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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 24, 2017 1 year ago

Exceeding expectations

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One of the fastest-growing builders in the region places a premium on its ability stay agile. It also has a low tolerance for underperformers.
by: Elizabeth Morrisey Contributing Writer

Frank Kendrick recently let go of six employees. But not because his company, NuJak Companies Inc., is struggling.

To the contrary, sales continue to increase and Kendrick says the company is projected to do $20 million this year. It had $10 million in revenue on 2015, up 66.7% from $6 million in 2014.

But when Kendrick realized some employees weren't performing at their top levels, he knew he had to retool at his workforce. That's why some people were let go. “Now I found my sweet spot of talented people,” says Kendrick. “It's now down to a group of superstars.”

Lakeland-based NuJak now has 20 employees, spread through six offices statewide. The construction management company recently ranked No. 6 on the University of Florida's Gator 100 list, which recognizes the fastest-growing businesses led by UF alumni.

One of NuJak's most visible and largest Polk County projects was Florida Polytechnic University's building off of Interstate 4 in 2014, in which the firm provided construction management services. NuJak is currently wrapping up a $14 million project with Southeastern University — a 122,000-square-foot multipurpose building with a connector bridge in Lakeland.

“It's been a great partnership, and they are building community here,” says Mike Alderman, executive director of Southeastern University's facilities department. “We had some challenges, and NuJak helped with communicating options and overcoming obstacles.”

NuJak's other clients statewide include schools and churches, banks, retail shops and health care facilities. Kendrick says 65% of his clients are repeats. The firm tends to focus on groups or companies that are continuously growing. “It's a 360-degree approach,” he says. “We analyze how our teams work together and we want to know how we did when working with our subcontractors, too. We are exceeding the customer's expectations and building relationships.”

NuJak was born 25 years ago with a staff of two in a small Lakeland office. Kendrick's father was a contractor, so Kendrick grew up around the construction industry. When his mother-in-law's Lakeland home burned, he helped rebuild it. That's when he decided to work in the construction field full time in Polk County.

Although some people told him it was a bad time to start a business, Kendrick gradually grew the company. “If you grow too fast without a foundation,” he says, “you can topple over.” He only had his church and some family when he launched his business and he was “burning the midnight oil” to get by. “Polk County is a close-nit community,” he says. “It's a great gem in between two large cities.”

Things did get tough, however, when the economic crash of 2008 caused Kendrick to take a step back and re-evaluate the company. “You have to be OK with being reduced down to fewer people,” he says. “Appreciate the peaks and valleys. As long as the trend is upward, don't get hung up on the ups and downs.”

Kendrick strategized and built a culture that works.

Kendrick says the company identified new markets and pinpointed the resources needed to succeed. “You have to be patient,” he says. “It's ironic for a fast-growing company, but you have to get the momentum going. The roots grow first. You may not see much happening, but you get the foundation established, and all of a sudden you grow. Then you get a big harvest.”

Kendrick also isn't afraid to make bold moves, like reorganizing his workforce.

“If you find a formula that works, you work the formula and the results naturally come,” he says, referring to the book “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson. “A lot of people get stuck. You have to be agile, flexible and be able to turn on a dime. The needs of clients are changing and you have to change with them.”

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