It was 1956, a time when hard work and dedication paid off. Eisenhower was re-elected, Elvis tore up the charts with Heartbreak Hotel, Wes Kearney’s son Bing was born, and Wes himself bought his first bulldozer; this was the start of what would become a stellar sitework company.
Working at first for a company putting on commercial roof decks for clients, including Florida’s Tampa General Hospital and Marine Bank Building, Wes didn’t even know how to unload the machine from the transport truck when it was first delivered. Wes always put in very long work hours, working during the day, maintaining his machinery at night after dinner. He mainly performed hourly work from 1956 to 1968 – charging $6 an hour for an International TD9 bulldozer, including time, bulldozer, fuel, and maintenance. He worked tirelessly providing for his wife, Joanne, and three sons, Bryan, Barry and Bing.
When Bing was age 16, he became part of his dad’s business as his father’s second employee, taking on everything from running heavy equipment to estimating, handling projects, and even billing and collection.
By 1978, the nature of construction was changing. Although until that time, customers had mostly paid Wes hourly, the customers soon began requesting lump sum proposals for jobs. “We were primarily at that time a dirt moving company,” says Bing Kearney, now Chairman.
The path to self-perform
“We would bid a complete job to our customers,” Bing continues, “but we had to subcontract out to our competitors the pipework, curb, roadbase, and the paving since we didn’t perform those scopes. Then they would do their subcontracted scope of the work in their spare time so that the developers wouldn’t give us another job because it would take our company forever to finish them due to our competitors sabotaging our construction schedules,” he explains.
“So we had no other choice but to get into the pipework business, and hired a gentleman who taught me the underground utility business.”
The company was awarded its first project, valued at $89,000, and its second complete awarded project was an $880,000 job with the U.S. Home Corporation, one of the nation’s biggest home builders. The Kearney team bought machinery, including a curb machine and motor grader, that enabled them to handle that work themselves, and from there, they continued to grow.
From its start, originally being called “C.W. Kearney,” the company later incorporated in 1971 as Kearney Development Company. The Kearney Companies, LLC was formed in 2009 by Bing’s son Chase, who serves as President and Owner with his brother Clay. In its third generation, the family-owned enterprise now employs in excess of 260 fulltime staff, in coordination with other Kearney owned companies under its umbrella including Florida Soil Cement Company LLC, CK Equipment LLC, Track and Roller Equipment LLC, and Joanne Kearney Real Estate.
What lies behind The Kearney Companies’ success? The most simple and successful – but perhaps the hardest – way to earn the respect of new and repeat clients is fast project delivery but without sacrificing quality. And Kearney is uniquely positioned in the industry to achieve this.
The company offers sitework services that include estimating, budgets, project management, construction management, value engineering, site management, priority safety plans, and much more. From site clearing to sanitary and storm sewers, and fire lines to underdrains, stabilizations, curbs, subgrades, and specialized concrete, Kearney self-performs all of this work.
The outcome is that this diversity of capabilities gives The Kearney Companies a tremendous advantage over most of its competitors. By taking charge, the company is able to control schedules and save developers a lot of time, putting itself and its customers in an enviable position. An example of this is how Kearney handles its pipework.
“One of the things we do that is different from all of our competitors is, we start laying the pipework typically within the first two or three weeks of starting the job,” says Kearney. “Most of our competitors do the grading – which typically takes 30 to 60 days – and then they start pipework. We can typically finish a project 60 days before our competitors, and often much earlier than that.”
The company has also earned the respect of its employees, resulting in unusual dedication and a high retention rate. Some staffers, including the company’s Chief Estimator, the General Superintendent, and top Mechanic, all have been with Kearney for over 30 years, and a number of coworkers even longer.
“We have always operated as a family-type business, and we have been able to retain some high-quality skilled partners who have the same beliefs as we do,” says Kearney of the business, which is also notable for its large minority labor force.
Nevertheless, like many other industries in today’s climate, the company’s challenge is to bring in and train new staff – whether for replacement or expansion. One recruitment method is offering existing employees a referral bonus if they introduce TKC to a hard-working friend or relative who joins up and then remains with the company for a certain minimum period of time.
“You can advertise on TV, on billboards, or put signs up,” Kearney says, “but your best method of hiring for TKC is through workers talking to others looking to possibly get into the industry.” Despite present challenges in finding skilled employees, the company, jealous of its own integrity, never poaches potential hires from its competitors, and expects the same of them.
Working for some of Florida’s best-known home developers, Kearney’s multi-million-dollar projects include The Lagoon at Epperson – a master-planned community under Metro Places in the Tampa Bay area – and Hillsborough County’s Triple Creek, a master-planned community of 990 acres for GreenPointe, one of the Sunshine State’s largest private residential and mixed-use developers.
Comprising residential, commercial, industrial, and mass grading projects, Kearney’s client list is a ‘who’s who’ of long-established, leading Florida developers and home builders, such as DR Horton, Lennar Homes (established 1954), Pulte Homes, and more.
After 64 years in business, Kearney’s good name and solid reputation in the community continue to earn the company repeat and new business. The company gets much of its work through word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied clients and engineers spreading the word.
Continuing to operate out of Tampa, Kearney typically works within a radius of about 75 miles of its corporate headquarters. Highly experienced, self-performing with its own equipment, the company is often at a distinct advantage over its competitors – as Bing Kearney points out – many of whom use subcontractors to perform the projects that they are awarded.
“They may have five pipe crews and they might also have five subcontracted pipe crews. We only bid work that we are going to do with our people,” Bing says. “We are not looking to put our subcontractor competitors in business against us. The completion of the job is very critical to us which separates us from our competitors. We finish projects substantially quicker than our competitors do.”
Problems solved 24/7
Over the decades, Kearney has become a major company in its field, but there’s no complacency. Its ethos of service and providing solutions still runs deep, which may be one of the keys to its success – and a factor in its reputation.
For instance, although it mainly handles jobs in the $1 million to $10 million range, when a client needs a smaller job done, such as pouring 20 feet of sidewalk, Kearney handles it without question. “A lot of our clients call us because our competitors won’t do small projects for them when requested. They know we will do it,” says Bing.
And he adds, in a fitting summary: “We are available to solve your problems, 24/7.”