Right at Home With Success
Celebrating 30 years with a new headquarters and vintage values
Almost 30 years after launching Kaufman Lynn Construction, Inc. (KL) with a $12,000 loan from his family, Michael Kaufman’s company has grown from a modest team of three employees to a company with four regional offices building multimillion-dollar projects for universities, school districts, municipalities and developers throughout the southeast U.S.
The Delray Beach, Florida-based company—founded in 1989—today employs more than 165 people across four regions, including South Florida, southwest Florida, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Austin, Texas.
The KL CEO started the company after finding himself out of work with a growing family to support. “It was the result of adversity and opportunity,” he says.
Kaufman dusted off his tools from college and took on odd jobs for homeowners and commercial property managers while looking for opportunities to break into the commercial, ground-up side of the construction industry. He started working as a subcontractor using that loan from his family to pay his crew and purchase supplies. Successful completion of his first projects led to other opportunities, allowing him to steadily build the scope and scale of the company’s work.
“Success in the construction market requires the ability to adapt quickly to feast or famine,” Kaufman says. He credits the ability to track and understand costs as one of the company’s core competencies. Having a clear understanding of the financial picture helped Kaufman to make tangible cost cuts early in the 2008 downturn, allowing the company to stay profitable even in its leanest year.
A New Headquarters to Call Home
In October 2017, KL relocated into its new headquarters at 3185 S. Congress Ave. in Delray Beach. Not only does the new headquarters meet KL’s needs for a centrally located state-of-the-art facility to house its team, but it also helped the City of Delray Beach in its goals of growing the Congress Avenue Corridor as a destination for commercial growth, says KL chief operating officer Chris Long. “Identified as Delray Beach’s ‘Next Great Street,’ the city was seeking to transform the 4.1-mile corridor as an emerging area for job creation, business incubation, housing and transit-oriented development,” Long says.
“The city has two main corridors for business: the one we are on, Congress Avenue,” Long explains, “and the primary corridor of Linton Boulevard. Congress has tended to take a backseat to Linton, but the city wanted to develop this corridor and make Congress into more of a business-related hub. The street is located in a semi-urban, industrial-office district of Delray Beach and our new office building was a catalyst for the city’s Congress Avenue Corridor.”
The new headquarters allowed KL to move out of leased space and have its own 23,271-square-foot office building. KL and the design team worked closely with the city to develop a site plan and vision for the development that advanced the city’s objective and would be financially feasible.
In November 2016, KL closed on the land, finalized the design of the shell and started the interior design process. By January 2017, the first foundations were poured and by October 2017, the staff moved into the new building.
“Knowing from the beginning that the project had to be completed in nine months, the team decided to pull separate permits for demolition, foundation, structural/shell, interior and site. This fast-track approach, where construction started prior to the completion of the design, required the entire team to be committed to the schedule,” Kaufman says.
“This site also fits the profile for an office for more than 100 employees, so, we were pleased to be the impetus for future development for the city and this corridor,” Long says. “We were thrilled the city wanted to partner with us and welcomed us to help by expediting the site plan and permitting approval, and also supporting us with quick inspections. This has been a great opportunity for both us and the city to make this happen for the benefit of all,” Long adds.
“With 165 associates, we like the proximity to commuter rail and I-95; and the easy commutes to Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale airports keep our team connected to our projects in the state and our offices in Texas and North Carolina,” Kaufman says.
Business Philosophy: Diversification Plus Agility
Beyond simply keeping the team connected physically, Kaufman says the company’s business model focuses on diversification and agility. The company stays active in a variety of public and private markets, balancing the ebb and flow of each individual market segment. Just as important, Kaufman says, he surrounds himself with a team of professionals who share his ability to make decisions based on a combination of intuition and market data. “This allows the company to respond quickly to market changes, taking advantage of pockets of opportunity that are present even in adversity,” he says.
