Winning Ways: Family, Accountability, and Clear Communication

Michael Kinder & Sons
Written by Allison Dempsey

Michael Kinder & Sons—a pioneer in the design-build sector for over a century—successfully utilizes its single-source team strategy to plan, design, and build while saving money, time, and hassle and making clients’ dreams a reality.

This Northeast Indiana-based company handles everything: site selection, zoning and permits, planning, design, construction, furniture, art, and property management. The result is the impressive construction of new, leading-edge industrial facilities, commercial offices, health care facilities, senior housing, structures for college campuses, and houses of worship.

The company’s longevity and productivity are not its only noteworthy features: MKS also provides a superior work environment, exemplary client care, admirable philanthropic efforts, and unique advanced technologies to create and support its superior team of employees, vendors, and clients.

A seat at the table
When it comes to company culture, MKS ensures that every employee has a voice in operations via its quarterly satisfaction surveys, answering questions about the company and providing an overall score. While a good score is typically between 10 and 20, a great score is anything above 30. “Over the past six quarters, we’ve averaged over 50, which is superior,” says CEO Bill Kinder. “It’s pretty awesome to have such a committed team.”

The first question asked of every employee is why they like working at MKS. Answers have ranged from providing great value to a mission statement one can believe in, a family-like environment, continuous improvement and innovation, opportunities for all, and excellent leadership.

“We do take it above and beyond,” says Kinder. “If you have personal issues, we have a consultant there to listen; everybody has his number. I think that’s important because if employees have issues in their personal life, they’re probably going to bring it to work, and we don’t want them to have to do that; we want to try to help them.”

Kinder also has high praise for the company’s EOS (Entrepreneurial Operation System for Businesses), which employs simple concepts and practical tools to help clarify, simplify, and achieve on a daily basis the business’s vision, all while complying with its core values, which spell TEAMS: be Transformational, Excellent, Accountable, Meaningful, and Safe.

“The thing we love about EOS is there are no excuses,” he says. “You’re either winning or you’re losing. It’s all based on a scoreboard, so it’s no different than playing sports. At the end of the day, you know whether you’ve won or lost.”

“It’s a scoreboard not only for accountability but also clear communication,” adds Zach Kessie, Vice President, Business Development. “It eliminates any misaligned expectations.”

EOS not only helps employees track daily responsibilities and achievements, but it also provides clear expectations, from job descriptions to quarterly goals. “It comes down to people knowing what they’re accountable to and what they have to do to win,” Kinder says. “We now run our business with a game plan every day, constantly looking to improve and come up with best practices to serve everyone who becomes part of the MKS family.”

Client care
This commitment and dedication also extend to MKS clients, helping them feel seen and heard by surveying them at all stages in the process to ensure the company is exceeding their expectations. “We set a goal for ourselves; if we don’t get a score of a 9 or 10 out of 10, we investigate the concern and address it head-on with our clients,” Kinder says. “Everybody has room for improvement.”

“We’re not only building buildings, we’re building relationships,” adds Kessie. “We’ve grown our family-oriented business internally and externally and gradually built partnerships and friendships with our clients.”

MKS’s client engagement program brings clients on board at the outset of a project, introducing them to the team and ensuring there’s a good fit and mutual respect from both a work and cultural perspective.

“We realize each project and client is different in how they process information and the type of building [they need],” says Kessie. “The feedback we get on each team member, department, subcontractor, and overall interaction allows us to make changes in real time. If you’re not communicating and identifying misaligned expectations, fix it.”

MKS also keeps its team at the forefront by utilizing advanced technologies such as 3D photography and drones to keep clients involved with developments and changes. “This 3D technology allows them to pick a point on the floor plan and click on it,” says Marketing Director Nathan Kreider. “It drops them into that floor plan where they can look around in a 360-degree view and compare what it looked like weeks ago. It’s an excellent way for the client to perform a side-by-side comparison and feel like a part of the process.

