When the company dispatcher left in 2006, Mary found a new position. She realized a lack of communication between the team members running the different divisions often left them fighting over field personnel and equipment, hindering their efficiency. She developed a company-wide scheduling system that greatly increased productivity through efficiency. “I redefined the dispatch position into more of a resource allocation manager. All key resources — personnel, equipment and tools — were scheduled through me. I became the hub and they were the spokes,” she says.
The central piece of Mary’s scheduling system is a whiteboard that tracks equipment and crew members, something she refers to as the “Call-It Board.” “It improves our equipment utilization and allows us to make sure every employee’s skill set is being maximized every day,” Mary explains.
As Mary’s involvement in the company increased, her father’s decreased. “As the hub, I knew everything going on in the company at any given moment, so it became easier for my dad to spend time away from the office,” she says.
As time went on it became apparent that Mary’s role with the company would be successor. “My dad realized I was competent enough to monitor the day-to-day activities in his absence and he began spending a lot less time in the office and more time fishing and farming,” she says.
In March 2008, Mary and Jeff purchased the residential and commercial assets of her father’s company with Mary listed as the majority shareholder and president of the company. In June 2009, Mary purchased Jeff’s ownership stock, making her the sole owner, director and only officer of the corporation. A year later Mary acquired the assets of the remaining agricultural division from her parents. Michel Concrete recently acquired certification as a Woman-Owned Business through the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) and is currently awaiting Recognition Certification from the State of Illinois.
Today Mary spends 80 percent of her time in the field and runs the company’s day-to-day operations. But being a woman in the construction industry is still a challenge. “People are always looking for the man who’s really running the show,” Mary says. “As time goes on, however, I gain confidence in myself, my role and my abilities, and I feel I’ve got less to prove. Instead, I let my actions speak for themselves. It doesn’t take long, after meeting me, for people to recognize I’m competent and I make my own decisions.”
A better foundation
Michel Concrete has built a strong customer base throughout its residential, commercial and agricultural markets. With its commercial and agricultural clients, work comes to them through requested bid proposals. On the residential side, Michel Concrete reaches clients through a marketing plan that educates both homeowners and builders about a quality foundation and why the Michel Concrete foundation package is superior to the competition.
Recently, the company made a change to help its residential foundation customers make better choices, whether they want them or not. Over the last three years, Michel Concrete has dealt with several homeowner callbacks due to wet basement issues. “Whenever a basement has a water problem, the homeowner always assumes it’s the fault of the concrete contractor,” Jeff Wilson says.
Mary explains that upon further investigation in almost all of these callbacks the problem stemmed from water penetrating through shrinkage cracks above the level where waterproofing spray had been applied — instances where landscapers backfilled too high or set sprinkler heads that hit the foundation.
Initially Mary set out to solve these issues through better education at the homebuilder and homeowner levels and by offering an above-grade waterproofing spray option that was both UV-resistant and cosmetically more attractive than the “black tar stuff” builders and homeowners had been trying to hide. But customers didn’t see the value of this $500 option and elected to forego the upgrade.
“When Illinois enacted the 2009 energy code, forcing everyone to insulate foundations, the majority of builders in our area elected to insulate inside the foundation wall, which created a visual barrier for finding leaks and a physical barrier for fixing leaks,” Mary explains. “I knew a bad situation was about to get much worse and I feared these avoidable, future problems would reflect poorly on Michel Concrete.”