A Legacy of Service
One can tell a lot about the amount of vision a company’s management team has by looking at its website. After 111 years in the industry, construction management has become AUCH Construction’s largest area of project delivery – and its web presence backs that up. So do its core values of integrity and hard work.
In light of its well-thought out website, the AUCH Construction’s technological leadership comes as no surprise. Thanks to its open-minded early adoption of some of the industry’s best software, the company is known as a legacy client to one of the biggest construction technology suppliers.
While smaller companies often shrug at the notion of early tech adoption, AUCH Construction has reaped the fruits of integrating construction management technology into its business. I spoke with Jeffrey Hamilton, Vice President and Project Director, and Vincent DeLeonardis, President and CEO, who have both been with AUCH Construction for nearly 25 years.
Based in Pontiac, Michigan, 95+ percent of the company’s business is based on construction management services. “Our people are very innovative in bringing efficiency to our projects while still using traditional methods to allow as many of the specialty trade contractors to participate as possible to benefit our clients. We definitely don’t exclude them from the process,” says DeLeonardis.
Building information modeling (BIM) is part of AUCH’s modern offering to clients who are looking to support a collaborative approach. BIM software has the ability to assist in 3D modeling, logistic planning, estimating, and detection of possible element placement errors such as piping being placed where HVAC ductwork must go due to size and limited space. This function is known as clash detection and can potentially save trade contractors and clients huge amounts of money in corrections. “BIM software has really become more common lately. We use it regularly to be more efficient, especially in tight above-ceiling spaces that contain many different elements,” says Hamilton.
Another program AUCH uses is Procore, a web-based construction management system that ties the processes and people involved in a project together in a single, easily accessible place with incredible functionality. AUCH Construction was one of the early adopters of this software and has customized it to suit its needs. “It is an incredibly versatile, collaborative tool that allows us to share data with everyone – from the field to the office and even with project owners. It also allows us to store data in the cloud. This makes information accessible to everyone on the project from all of their own devices,” Hamilton explains.
Certainly, there have been many large successes over the years, but one of the team’s current proud moments came not too long ago, when it won the management contract for the construction of Pontiac’s famous M1 Concourse, a car condominium complex and, according to its owners, “a playground for car enthusiasts.” The project comprises multiple phases, of which three have been completed, and is located on an 80 acre site formerly occupied by General Motors (GM). When GM declared bankruptcy, the property was turned over to RACER Trust and then put up for sale.
AUCH Construction was the management team who worked with the Owner and designers to help rehabilitate and develop the property. The giant playground not only includes scores of high-end private garages but also features the Champion Motor Speedway, a 1.5 mile engineered asphalt course designed in collaboration with renowned track architect, Martyn Thake. “This is a really great project,” says Hamilton. “We’re about to meet with the Owners to look at kicking off phase four; we hope to continue with two more phases after this next one.”
The company’s greatest recent achievement was building its own new innovative headquarters, an office building at 65 University Drive in downtown Pontiac. In stark contrast to its previous premises, the open, day-lit space supports the team’s focus on collaboration and has brought fresh energy to the company. Its new building also is an asset when it comes to attracting talent, with a number of job applicants mentioning it as a motivation to join the company’s ranks. The firm now enjoys hosting industry events, with peers, clients, and even competitors being welcomed through its doors with the warmest hospitality.
“Our staff wanted to stay in Pontiac and we are proud of what we have accomplished in this building. We also believe that it will spur more new development in the City,” says DeLeonardis. AUCH’s new headquarters is set to serve as one of the company’s biggest calling cards to date.
In terms of its educational building projects, the company is currently working on two middle school replacement projects during which both schools must remain operational. One of these includes a challenging building addition, partial demolition, and renovation – all on a very cramped site situated on a hillside. Although educational work is over 60 percent of AUCH’s annual revenue, healthcare is a close second. The company is in the process of completing its third recent vertical expansion. This $40,000,000 project involves managing the addition of three floors and a penthouse to the Ascension Macomb-Oakland Hospital in Warren, Michigan. Such projects are complex – even when the building was originally constructed with future expansion in mind. In this case, the company had to come up with an engineered solution that would allow the hospital to remain functional during construction. “It is very rewarding to work on such challenging projects. Not everyone can do it,” says Hamilton.