In an ongoing effort to provide turnkey services for clients from beginning to end, MKS has engaged 38 commercial furniture manufacturers and multiple art vendors into the front end of every project. Clients have the opportunity to choose furniture early on through MKS, allowing them to incorporate it into the design and budget in the early stages of preconstruction. MKS also offers real estate and property management services, which allows the company to guide every building project it undertakes throughout its entire lifecycle.

Other changes at MKS include the recent completion of and move to a new state-of-the-art headquarters, which showcases all components of the MKS process.

In addition, a complete overhaul of the entire warehouse and material equipment inventory system will be converted to a leading-edge inventory system. The warehouse also incorporates a state-of-the-art equipment repair shop in order to maintain all company-owned equipment.

“So really, we’re fully turnkey in all aspects,” says Kessie. “Our differentiator is we’re a 131-year-old company that started as a contractor, and we’ve morphed into a professional plan, design, and build [company] over the last 25 years.”

Doing well and doing good
With its personal touch and comprehensive, technology-driven approach, MKS is also proud of its numerous philanthropic efforts. “Over the years, we’ve been blessed to do a lot of not-for-profit work in the community and key not-for-profit projects in the Fort Wayne community,” says Kessie.

From the Turnstone Pediatric Therapy Expansion, Jim Kelly Career Pathway Center, and Plassman Athletic Center to the Wells Street YWCA and the Boys & Girls Club of Fort Wayne, the company continually strives to offer as much assistance as possible to area organizations.

“We’ve worked with folks at Turnstone, the YWCA, and the Boys & Girls Club, whenever we get an opportunity. It’s about building long-term partnerships,” says Kessie. “We’ve had a relationship with the Boys & Girls Club for well over 15 years now… to us, it’s about finding where we can make an impact and making those impacts for the different organizations we support.”

Offering help and assistance wherever and whenever possible is important to MKS, whether it’s a volunteer project or providing pro bono work for an organization that needs help moving past a rough spot. “Our community is only as good as the people who support it,” says Kinder. “The success of our community is as important as the success of our company and our clients.”

Working on work ethic
Moving forward, MKS plans to continue evolving, just as it has for decades. Kinder says that one of the company’s numerous milestones includes getting the entire company fully integrated with the EOS platform, along with training the younger generation in the importance of details, attention to quality, and work ethic. Work ethic is a value—along with deep expertise—that always has and always will set MKS apart from the competition.

“I think a lot of people think they’re coming to work for eight hours and will learn the job, and they don’t understand that this is schooling for the first year or two,” Kinder says. “You’re learning the business; it’s not just making money or being profitable for us. You’re learning our business and the way that we do things,” he says.

“I would put our team up against any company because our people outwork our competitors and have a passion for doing things right, always with our clients’ best interests in mind. We simply are more efficient than others in our industry, say two to one. And when I say that, I mean that for every two people they have, we need one. We are doing work more efficiently for two reasons: one is our process—by being involved early we solve the problems that slow others down; and two, talent and passion—our people our well-trained and efficient.”

“Our biggest accomplishment in our company is that we’ve continued to listen to our clients and… provide a vertically integrated turnkey solution for our clients,” says Kessie. “We want to be the first call to help someone all the way through. To me, that’s a huge accomplishment.”

Kinder heartily agrees. “We’re good at what we do,” he says, adding that the MKS ownership is fully involved in daily operations. “My brother and I are very engaged, and we’ve worked in all facets of the business, so we know a little about everything. We’ve learned it, and we love it. We love what we do, and I think that passes down to our employees’ passion. We simply have great people.”

The passion and the dedication to success within the company are evident, from ownership to management and on down, and they are the qualities that Bill Kinder intends to foster. “I tell people all the time that if you don’t love this business , we’ll know pretty quick. We have a passion that is contagious.”

Ultimately, he says, it’s a matter of doing the job right the first time by being detail-driven, setting values, and working diligently. “One of the best things we do is we lead the process from start to finish, whether in real estate transactions or buying property, with the pre-construction team overseeing that process through construction.”

MKS plans to keep doing what it always has, which is forging ahead with solid plans and a clear vision of future goals while fully grasping the ideals that made it successful in the first place.

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