By Anne Lindert-Wentzell
Updated October 1, 2019 2:00PM ET
A Rich Legacy Founded on Core Values
Michuda Construction is a century-old construction firm, established in 1919. It remains family-owned, providing full services in general contracting and construction management. The company operates in many markets including commercial, education, senior living, and places of worship. However, its primary specialization has always been the healthcare industry, where it has decades of experience working within occupied spaces while integrating lean and clean practices.
Headquartered in Tinley Park, Illinois, Michuda employs approximately 135 people and has a nationwide market reach. It is, “Midwest-focused but will travel if a client wants us to,” says Josef Michuda, the company’s President.
Josef’s great-grandfather and great-grandfather’s brother were initially engaged in residential construction and, in 1927, had completed their first commercial, public-sector project for the Chicago Public Schools, Morgan Park High School. Josef’s grandfather took the company helm during the height of the Great Depression, pursuing notable projects for a range of public agencies.
In 1996, Josef and his brother Mark “realized that, although we continued to have success in the public sector, our services were still commoditized,” says Josef. “We were looking for a market that rewards good service with repeat work. That’s when we decided to get into healthcare,” realizing that, “despite the cyclical nature of the economy, healthcare capital spends do not gyrate as much as other sectors.”
Michuda’s healthcare focus continues to grow. “Our public-sector portfolio tapered off until the Great Recession. At that point, we walked away from the public sector completely.”
Josef says that in the construction industry, what is most often the major consideration is, “the byproduct of the process – the building, the improvement, what’s left behind.” However, any successful business, especially those a century old and beyond, will agree that established relationships are a vital part of achieving success.
“We are essentially in the service industry,” he explains, and so everything hinges on relationships between project owners, architects, engineers, and trade partners. “In the LEAN model that we have embraced, LEAN is based upon the tenet of mutual respect amongst partners united in a common goal. So, we’re all about collaboration, to improve flow, eliminate waste, and foster collaborative partnerships among all team members.”
Steve Jobs noted in a 2003 interview with the 60 Minutes television program that, “Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.” Although this may seem obvious, many businesses, either by intent or neglect, do not adhere to this most fundamental principle. Teams need to be encouraged and inspired to work together toward a common goal, understand what their responsibilities are, and adhere to those consistently, applying knowledge and skillsets.
Michuda Construction begins every day of a project with a team huddle to address issues and concerns. The huddles encourage each person, including superintendents, to acknowledge their role in each project and, perhaps more importantly, to employ best practices and commit to client satisfaction. To Josef, this daily huddle “has been instrumental in improving flow, efficiency, and safety metrics.”
An investment in any industry’s most important assets – its employees – is an investment in the future. The construction industry is not exempt, and perhaps is one of the industries where training and employee development is most crucial. Investing in training and development ensures employee performance is at its peak, employees are satisfied and retained, and ultimately results in a more qualified workforce for successful projects. Training and certification programs provided can give workers OSHA 10-hour or 30-hour cards, for example, and although not a legislative requirement, most construction contracting companies require workers to have them.
“We view training and credentialing as an investment in our people,” says Josef. “So we allocate significant resources to ensure that our staff has the training and tools necessary to be successful.”
Safety is of the utmost concern for not only Michuda’s employees but for those in the healthcare industries in which the company operates. For this reason, Michuda developed Michuda Mobile (MM) in partnership with enterprise software development company Alligatortek in 2014.
The cloud-based application provides real-time monitoring of all Michuda’s construction sites, at all hours of the day, making this a valuable tool for both managing and overseeing construction site safety. This application is changing the safety culture of the industry, incorporating new features as necessary to facilitate the consistently changing construction industry landscape.
Josef explains that the development of Michuda Mobile was, “a result of several serious safety incidents that occurred within three days. We realized that we were paying lip service to our safety practices. We came together as a team to develop our own best practices, but the paper-based tracking was not effective at measuring our safety practices.”
At the time, no such application was available in the industry, so Michuda developed its own, and Michuda Mobile even became a 2018 Chicago Innovation Award Finalist. “While there are no assurances that incidents can occur, we still aspire to achieve the goal of zero safety incidents. You can’t improve what you can’t measure,” says Josef. “Technology does not drive change. There must be a cultural shift that goes along with the tool for it to be effective.”
He notes that the Michuda Mobile tool was, “born out of LEAN practices,” and provides, “a standardized process of how to track our safety metrics to identify trends and chart a course for improvement. But the platform can be adapted to other industries or other markets where we perform our work.”
Josef says that the company’s adherence to the lean and clean philosophy is inspired by that of Toyota manufacturing whose LEAN practices were swiftly adapted into clinical models by American healthcare providers.
“Since we perform construction in healthcare sectors, it was inevitable that these practices would flow into our way of conducting business. And, we believe that it’s just a better way of doing business, regardless of the sector.”
There are numerous challenges to be addressed within the construction sector, even under the best of conditions. Understandably, working in a building when part of it is still being used presents unique challenges, requiring an experienced contracting company such as Michuda.
Safety, dust, noise, and odour are considerations that are present at a construction site. All of these issues are addressed by Michuda with its knowledgeable, prepared, and conscientious teams. Josef says that other challenges include those of ensuring that a facility’s personnel, clinical caregivers, patients, and visitors are considered.
“However, with the incorporation of LEAN practices in our projects, the process is more collaborative from the concept stage,” explains Josef. “All the stakeholders are involved at the onset, and the process is more iterative than linear. So the traditional project segments meld and flow concurrently.”
Another challenge involves, “adapting the old way of doing business in healthcare to incorporate LEAN practices in everything we do. This is more a cultural change than systemic. In essence, we threw out our old playbook.”
As to Michuda Construction’s most challenging project, Josef affirms that this is tough to choose. “Many of our projects are inherently challenging because they are multi-phased and ‘spidered’ throughout ongoing clinical operations, patients, visitors, and staff.”
Because of this, the company has a higher risk profile on each project. “Although many of our competitors build out-of-the-ground healthcare facilities, those skill sets do not necessarily translate to occupied clinical projects. But, the skill sets we apply to occupied facilities do translate to our new construction projects,” he explains.
Michuda Construction works closely with the Loyola Family Business Centre, Loyola University Chicago, which is comprised of family-owned businesses that provide networks for knowledge sharing and advise how to move successful family businesses forward.
This collaboration and networking “helps family businesses navigate complex generational transitions, strengthening both their family and business,” Josef says. “It is a resource to help us think about our family and business in a more structured fashion, thereby preserving our legacy.”
There is no argument that Michuda Construction has built a legacy of which it can be proud. A vital part of this legacy has been derived from the five (F) values – (F)aith, (F)amily, (F)riends, (F)inancial security, and (F)ilanthropy. “We believe that adherence to these core values both as a family and a business will ensure success for our family, our employee families, and perpetuate our legacy,” Josef relates.