“I’ve had the honor of learning from three outstanding and accomplished business influencers: Terry Stiles (of Stiles Corporation), and Kevin Koenig and Keith Koenig (of City Furniture),” Kaufman says. “Their work ethic, entrepreneurism and integrity have become the hallmark qualities I have incorporated into my leadership style, and I draw upon the wisdom and inspiration they’ve imparted to me over the years, every day.”
In 2016, while expanding to Florida’s Gulf Coast with an office near Fort Myers, the firm opened offices in Texas and North Carolina to support construction projects in those states. Kaufman also keeps an eye open to look at other areas for growth opportunities.
Kaufman’s response to the 2008 economic downturn exemplifies his willingness to take calculated risks in the face of uncertainty. Rather than hunkering down, Kaufman recognized an opportunity to break into the next level of construction, leading him to invest in new talent and upgraded systems while rolling out internal initiatives to elevate the firm’s performance and continuing to recruit strong talent even as the market has recovered.
KL started a structured mentoring program with each associate having weekly meetings with at least one mentor to address items such as prioritizing and balancing workload and to address any issues or concerns.
“It all goes back to the strategy of moving quickly between market sectors; the best way to achieve that is in the hiring and training of staff. We look for professionals with a broad background and the flexibility to operate in different construction sectors,” Kaufman says. “Weekly mentoring and annual performance reviews are designed to help employees grow in a way that is also beneficial for the company. This may include lateral moves to another market sector or rising responsibility within a sector.”
Over the last two years, Kaufman and his executive team implemented several programs as part of a larger “culture of engagement” initiative. It is a cultural philosophy to focus on helping all associates to be successful. Specific components of this initiative include a formalized career path, performance alignment, mentoring and leadership training. These programs work hand in hand, providing associates with a clear understanding of career advancement opportunities and the skills required to take advantage of these opportunities. The performance alignment is tailored to each individual and addresses both company goals and personal growth goals.
Philanthropy and community involvement are an important part of the company culture as well. Kaufman says he’s humbled by the success the company has achieved and feels a sincere sense of responsibility to ensure all members of the community get similar opportunities to succeed. As a result, employees are strongly encouraged to become engaged in civic involvement. Whether it’s coaching a youth sports team, dedicating time to a religious organization or serving on the board of a nonprofit agency, community involvement is a fundamental part of the KL family tradition, he says.
For example, Kaufman serves on the Dean’s Advisory Board for the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and on the board of directors of the FAU Foundation. He is also a member of the national United Way Tocqueville Society and the Florida Council of 100, an organization of business and community leaders. Kaufman donates his time and support to several industry, community and non-profit organizations, including the Florence Fuller Child Development Centers and the George Snow Scholarship Fund in South Florida.
Long says the leadership team likes to see associates engaged with a variety of organizations. In 2015, KL built the Jean and David Colker Center for Veterans, which is a centralized location across from the United Way of Broward County’s offices in Fort Lauderdale where veterans and military service members can go to receive case management services provided by MISSION UNITEDTM. As a community-based initiative convening and aligning public and private resources in Broward County, MISSION UNITED aims to support U.S. military service members, veterans and their families by helping them re-acclimate to civilian life. “We gave our fee back on the project,” Long says. “We live, work and play here. Our kids go to school here. It is important to give back to the community and be good corporate stewards.”
“We love to do impactful projects like the one for the United Way, but really, all of the jobs we do are special to us,” Long says. “The thing we pride ourselves on is that we get engaged early and work though the projects to fruition.”
KL has a wide variety of trophy projects, including the award-winning first top-to-bottom exterior renovation of Miami’s Freedom Tower. Originally completed in 1925, Miami’s Freedom Tower is a community icon. In 2010, the national historic landmark structure underwent a restoration for its new owners, Miami Dade College. KL completed two phases of construction for the project, including the historic restoration of the exterior of the building as well as the interior renovation of 90,000 square feet including a ballroom and art galleries.
