When Ed Thompson’s De Pere home burned to the ground on Thanksgiving in 2007, he was beside himself with anxiety. His wife was in the final stages of a rare illness, and everything they had was gone. One company, family-owned DeLeers Construction, Inc., helped the Thompsons start over during a very rough time.
“They put their arms around me and helped me do this, from insurance claims all the way through the finishing touches,” says Ed Thompson, whose wife passed away shortly after they moved into their new home. But the former Schneider National president says he never forgot the kindness and excellent workmanship, eventually hiring DeLeers to help with several commercial building projects.
“Their mantra is DeLeers delivers, and they do,” Thompson says.
Building the brand
The company has a unique place in the construction industry. Established in 1945 when Joseph “Jake” DeLeers returned from World War II, the five-person company provided a quality craftsmanship reputation in northeast Wisconsin. Eventually his sons Jerry and Phil came on board and grew the company in two distinct businesses: construction and cabinetry. When Jake passed away in 1994, the family began planning for the future and looking to the promise of the third generation: four brothers still affectionately known as “the boys.”
The close-knit brothers are Paul, 33, who is the senior business development associate; followed by Jim, 32, director of operations; Tom, 28, who is the chief operating officer of the Joseph A. Interiors segment, and John, 24, who is the company’s business development associate. They grew up side-by-side in the family business, and off hours hang out together at the DeLeers family cottage near Eagle River. How does this dynamic work?
“Surprisingly it works very well, probably because we each have our own niches within the company,” laughs John DeLeers.
John says he and his older brothers share an ownership vision and a willingness to take risks for innovation, feeding off each other’s ideas when looking to the future and talking about prospects for growth.
“We’ve made great strides in education, training and company-wide initiatives to make DeLeers sustainable,” John DeLeers says. “We’ve also invited our employees to help us walk the talk, and call us out when we don’t. Thankfully they feel comfortable and safe to do that with us.”
Paul and Jim (the primary owners), along with Tom and John, will have grown their De Pere business to more than 75 full-time employees plus contractors by year’s end. To keep the family together during the recent economic challenges, the brothers decided to do a company-wide Kaizen event, in which they brought employees together to explore ways to eliminate extra costs and unnecessary steps rather than cut positions.
“I believe our grandfather would have been especially proud to see that we boys carried on his legacy of a strong work ethic and character,” says Jim DeLeers, who points to their servant leadership principles as the key to success. “Our corporate culture still has a unique family feel, and we believe strongly in continuous improvement, personal development and lean practices.”
Above and beyond
The building process by nature involves coordinating extremely detailed tasks with multiple project management schedules. Last fall the brothers discovered they needed to put into practice what they preached to expedite their own building project for their new corporate office in De Pere. They didn’t anticipate having to move so quickly. In three months, the team found a facility, put together a plan to remain operational during the construction and challenged their employees to rise to the task.
“They really came through, and their dedication shined even while working nights and weekends to get the new facility ready,” Jim DeLeers says. “Their families were a huge help too, and even our mom helped with cooking meals.”
Those cultural values translate into how the company is helping other construction organizations strengthen their own internal cultures. DeLeers recently launched Beyond Building, LLC, a consulting arm of the business designed to help small, medium and emerging construction and trades businesses focus more efficiently on human resources strategies.
Beyond Building offers trademarked HR strategies from policy and procedure development to performance management and leadership coaching, all embraced and practiced by DeLeers’ own employees.
“One of my favorite tools is the About Me Card (founded by Green Bay’s Joe Kiedinger), which gives us a glimpse of how to appreciate each employee in a way that respects each other’s personal and leadership styles,” says Jodi Haack, service division operations manager who is going on eight years at DeLeers.
Haack says externally, DeLeers continues to develop tools to give customers a voice in how they are treated throughout and beyond the building experience. The DeLeers team has found particular success with a tool they created called Beyond Satisfied, a customer-focused strategy to help teams get to know how their individual customers want to be treated throughout the building process.
The philosophy is visionary, providing the customer the best end result on time, without stress, and at the agreed upon price. Not an easy promise to deliver, particularly in an industry that depends upon the collaboration of working relationships and design elements.
“We use the feedback to improve how we do our work. We not only want to build quality structures, we think it’s equally important to build a solid working relationship between the customer and our employees, subcontractors and vendors,” Jim DeLeers says.
Bob Bush of Green Bay has worked with all three generations of DeLeers, and remembers how the follow-up customer satisfaction services were important back when founder Jake built his first home, and continue 20 years after the DeLeers boys built Bush’s second and current home.
“I don’t know of any other contractors who offer an annual or semi-annual maintenance and inspection service to help homeowners nip problems in the bud. It’s an effortless way to keep our home problem free,” Bush says.