Courage is clearly an inherent part of the company’s legacy. It was founded in 1908 by George W. Auch, a schoolteacher with a growing family, who left teaching to pursue a career in construction. His commitment to education continued with his service on the Detroit School Board for several years and many of his early construction projects were for parochial schools in his German Lutheran community. George laid such a solid foundation for the company that building educational facilities is still AUCH’s biggest market.
A particularly memorable moment came in August 2017 with the groundbreaking for its new office building. The AUCH Construction team was fortunate to have George’s daughter, Martha Auch Wissman, participate in this historic moment. At the impressive age of 104, Mrs. Auch Wissman commented that she was very happy to see that the company still treated its staff so well. She also recognized the ledger kept from the company’s early days. “There was an entry on its first day of business for a purchase of carrots for the horses. Mrs. Auch Wissman looked at the book and said, ‘Oh, that’s my daddy’s handwriting,’” shares DeLeonardis. Martha sadly passed away not long before the building’s grand opening in May 2018. In honor of George’s legacy and Martha’s continued interest in the company, the company planted a rose garden with a plaque featuring a photograph of Martha as a child sitting on her father’s lap.
As Mrs. Auch Wissman noted, AUCH really does treat its staff like family. Its team consists of over 105 members including 35 to 40 field superintendents. “We are often recognized for the quality of our field staff,” says DeLeonardis. “We feel that our field supervision is the best in the industry. We don’t throw inexperienced people into the field. Instead, we have a robust training and support program that ultimately generates solid, confident field people who can think on their feet,” agrees Hamilton. Consequently, the company’s staff turnover is very low, with an average employee tenure of 20 years.
Management also promotes from within, resulting in only one project manager being hired from outside its ranks in over 20 years. This allows its staff upward mobility, as talent is spotted early on, mentored, and rewarded with opportunity.
It comes as no surprise that AUCH Construction has been named a Detroit Free Press Top Workplace for five years in a row. This year also started out well, with the company being awarded the Associated General Contractors of Michigan Gold Outstanding Safety Performance Award and 2nd place nationally for its innovative safety program for the Associated General Contractors of America’s Willis Tower Watson Construction Safety Excellence Award. AUCH also received the Construction Association of Michigan’s Gold Safety Achievement Award, which gave the team the opportunity to share their own safety knowledge with peers and competitors. “We are a very big supporter of sharing knowledge as it improves the industry,” says Hamilton.
In addition, there is the company’s phenomenal safety achievement of zero lost time incidents due to the injury of an employee on duty and only one recordable injury since 2006. “We strongly encourage reporting incidents. With this longstanding record we understand the reluctance of someone not wanting to be the one that reports an incident. We emphasize that reporting even the smallest incident, and learning from it, could possibly save someone’s life. This is a true safety record that we keep with the same integrity that we expect from our people,” says Vince DeLeonardis. As a result, AUCH’s incident rate, 0.533, as compared to the industry average of 3.8, reflects one-and-a-half million man hours in the field during 2018 alone, across all trade contractors’ work. This certainly is a sterling achievement.
The company’s heart is as big as its resolve to continue raising the bar in construction management. AUCH does a lot to support its local community including a nearby daycare center, Kidz Korner. AUCH team members donated 55 gift bags with toys, winter gear, and other gifts at Christmas last year which were gladly handed out to the kids by DeLeonardis and other team members. AUCH also supports high school scholarship programs, local community colleges, and other community organizations.
“For us, providing people with jobs and opportunities is even more important than giving to charity. Therefore, we do a lot of workforce development. We also share information with people on what a good living the industry can provide,” says DeLeonardis.
The team is adamant that the AUCH legacy will continue. “We have set the company up so that anyone who has strong leadership skills and a desire to rise to the top within the company can do so,” says Hamilton. “It gives us a great feeling to know that there is an opportunity for anyone and everyone to do that.”
Creating equal opportunity is not the only way in which the team makes the company’s continued success a priority. A carefully considered succession plan will keep the company operational well into the future. “We want this company to support the dreams of the next generation,” says DeLeonardis.
With its goal of reaching annual revenue of $200,000,000 by 2020, and already having reached the $191,000,000 mark, AUCH Construction’s 95+ percent repeat business rate is proving to be invaluable. At this point, the road ahead is looking clear for this stalwart team of visionaries, and we wish them all the best for their next 111 years in business.