The firm is currently partnering with Miami-based LEAD Engineering Contractors on the Florida Department of Transportation’s $66 million design-build project at the Golden Glades Park & Ride Center in Miami-Dade County. The project calls for construction of an integrated multimodal transportation facility to upgrade the existing Golden Glades Park & Ride Center.
Also in Miami, KL is building the Quadro for Alta Developers. This 12-story mixed-use residential project features 198 rental apartments with views of Biscayne Bay and 28,000 square feet of retail/commercial space.
Another big win for the firm is the $165 million contract for the renovation and expansion of the headquarters campus of JM Family Enterprises, Inc. in Deerfield Beach. KL is building eight structures, including three office buildings, a two-story dining hall, 20,000-square-foot sports complex, a 900-vehicle parking garage, and a 55,000-square-foot conference and training center. Long says the firm has been working with this client for four years on the project.
“The reason it has taken so long is that we are building close to 1 million square feet of new office space for them without interrupting the client’s existing operation of 2,000 employees,” Long says. “We’re doing a phase replacement of the campus with the challenge of determining how to build that much space over eight structures. We will build in two phases on its existing campus, so as a new building comes online, the JM team can move out of the existing facility into the new one and we can repeat that process. That kind of engagement is a key differentiator to figure out their vision and how to make it happen regardless of the challenges.”
In North Carolina, KL is renovating the historic Prince Charles Hotel. Originally built in 1925, this eight-story hotel will feature 62 apartments as well as retail and office space. Located adjacent to a new $33 million minor league baseball stadium currently in the works, the Prince Charles Hotel is the latest building to join the major revitalization of downtown Fayetteville.
A Look Ahead
Annually, the KL executive team forms strategic goals for the year ahead and determines a plan to achieve those goals. The current goal is to sustain existing market share and continue growing in Texas and North Carolina, while looking at ways to keep growing the business, Long says.
“We already have a great market share of the business in South Florida and we want to continue that with a diversified portfolio of sectors. Our core markets are higher education, K-12 school campuses, multifamily, mixed-use and office buildings as well as public sector work with municipalities, such as parking garages, public safety and city halls.
Included among the municipal projects they’ve worked on are a city of Hollywood parking garage, Coral Springs municipal complex and two fire stations in Coral Springs. Recently, KL was unanimously selected by the Town of Jupiter, Florida, for the construction of its new municipal complex. The first phase to be built is the police headquarters facility valued at $14 million.
“We have been very strategic in pursuing those projects, knowing that those markets would be emerging and offering dividends in the long run. When particular markets do emerge, we are positioned to take good care of those clients,” Long says.
The next growth goal is to reach and sustain annual revenue of $500 million, Kaufman says. To achieve this, KL has steadily built both portfolio and reputation, allowing the company to execute large projects (more than $100 million construction cost). This, in turn, opens up additional opportunities and positions the company to capture a larger market share.
As the market continues to rally, KL faces a different challenge: finding the subcontractors to execute the work, Kaufman says. Low unemployment coupled with high growth, particularly in the southeast, has created a drain on the available talent pool for construction projects. To combat this shortage, the company is casting a broader net and expanding the outreach to subcontractors within a wider geographic area.
KL isn’t just looking for talent. In addition to the firm’s four existing locations, there is exploration of even more locations, Long says. Expanding the geographic footprint is another way to battle the ebbs and flows of the economy.
“When we are working with partners in other areas, we may look at offices there because it makes sense for us. Florida’s west coast from Naples up to Tampa may be the next organic growth areas for us as we’ve done $80 million worth of work this fiscal year in the Fort Myers area alone,” Long says.
Regardless of where the growth takes them, the KL team will enthusiastically celebrate its 30-year business anniversary in the coming months. “Succeeding over 30 years isn’t easy. It requires strong talent, solid relationships, a continual focus on safety and a commitment to customer satisfaction in every project, whether large or small,” Kaufman says.