together,” Steve says. “We’re good to our team members, they’re good to each other and to the customers, and the cycle goes around.”
Steve pauses. “We’ve had employees leave and come back,” he says, thoughtfully, “because they say we’re a better place to work. I’m always glad to hear it. We expect high quality and hard work, but it’s more than work.”
Chad first encountered the Bayland culture when he was in high school, working with his dad on a furniture store job in Appleton. And he remembers the impression.
“They were efficient and organized, good communicators,” Chad says. “They had clean sites and were great to work with.” When he was ready to make a change, Chad’s first call was to Bayland, where his job interview with Steve made another strong impression, this time on both men, and Chad was in.
From project manager to upper management and operations, then to vice president of operations and beyond, Chad thrived, he says, on Steve’s drive—his “new efficiencies and new ways to attack challenges.” Absorbing both the complexities and the ethics of the workplace, Chad mastered project management, materials, client service, timing and deadlines, and transparency. “Watching Steve,” he said, “I learned about motiving people to do even the things they think can’t be done.”
Steve, now President of Bayland, returns Chad’s admiration—in many cases, he says, for the ways he and Chad are different. “He’s intelligent and smooth where I can be headstrong; he’s slow to jump to conclusions,” Steve says. “He responds, but he analyzes first. I ask him to review papers because he reads like an attorney. He’s thoughtful, and people love him. He respects so he’s respected.”
The Sum of Its People
Ask Chad what he loves about his work as Bayland CEO and he focuses on the people and the variety. “I love rallying the team to new challenges,” he says, “figuring out what at first seems to be an impossible schedule or project. We take it on as a group, and we have the resources. We have more than 150 people out in the field and in manufacturing—and skilled construction managers and engineers and architects. In the building world, whatever it is, we can get it done.”
“I get to work with everyone in the company, all aspects—field, estimating, purchasing, sales—and I feel the pride collectively,” Chad concludes. “We function well in teams. We hold each other accountable to our core values. At the end of the day, we accomplish great things.”