Located in West Michigan, Wolverine Building Group has stood as an industry leader in general contracting for decades. Founded in 1939, the Wolverine Tile Company originally specialized in tile installation and gas station construction. Fast forward through several major growth phases, acquisitions and developments and you find the firm a national leader in general contracting with an ambitious growth plan entering 2017.
Today, Wolverine is one of Michigan’s leading general contractors, even taking on the national ranks, coming in amongst the 400 largest general contractors in the U.S. and offering service in 39 states. Different from many single-function general contractors, Wolverine is home to four distinct specialty divisions, including Building, Construction Management, Multi-Family and Wolverine North America.
Some of Wolverine Building Group’s most notable accomplishments include the 160 million dollar, 14-story Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan; the nationally-ranked and award-winning historic renovation work on an abandoned building in the heart of Grand Rapids; as well as the 412 foot high Riverhouse Tower, which stands as the tallest building in downtown Grand Rapids.
Building on a basis of specialized expertise and quality service, Wolverine kick-started a growth trajectory that began in the 1930s but continues today. So what exactly is the firm’s secret to not only growth, but also longevity? Aaron Jonker, the President of Wolverine Building Group, gave us some firsthand insight into the firm’s approaches, its successes and its future.
A quality core, built on expertise
Over the years, Wolverine has grown and expanded its capabilities and with that has come new services. But, despite expansion, the firm has remained fervently committed to quality and the expertise that drives it.
Where some companies focus on technology, equipment and size as major selling points, Wolverine takes a different – and refreshing – human-centric outlook on providing quality services. As one of the largest general contractors in the nation, Wolverine has the breadth and capability of any leading provider. But, unlike many of the large general contractors, Wolverine continues to unwaveringly invest in and recognize the importance of human capital, experience and expertise.
Wolverine Building Group’s team is 120 strong and growing. While the size of the team is beneficial in terms of the company’s capacity to respond to major project requirements, it is the organization and training of the firm’s specialized teams that is truly unique.
The company’s focus on human-centric quality is apparent in its approach to projects and client services. To ensure that it can meet and exceed client needs at every turn, the company houses several specialized teams, experts in serving the unique needs of markets such as healthcare, education, multi-unit residential, industrial, retail, restaurant, commercial office, municipal and sports & recreation. Jonker affirmed, “A lot of people choose contracting as a commodity, but we don’t believe in that type of service – we believe in providing value, real value, for our customers.”
Always on top of the latest industry developments, Wolverine Building’s commitment to innovation in general contracting is what led the firm to be one of the first to incorporate green building expertise into its portfolio of services. As such, Wolverine currently has 15 LEED Accredited Professionals and 13 Green Advantage Certified Practitioners on Staff. Over the years, a significant number of the company’s projects have been LEED or Enterprise Green Certified, with one renovation receiving the highest total number of LEED points of any project under the LEED 2.0 system.
Breaking the mold
Today, the 78-year-old construction company is recognized as not only a long-standing pillar of national general contracting, but also a leader in innovative general contracting approaches and techniques.
While construction management, design / build, historic renovations and sustainable construction are significant, quality in general contracting essentially boils down to the varying approaches toward taking on the arduous journey of project completion. Wolverine’s unique approach to communication, budgeting and the bottom line are a welcome change from the run-of-the-mill general contractor outlook on moving timelines and fuzzy budgeting. This is because Wolverine Building takes a cradle-to-grave approach, which centers on the use of an autonomous project manager for each build. While many general contractors embed project managers with specific teams or selected subcontractors, Wolverine Building places project managers in positions of complete autonomy. This strategic positioning enables the manager to have oversight of the entire project process from start to finish. As such, these managers have both the insight and perspective to tailor projects along the way in order to ensure they meet each customer’s unique needs. As Jonker explained, “Having autonomous project managers really gives our customers a seamless experience.”
This holistic, bird’s eye approach is built on the ethos of expertise that underlies all of Wolverine’s successes. At Wolverine, they believe the real value of a general contractor is most readily seen before building even starts; transparency and openness, trust and relationships, client engagement and strong oversight – all are key ingredients in the company’s success, and have led to its solid reputation over the years.
Exemplifying this approach, Wolverine prides itself on offering an open-book accounting and estimating process that provides clients with full oversight of all budgetary spending, in addition to offering feasibility and estimating capabilities in-house, alongside life cycle analysis.
According to Mr. Jonker, the planning process is ultimately the ‘make or break’ moment for any project. Experts that are brought to the table at the inception of a project not only ensure the quality of outcomes, but also safeguard the client’s monetary investments and timelines at the outset. “We believe the success of every project happens before the shovel hits the ground,” he explained.
This year, Wolverine Building will take on another phase of development and evolution. Following their predecessors, Mike Kelly and Dick VanderZyden, two management team members, including Aaron Jonker and also Curt Mulder, have taken on the role of co- presidents and new owners of Wolverine.
This legacy of leadership is strong, as the passing down of leadership now spans five generations. This stays true to the firm’s approach of nurturing quality, in both service and staff, but simultaneously moving forward and reinventing itself to stay relevant. “We want to continue focusing on not being the biggest, but instead being the best… at the end of the day we are a customer service provider, and that’s something we do very well and will continue to do well.”