ARCHIVED  December 1, 1996

Neenan hires employees for attitude, not job skills

FORT COLLINS – Wouldn’t it be neat if you could have your integrity and still make money in the construction industry? This is the question The Neenan Co. asks every day.Neenan Co. president and CEO David Neenan bought the company for $11,000 from Reid Burton, a Fort Collins builder, in 1973.
Neenan’s background, working in heavy construction for his uncle in Missouri, had prepared him for much of the work. Burton mentored him through his first few months in the Fort Collins business environment.
But it is Neenan’s degree in economics and philosophy from the University of Missouri, Columbia, that seems to drive the company culture and
success.
Three years ago, Neenan Co. reported an operating budget of $42 millon. This year, Neenan said, it’s about $95 million, and employees have increased in the same three years from 100 to 140.
In many industries, the trend has long been toward corporate divestment and away from vertical integration. But Neenan saw the separated-task nature of the construction process as the problem that undermined customer satisfaction – and the construction industry’s integrity.
The problem first struck him and Neenan Co. in 1978 on a building job in Casper, Wyo.
“In Casper, we were incompetent. We fell on our nose,” Neenan remembered. His little company, which by that time had a net worth of $90,000, was in the hole for a million dollars.
Neenan and a small group of loyal employees ultimately diagnosed the problem as the lack of accountability in each phase of the designing and construction process. As each phase is completed, the architects, designers and subcontractors walk away from their part of the job.
The company made a few changes, and then it took the decisive, unheard-of step: The construction company hired its own architects. It had mutated. It was on its way to becoming “archistruction.”
And thus the company’s motto has become, “It’s the mutants that make it.”
Abundance followed. The company climbed out of its Casper disaster in three years, not the five Neenan had
predicted.
Eventually, Neenan Co. took the idea of integrating the construction process to previously unimagined extremes. Now the company is an amalgam of architects, engineers, managers, accountants, estimators and support personnel.
David Neenan’s philosophical leadership keeps the pressure for integrity on. He said there are three legs to his leadership stance. First, always go for innovation. Try anything in a responsible way. Second, produce satisfied customers. “It’s never over ’til the customer says thank you.”
Third, care deeply for the company’s employees. Forgive-ness, trust, learning are critical.
“We have no turnover,” Neenan said.
Neenan trusts his employees because he has learned how to hire them.
“One of my early mistakes was I hired people for their skills and not for their attitudes,” Neenan said. “I hired them for what they said they could do, and they’d decide if they wanted to do it.”
Now, he said, he asks different questions.
“If you ask, What did you learn from your parents? and someone says, ‘From my father I learned the importance of working hard and persisting. From my mother I learned to be honest,’ you’ve got a winner every time,” Neenan said.
Neenan said he recognizes that the company needs new leadership to keep innovating. In about two years, he expects to hand off the Neenan Co. presidency to his cousin James Neenan, and the job of proving that you can have your integrity and still make money in the construction industry will fall to him.
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FORT COLLINS – Wouldn’t it be neat if you could have your integrity and still make money in the construction industry? This is the question The Neenan Co. asks every day.Neenan Co. president and CEO David Neenan bought the company for $11,000 from Reid Burton, a Fort Collins builder, in 1973.
Neenan’s background, working in heavy construction for his uncle in Missouri, had prepared him for much of the work. Burton mentored him through his first few months in the Fort Collins business environment.
But it is Neenan’s degree in economics and philosophy from the University of Missouri, Columbia, that…

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