KANE Construction Inc.
When Dennis Kane was young, he never understood why his father hated firing people. As the head of a successful trucking business with more than 1,000 employees, Kane assumed it was just another part of running a business. “But my dad would say, ‘No, you don’t understand. You’re not just firing the employee; you’re firing his entire family.’”
Decades later, Kane would understand what his father meant after he started his own company, KANE Construction Inc., in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Kane recalls, “I got a Christmas card from one of my employees with a picture of his whole family, and I realized that’s one employee, but it is five people that are relying on me to close some work.”
This commitment to staff, and the loyalty it inspires, is among many factors making KANE one of the most respected firms in the competitive Baltimore-Washington D.C. area. For nearly two decades, the company has built commercial interiors for corporate and nonprofit clients in life sciences, medicine, law and banking, developing a reputation for a skilled workforce able to build to the highest standards.
Now the Recession’s over, another office
In recent years, as the economy rose out of the recession, KANE reopened a facility in Baltimore. “We had a mission to provide the Baltimore market with the same level of service,” the company has developed in Washington, says David Jaques, vice president of operations and the person leading the Baltimore division. “While there is some limited overlap and opportunity to capture operational efficiencies, autonomy is key,” says Jaques, so the two divisions are largely separate though they occasionally work together.
KANE recently completed an out-patient medical facility for John Hopkins Community Physicians in Baltimore. While the company has contracted with John Hopkins in the past—constructing facilities for the original Carey Business School and headquarters for both the Department of Alumni Relations and John Hopkins Medical International—Jaques says this project was different due to its size and technology focus.
The project involved building 35,000 square feet of doctors’ offices, which is about five times the size of a typical medical outpatient facility of that kind. The center has state-of-the-art features, like “wayfinding” technology that helps patients find their way through the hospital using a special kind of clipboard with GPS tracking.
Better even where it’s not seen by everyone
Meanwhile, back in the D.C. area, KANE also recently completed a project for the world renowned Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, which has hosted the U.S. Open three times. “There are so many historic and elegant things about the Congressional,” says Kane, “but the men’s locker room was not one of them.”
Until now, that is.
KANE Construction gutted and rebuilt the locker room. “It’s the equivalent of going from what was a YMCA locker room to having a facility that looks like Tiffany’s. It is spectacular with a capital S,” says Kane.
When Kane first started the company in 1997 he didn’t expect this level of success or even this focus.
“I literally thought I would just be a glorified project manager,” says Kane. “But at least I would control the agenda and establishing my own culture, even if it was just me talking to myself. I wasn’t doing anything anybody else’s way for reasons I didn’t understand—or those that didn’t benefit the customer first.”
Growth through no-nonsense values
In order to build the company, Kane focused on hiring employees whose values and experience matched his own. Most employees have around 25 years of experience, and one of the reasons they stick around is Kane’s emphasis on doing the job right rather than cutting corners to get to the next project, says Kane.
“If you’re working here at KANE, with your resume and talent you could work anywhere in our industry, but you’re here at KANE because you are experienced enough to know how challenging the industry can be—and you know it doesn’t have to be that way,” says Kane. “Challenges and career dissatisfaction are only amplified when there is no clear plan or common goal. Simply put, figuring it out in the field—while often necessary—is not a substitute for a plan. We know what we are doing and we are not afraid to lead.”
Kane’s no-nonsense approach stems from 29 years in tenant interiors construction. Prior to starting his own company, Kane worked as an estimator and project manager for a variety of construction companies. During this time, Kane was often frustrated at how employees were treated and the lack of collaboration practiced among and within firms.
He admits that, during this period, his willingness to call out others for finger pointing led to trouble on occasion, but he says the struggles resulting from him taking a stance of leadership were ultimately a positive influence on his life. “I highly encourage everyone to get fired at least one time in their life,” says Kane.
In fact, it was getting fired that prompted Kane to borrow money from his father to start KANE Construction.
Unlike many business owners who struggle to get off the ground, Kane says his prediction that the real estate market was poised to rebound, as well as his relationships in the construction industry, enabled him to quickly turn a profit. He paid off his father’s loan in just two years, and now two decades later KANE has annual revenues of $25 million. While much of the work still comes from the same relationships that were essential to starting the company, Kane says the company is always growing and forming new partnerships, like the one with Hopkins.
In the future, technology will aid but not replace employees
Vice President of Marketing and Communication Mike Murtaugh says technology will be instrumental to the company’s growth. “I just think for a medium sized business… it is imperative that we remain nimble enough to adopt these new technologies that are collaborative in nature,” he says.
Murtaugh says a technology that’s been particularly useful is Procore, a cloud-based project management and CRM application deployed across mobile and desktop devices of all project stakeholders. It allows KANE to communicate across all levels of a project instantly.
For instance, Jaques, the vice president of operations, says, “while the project manager may not be on site every day, he or she can still have an open dialog with the superintendent who is also in communication with subcontractors, our owner, architects, engineers, even our own financial staff. It’s about leveraging the available hours in a day across multiple projects and functions along with the requisite accuracy of information.”
Still, Kane says experienced employees that are well-treated and equipped with the latest in technical and financial resources will remain essential. “It’s still about people and the tools you provide them. But at 51 years old with and 29 years in the industry, I’m still probably one of the least experienced people in the company—which I think is hilarious,” he says.
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