50 Years of Growth: The Sky Is The Limit
Interview with CEO Troy Garrett on Kovach’s 50 Years of Growth
What a year 1969 was.
While 500,000 people were celebrating at Woodstock and Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were walking on the moon Steve Kovach III began installing roofing panels out of his humble shop in Scottsdale Arizona. It was a different time back then. Gas was 35 cents a gallon and a new home would barely crack $16,000. Visions of glass towers and beautifully crafted metalwork were far from Steve’s mind. It was about a small business owner trying to keep his family fed and provide good jobs for those he cared about.
While people still remain at the core of everything we do at Kovach our projects and capabilities have evolved dramatically since the days of Abbey Road and space races. The entrepreneurial spirit that drove Steve III has permeated throughout the entire family. Like the Apollo missions of the ’60s, each new generation of Kovachs has launched the business deeper into the galactic universe of construction.
By the 1970’s Steve Kovach IV began putting his thumbprint on the business and the small roofing company started to install siding and metal panels. By the 1990’s Kovach Metal Roof & Wall Professionals was recognized as one of the largest roofing contractors in the US. Over the next 20 years, Kovach continued to expand and perfect their craft by taking on new products such as composite panels, specialty metals, stone, and complex geometric shapes and systems. In 2011, Kovach acquired a glass and glazing contractor prompting a rebranding to simply Kovach Building Enclosures. True to tradition, the torch was passed to Steve V who was instrumental in leading the addition of glass capabilities.
Growth is in our DNA. It’s part of our culture and heritage. It’s just who we are.
As we celebrate our semicentennial year it’s important to talk about what got us here and where we are going in the next 50 years. I sat down with our CEO and President Troy Garrett to talk about how Kovach has done such a remarkable job growing the business to where it is today.
Kovach has come a long way in 50 years and has especially grown over the last decade. Why is expansion such an important part of Kovach’s strategy?
Troy: The reason Kovach needs to grow is truly more industry driven in order to continue to satisfy customers needs. There’s a fundamental shift I see going on in the construction industry as a whole. Our customers, the large general contractors of the world that do large commercial contract work, are getting bigger themselves–so we need to get bigger along with them in order to meet their needs.
With an industry constantly in flux, businesses in the A/E/C community may need to modify their current business strategy to meet current market conditions. What advice do you have for organization leaders that may need to change strategy mid-stream?
Troy: Never get too big to be inflexible. At least keep a culture of flexibility in the organization. Things do change. Markets change. Economic cycles change. Technology changes. We are in a constant state of change so an organization needs to be agile. The disruptors in the industry are all very agile companies.
What are some of the most important things that have helped Kovach grow?
Troy: First off, dedication to client satisfaction. I’ve always found that business is fairly simple. Take care of your customers and provide a service where you don’t spend as much as you take in. If you can profitably provide a quality service then you are going to have greater market demand out there. And Kovach has certainly seen that.
And second, I think that continued innovation is important and the construction industry is not one that has had a lot of innovation. Kovach is one that has actually been able to bring that to the table. Take our system of prefabrication. The idea behind us being able to put together an entire building enclosure using technology like our CAM drive 4-axis routers and taking some labor and potential human error out of the system. We are using software like “Advance Steel” to do 3D modeling of the unitized systems so that 2D does not need to be converted into 3D and then sent over to our CAM machines. It’s all seamless. It’s detailed and checked in 3D and goes directly to our machines to fabricate. That kind of innovation over time lessens the cost to our buyers and clients.
Kovach has reinvented itself many times since 1969. Despite all the development and change what remains constant about how we do business?
Troy: We have always tried to be very accommodating to our clients. Whereas other companies will crank out shop drawings and put the onus on the general contractors and say, “Hey guys you confirmed these dimensions and if these are not right you own it.” Kovach is not like that and it seems to be in the company culture. We want to create artwork for our general contractors, architects, and owners. That’s what we do and we are somewhat perfectionists in that we want it to be really really good. So instead of taking this pure manufacturer approach to things it really is about how do we deliver a real phenomenal project to our clients. And that sometimes hurts us and costs us more money because we want to do our own confirmation on field measurements, but we are trying to achieve their vision. We are not just delivering a product. We are trying to help achieve that final aesthetic they are going for. We take on some really impressive artwork type projects because we are known in the industry for doing that. I would say that’s a constant thing, that true desire to help our A/E/C clients achieve their vision and get the aesthetics they are looking for.
How does partnering with a growing subcontractor like Kovach benefit the A/E/C community?
Troy: Every general contractor does business a little bit differently but along a common path. We have what I would call a “Core Client Strategy.” In other words, we like to do work with the teams that are the best fit for what we do well. By having a core group of general contractor and architect clients we really can provide the best service. By partnering with them we get more effective and efficient with safety which is absolutely critical. We get to know their safety programs and share our safety programs. We get their people talking with our people on safety and that way we can reduce injuries and events. Each general contractor does business in a particular way too. A big part of our strategy is to be the trusted advisor in the pre-construction phase. By partnering with general contractors in the preconstruction phase we can help provide optimal solutions for the ultimate owner – that developer, that university, that hospital, or whoever we are working for. If you are “one-offing” everything and not partnering it’s a lot harder to achieve that synergy that we’re talking about. We’re trying to do the same things with some of our engineering and architectural partners as well. We’re focusing on keeping a small group that is starting to learn our particular systems so we don’t have to recreate the wheel every time. We want general contractors who are looking at us as a partner.
As we look forward to another 50 years what are you most enthusiastic about?
Troy: I love seeing the buildings that Kovach completes. It’s really cool to go around and say “hey we were part of that really impressive project.” And Kovach gets to do some truly amazing architectural work. At its essence, our job is to make projects look stunning and help that architect and Owner get the aesthetic they are looking for. The university projects we do today, people are going to be looking at them for the next 100 years. I also like that the fact the construction industry as a whole generally doesn’t go away and will be around forever. There will always be demand for construction services and it’s getting better at providing an amazing career for people. That’s what is exciting to me. It used to be that tradespeople where doing “okay” but now we see tradespeople that are pulling in some true income. We have 401ks and health benefits and to me, that helps better society. Any time you can set up a business that helps better society that’s good. It’s not exploiting people, it’s building people. So that’s what is most exciting to me.