Creativity through Innovation and Quality

Wolverine Building Group

Wolverine Building Group stands for integrity, reliability, and versatility. This 79-year old construction company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has worked in 49 states doing everything from renovation and remodeling to new builds and building additions.
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Wolverine Building Group is especially well-respected for its contracting and project management services as well as taking concepts from the design phase through to completion – precision-tailored throughout to suit clients’ requirements exactly.

The company’s four divisions all function under the same name. The Multi-Unit Residential, Industrial, Construction Management and National Retail departments all work together in making the firm proud. Founded in 1939, Wolverine Building Group welcomed its fifth owners in January of this year. Aaron Jonker has been with the company since 2007 and Curt Mulder arrived in 1998. Together with their team, the two co-presidents will continue to uphold Wolverine Building Group’s unique structure, as well as its reputation for being stable and exceptionally dynamic.

There are a number of exciting new developments ahead for the company, and Aaron and Curt kindly joined me for a great discussion on Wolverine’s specialties and what the future has in store

The two partners are unmistakable change-makers and both prefer to work in the field together with their teams rather than driving their performance from up high. “Twenty years ago, when I started, there was a lot of individual management of projects, and as Aaron and I became involved and helped grow the company, we brought along a more collaborative approach. We brought this big collaboration change about in Wolverine, and that’s really important to us,” says Curt.

For Aaron, many heads are definitely better than one, as is “having a relationship with a team that you can trust to work toward the same goals. And so, when you’re challenged on things it makes it possible to come up with better answers than you could find on your own,” he says. Aaron and Curt both value diverse input and take listening to others very seriously. The result is nimble, small teams equipped and empowered to execute high-pressure jobs effectively – people who can be trusted to do the right thing on massive projects when it matters most. Having close ties with project owners as well as the architects and designers also guarantees the company customer loyalty, trust, and respect along with project success.

One such successful project is the prominent seven-story SkyVue student housing apartment building that the team completed last fall for Rise Real Estate near Michigan State University, East Lansing. “We were the general contractor on that and assisted in designing it to meet Michigan climate standards and keep costs in line with the developer’s budget. It was a really fun one,” says Aaron. The result is spectacular. Its clean, modern design and quality finishes really showcase Wolverine’s capacity for precision at its very best. The year and a half spent on the planning process and collaborating closely with the client paid off, leaving the company particularly proud of this building.

“One of our greatest strengths as a company is that we work very closely with our customers to understand their goals and to see the project from their perspective. This allows us to help guide the construction and the design processes to where their budget ultimately meets their other goals from a business perspective,” says Curt.

Another great project Wolverine Building Group completed recently is the state-of-the-art upgrade of a manufacturing facility for Hastings Fiberglass in Hastings, Michigan. The beauty of this project was that the manufacturer researched its own processes extensively and, as a result, Wolverine was able to assist in designing and planning a smaller building with greatly improved efficiency overall. “That was another great project for us, where we designed the building with the owner, spending about six months on the design and planning process. It took about a year to build,” says Curt.

The company’s quality has also secured Wolverine Building Group a number of awards over the years, including the Governor’s Award, won this year for the Grandview project in Marquette, MI and last year for the historic preservation project completed on the Elaine Apartments in Jackson, Michigan.

The company completes approximately 80 construction projects annually. It also has a small team that performs chain restaurant and retail upgrade and construction work. In fact, the firm is currently doing remodeling work for Taco Bell throughout the country, contributing to Wolverine’s long list of varied contracts, which can range anywhere from $30,000 to about $60 million in value. The sharp rise in the retail and industrial economy has made 2017 a record volume year for the company, and all four of its divisions displayed strong growth. It has also seen an improvement in the construction demands of the healthcare and higher education sectors and work has been pouring in on those fronts.

While around 80 percent of its construction work is done by subcontractors, the company’s over 140 employees help complete around 80 projects a year with the support of around 45 superintendents who run the day-to-day operations on site. About 50 tradespeople take care of steel erection for its pre-engineered metal buildings, for which the company is very popular. Another two teams are responsible for assembling these metal frames and a team of carpenters assists with erection and takes care of elements such as cabinet installation. “Teamwork with our contractors and trade partners is very important to us. In our industry, they’re a huge part of our success and we couldn’t do it without them,” says Aaron.

Wolverine Building Group believes in taking care of its community and recently became involved in its local Habitat for Humanity. After assisting the group in design work for a large two-block development in the city, the need for volunteers became clear. When there was a recent lull in its schedule, the company sent out some of its team members to assist in some of the charity’s needs. “We see it as a mutually beneficial opportunity. We get to be part of our community and Habitat for Humanity gets work done,” says Curt. Some of its younger team members also gain experience in hands-on construction, allowing them to learn about carpentry and other areas of the field in a low-key setting. The company also tries to get everyone out of the office for a day or two every year to get involved in serving the community in a number of ways, which has included installing a playground at the local school, doing work at camps, and a number of other charitable contributions.

Wolverine Building Group’s solution to the current labor shortage is building strong relationships with its industry partners. “For years, as a society, we’ve encouraged college as a matter of course, and the reality is, you can make a great living as a plumber, or carpenter, or electrician – but, for a long time, many people hadn’t seen these as viable careers,” says Aaron. It also takes exceptional planning and project management to become a contractor of choice, things at which the company excels. The team knows how to look ahead and plan accordingly. “It’s about making sure that the people who you want to do the job have the ability to do it and space in their schedule, and are interested in doing it,” says Aaron. The company has been particularly strong in attracting new talent. “We have a pretty healthy balance in supporting the people that we hire, but we also give them autonomy to run and manage projects in a way that allows them to maximize their strengths,” he says. In this way team members remain engaged and motivated.

In this industry, it is important to solve problems creatively which is why the company supports creative thinking in a big way. “If you restrict your employees too much, you restrict that creativity. We work hard to combat that because that creativity ultimately leads to great solutions for our customers,” says Aaron.

For the two leaders, the technical side of the construction industry is attractive to creative people, while construction lovers are well-known for having a strong drive to create their own destiny – a trait that is very much supported at Wolverine Building Group. This draws passionate people who enjoy working in an environment where their efforts and drive are understood and nurtured. Thanks to these creatives with their strong leadership skills, Wolverine Building Group is famous for superbly handling complex projects that often include multiple challenges ranging from schedules to manufacturing demands and everything in between. “We hire people who are creative, have design ability, and really can lead the team to the best possible solution,” says Curt.

The company is set to build on its core beliefs of quality and partnership and will be carrying this ethos through to all its projects. By this time next year, the two new owners want to exceed the expectations of 80 more clients who will be ready to share more sterling recommendations.

September 18, 2019, 12:15 AM EDT