The Intersection of Innovation and Teamwork

Weddle Bros. Construction Companies

In April of 2018, the Indiana University School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering kicked off a week-long celebration of its new building, Luddy Hall. The gigantic, 124,000 square foot, $42.4 million facility is equipped with 15 classrooms and labs and a 1,360 square foot community center. The front entrance is sheared on an angle to offset the balance of the traditional, rectangular shaped building. Inside the building, glass frames jut out in various directions. The enclosed square shapes lend a sense of strength while simultaneously maintaining an open concept. For the aspiring engineers who will call this building home, it serves as an inspiration for the types of designs that are possible.
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Constructed by Weddle Bros. Construction, it is a modern mosaic of glass and concrete. “It’s quite striking when you walk in there,” says Kelly Abel, Vice President of Pre-Construction Services for Weddle Bros. Building Group. Abel was part of the team that saw the project through. He has been with the company for 33 years and has overseen many successful projects and established long-standing client relationships.

“It has some of the most unique study areas in terms of the glass pods that hang over an atrium space,” says Abel. Weddle installed the 410 windows that provide natural light in every location in the building, as well as the 1,350 square foot skylight.

The engineering building is one of numerous projects Weddle has completed in collaboration with Indiana University. Each project serves as a unique, standalone piece of art in its own right. For the past 72 years Weddle has been a leader in constructing facilities for colleges and universities such as research labs, administrative centers, residential areas and sports facilities.

Working primarily across the Midwest, Weddle Bros. Construction Co., Inc. is the parent company of a group of professionally managed construction services providers engaged in health care, bio and life science buildings, civil and earthworks, transportation, highway, and general contracting projects. Started in 1946, Weddle Bros. Construction Companies include Weddle Bros. Building Group, WB Koester Construction, Weddle Bros. Design & Build, Weddle Bros. Highway Group, and Weddle Bros. Transportation Services.

In the civil construction field, Weddle innovated something people always see, but don’t necessarily notice. “25 to 30 years ago we were one of the first in Indiana to be approved to do slipform median barrier in the state,” explains Abel. The walls that divide the middle of the interstate used to be done by hand, but “we developed a way to do that by machine that was approved by the state. We were the first ones.” These walls are vitally important structures that have saved countless lives, and devising how to construct them using machines has led to faster and safer builds across the state.

While the structures Weddle builds can be complicated, the business-to-business relationships are straightforward. “We’re relationship driven,” explains Abel. “We want you to feel like you’re being treated fairly. In any context that you work with us, we’re going to treat you fairly; we’re going to be your friend. We’re going to be your advocate and try to make it as good an experience as we can.”

So, what’s behind the process?

The company’s pre-construction team, led by Abel, works with designers to outline the budget and work schedule. An impeccable attention to detail helps Abel’s team estimate a highly accurate price point. “We always try to have the numbers in focus before we start doing the work so there are no surprises. Nobody likes surprises,” he says.

Zero surprises is why most of Weddle’s clients are repeat customers; in all of the team’s relationships, they focus on the long term. “We have a client here in Bloomington that we’ve worked with going on over 10 years now,” says Abel. “We travel with them and do projects from small to big. It’s our responsibility to take care of their needs in a client-driven relationship.”

Once all the numbers have been agreed upon, a team is assembled that works with the client for the duration of the project. The team typically has a project manager, superintendent, project engineer and an administrative person. “We have a staff of about four people that are going to take you from the beginning of turning dirt to handing you the keys. That’s your team,” says Abel. “Those are the people you’re going to work with day-in and day-out. Their job is to communicate and get you information that lets you know what’s happening… we don’t want it to be about just talking on the phone once in a while or sending an email; we do the personal thing that you can count on.”

From there, the construction team is brought in to complete the build. A culture of teamwork and a client-first perspective runs through the entire staff. Field staff numbers vary between 75 and 100 and balloon to 300 during the high season. These workers are unionized and enjoy a full benefits package including healthcare, vision, and dental for the entire family. And as a certified safety contractor, Weddle is dedicated to ensuring employee safety on the job. “A few years back we had a stretch of a million hours without a lost-time incident,” shares Abel. “That was a great achievement that we’re proud of.”

Since 2013, Weddle has been employee-owned, with a 100 percent Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). Ownership is shared among the executive team, middle management, project managers, engineers and administrative staff. The ESOP gives staff members a vested interest in completing each project to its fullest potential and working collaboratively to see it through. When one employee retires, they sell their shares back to the company. The ESOP is not only a retirement plan; it’s a revolutionary way of engaging in the workplace. “I think the ESOP was a proud moment,” explains Abel, because sharing in the direction of the company means profitability comes from a healthy work culture.

Potential new hires for the company must interview with around five other staff at their level or above to see how they fit into the culture. “We’re not doing anybody any good if we bring in someone that doesn’t fit with our culture and with our ideals and our values,” explains Abel. “A lot of companies will tell you that they’re family-oriented and they care about the employee, but here it really means something.”

The teamwork mentality comes from not only working together on projects, but from supporting each other to ensure there’s time for family and hobbies outside of work. “We want you to have a work-life balance. We want you to have the time you need if there’s something going on with your kids, your parents, whatever it is.” In order for that idea to actually work, everyone needs to buy into it. “If somebody is off, we need someone to cover for that,” says Abel. “Eventually we all have to pick up the ball and carry it for another person.”

To be sure, happy and safe employees are less likely to cut corners and are more likely to provide great buildings, part of the reason Weddle gets so much repeat work. “We recruit a lot from word of mouth with our current employees,” Abel shares.

Keeping staff safe and happy has also meant that Weddle has consistently placed in the top 100 places to work in the state of Indiana. Awarded by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the prize is determined by employee surveys and measures their results against certain criteria. “For four years running we have been named one of the 100 best places to work in Indiana across all industries,” says Abel.

Weddle’s success has been built on over 70 years of relationship building and straight-forward partnerships. “If I go into a presentation and say, ‘I’m going to be part of your project,’ then that’s who is going to be there. We’re big enough to give you high levels of expertise, but we’re still small enough that you get the benefit of the best people in the company. We want this to be a relationship that moves on in time, so we’re very conscious of that. We keep that in mind when we go into a project with our staff, with everybody.”

Certainly, Weddle’s innovation is embedded in its work culture and is reflected in the hundreds of projects the team has completed throughout the Midwest. Now, this reliable, award-winning company is moving into the future with confidence. “We already have a lot of work on the books for 2020,” says Abel. “I’m really optimistic about the future of Weddle.”

Industry Changemakers

The construction industry has historically been slow to evolve, drawn to tradition over technology. As the industry is in a state of rapid innovation and advancement, organizations like the Toronto Construction Association (TCA) are working tirelessly to build strong member businesses that won’t fall behind.

June 26, 2019, 12:53 AM EDT