Concrete contractor Len Swederski isn't content doing the same ol' same ol' when it comes to the concrete industry. Len is owner and president of Swederski Concrete Construction out of Spring Grove, Ill., and he holds true to his philosophy on business. "I want to have the most innovative equipment out there and be on the leading edge of demands in the industry," he says. With laser-equipped screeds and the latest in robotic layout technology, he's on the leading edge of demands in the concrete industry. Len and his company are pushing architects, engineers and decision makers to recognize the benefits of concrete in road paving, parking lot jobs, whitetopping and a host of other applications.
Len started his business in 1985, during what he calls "the dark years of construction." When the company he was working for started downsizing, Swederski started his own concrete business doing residential and light commercial flatwork and foundations. Over the years the company grew out of its first office - a rebuilt corn crib on a neighboring farm - and into today's 40-employee, $8 million a year business. With his son Joe as estimating and contracts manager, his other son Scott as operations manager, and Len's wife Patti and sister Sharon Caulfield pitching in along with other dedicated staff, the family business is succeeding and has grown beyond the residential flatwork and foundations business it started out as. Now performing a larger percentage of its work in the commercial and industrial sectors, Swederski Concrete Construction offers industrial foundations and floors, concrete paving on roads and parking lots, and whitetopping along with traditional concrete work.
The business of concrete
A lot of Swederski Concrete's success stems from Len's business management ideals and philosophies. "We look at all our business relationships as a partnership - customers, suppliers and ourselves," Len says. "If all three partners don't make a profit, something isn't right. That leads to satisfied customers and repeat business, and suppliers are eager to refer us to potential new customers."
In addition to believing in investing in equipment, Len feels strongly about education and training. Two-thirds of his employees are ACI-certified Finisher/Technicians, 25 employees have First Aid/CPR certification, and his foremen and managers have all been through OSHA safety training. Len himself has been teaching the ACI finishing course for 10 years.
Swederski Concrete has a strong workforce of 30 people in the field, and half of them have been with the company for more than a decade. When hiring, Len looks for career-oriented employees and in return offers above average wages, health, dental and life insurance, and 401(k) profit sharing contributions. Len also implemented a substance abuse program in his company more than 10 years ago that has contributed to better productivity, less absenteeism and safer jobsites. "My employees are mentally sharp and training is much easier," Len says.
One of the most important characteristics a business owner can possess is foresight. "You always have to take risks in business, and you need to be prepared should a serious risk materialize," Len says. "You have to ask yourself, 'Can I absorb the risk if this job goes sour? Is this job going to threaten my business?' If so, you have to reassess your risks or walk away from the job because you never know when a 9/11 is going to hit your business."
Swederski Concrete experienced a "9/11" of its own and Len's business management foresight was put to the test three years ago when his son Joe suffered a broken neck from a skiing accident. "There were three months after the accident when my wife and I and our son Scott were gone, basically living in the hospital in Chicago with Joe. It was a tough time for the business with all four of us gone," Len explains.