An Excerpt from the Book:
“We are only as good as our last project”
Kelly Kenter grew up in Hillsboro, Missouri and studied architecture at Kansas State. In 2001, at 28 years old, he started Sitelines General Contracting. The company has won numerous awards, including eleven projects that have received Cultural Resources “Most Enchanced Award” for their historic improvement. In 2010, Kelly was elected Chairman of the Associated General Contractors AGC of St. Louis, the youngest to hold this position.
I originally got into architecture because I wanted to design golf courses. Kansas State was one of the few universities in the country which offered a degree with specialization in golf course design. My interest in design was stronger than my interest in grading plans, so I pivoted and got my degree in Architecture in 1994. After graduation, I worked for various architecture and engineering firms for about six years, and learned a great deal in the process. However, I felt a disconnect between what was being drawn and what was getting built.
In 1998, I formally left architecture, and got connected with a small contractor who built homes and churches – what we in the trades call “a nail banger.” He had a small crew, and did the work as it came in: he was the salt of the earth, honest and hard working; he was excellent at doing what was in front of him – but he had never written a formal proposal, chased larger projects or had a larger vision of the service of construction management. He made me a vice president: I added a polish and sophistication to what he could offer, and we started going after bigger jobs. Within eighteen months, we exploded to fifty employees with $5 million in annual revenue: we were hitting it out of the park.
I left because ownership was not a viable option. I started Sitelines on February 8, 2000, operating out of the spare bedroom in my house. It was important to me that my name was not wrapped into the company name: I did not need to feed my ego, and I wanted to set the tone that this organization was bigger than any one individual. Actually, Sitelines was not my first choice, or even my first five choices: my other preferences had already been taken. I designed a simple logo because I could not afford a graphic designer; I kept it black and white because I did not own a color printer and the multi-color setup for stationary and business cards was pricey.
By this point, I had developed several strong realtionships with quality subcontractors, and went to the open market for public work: low bidder get’s the job. The challenge is that these projects must be bonded by an underwriter: this took some doing as I had limited ability to collaterlize any debt. But I scraped together what I could and went fishing.
Missouri Department of Transportation MoDot advertised for a small addition to one of their maintenance buildings at 141 and 40. I reviewed the drawings and specifications, and felt comfortable with my bid of $175,000. I drove my proposal to the bid opening, and sat around a table with eight other contractors. Most of the guys already knew each other, and were wondering about the young newb in the room.
After the first bid was opened, I thought I was going to throw up: $260,000. I assumed I had missed something essential. Not only could I not afford to eat $85,000 shortfall, I could not even cover the bid bond should I withrdraw. I thought that I was going to be out of business before I started. Fortunately, each successive bid was lower, and after the last one was opened, I was lowest by about $15,000 – my overhead was low enough that I could cover that spread. Sitelines was in buisness
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