United Excel returns to private sector work, beefs up KC presence

Since 1994, United Excel’s bread and butter has been in the health care market, building 130 projects for the University of Kansas Medical Center and dozens more for Shawnee Mission Medical Center. But about 8 years ago, the recession forced the company to branch out into design-build government health care projects.

United Excel is the only family of companies in the U.S. that incorporates design and construction-- as well as furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E)-- into its wheelhouse. That differentiation has paid off for the Kansas City-based general contractor, which currently rakes in roughly $130 million a year in government contracts alone, with projects lined up from New York to Hawaii.

But while steady and lucrative, government design-build is among the most difficult construction work a company can undertake, according to United Excel President Kevin Rogers. The government itself is a demanding client, and adding layers of oversight and input from various agencies makes for a grueling process.

“Doing work for KU Med or Shawnee Mission Medical Center is hard enough, and when you add in the Army Corps of Engineers and the Air Force on top of that, it’s very difficult.” Rogers said. “Plus when you’re working in a city where none of the contractors know you, it can get pretty tough, but the challenges have helped us create a team of amazing builders. They don’t even know how good they are.”

With architects in St. Louis under United Excel Design, most of the FF&E team in Denver, and the general contracting team in Kansas City, United Excel prides itself on taking a 3,000-page RFP and turning it into a project within 45 days.

“When we submit our proposals, they’re masterpieces,” Rogers said. “We don’t win every time, because the price isn’t always right, but it always comes back that our proposal is the best. We’ve become experts at understanding the government’s needs and submitting proposals, but it takes a lot of time.”

After two years as president, Rogers has observed a team approaching burnout. To reward all the hard work and success, he’s leading United Excel's charge back into private development. It’s a ripe market, and leadership believes the firm's highly capable and talented team will continue United Excel's winning streak as it expands into new strategic areas with significant potential. For example, Rogers believes United Excel's established health care design experience will set the stage for expansion into the assisted living sector.

United Excel is in the process of hiring a new business development professional to chase new business, ideally a Kansas City industry veteran with local and private sector experience who can complement Rogers’ background in government health care. Once that critical leadership piece is in place, United Excel will open a new Kansas City office—preferably in the Crossroads Arts District—later this year. 

“We don’t want to just do local work; we want to be part of Kansas City again,” Rogers said.

United Excel’s office at 5425 Antioch Dr. in Merriam, Kan. is listed for sale by CBRE.

Kevin Rogers, President of United Excel; and Jennifer Hansford, Vice President of Mill Creek

Kevin Rogers, President of United Excel; and Jennifer Hansford, Vice President of Mill Creek

Fogel-Anderson celebrates 100 years

The year 1917 was a big one for Kansas City. A cub reporter named Ernest Hemingway began working at The Kansas City Star, Rockhurst College opened its doors, and Martin Fogel- along with sons Paul and Lyle- officially launched and incorporated Fogel Construction Company.

In 2015, Jolynne Bartolotta, Roger Summers, Brad Kaestner and Greg Harrelson teamed up to purchase the closely held firm. Since then, Fogel-Anderson Construction has grown from 18 employees to 27 and is involved in high-profile projects including Price Brothers’ 300-acre BluHawk Development in south Overland Park and the Paragon Star Soccer Village in Lee’s Summit.

MetroWireMedia recently sat down with two of the company’s four owners-- Jolynne Bartolotta and Roger Summers-- to discuss the firm’s history, evolution and future.

MWM:  Share with us how Fogel-Anderson has grown and evolved as a successful family-owned business for 100 years?

Roger:  In 1923, Paul Fogel hired OT Anderson, a 16-yr-old baseball player from the local Shrine semi-pro team. OT helped build the firm for several decades and in 1953 his son, Ted, joined the firm.  That same year OT and Ted acquired the Fogels’ interest and thus Fogel-Anderson Construction Co. was born.

In 1974, Ted’s stepson Phil Bartolotta joined the firm, eventually becoming a partner and president in 1997. As Phil looked for a succession plan that would protect the people, preserve the Fogel-Anderson name, and secure a place for his daughter, a new partnership was formed to acquire the company.

Today’s ownership includes Jolynne Bartolotta, Roger Summers, Brad Kaestner and Greg Harrelson. Brad’s expertise is in project management and operations, while Greg’s is estimating and pre-construction.   

MWM: Tell us more about the importance of the family leadership dynamic at Fogel-Anderson and how that played into the firm’s succession plan.

Jolynne: It has always been a family-owned business, even though the families have changed. My roots go back to my great-grandfather, OT Anderson, who joined the company in 1923. Phil (my father) led us though some tough times while wearing many hats. As we moved toward a succession plan, I knew I wasn’t going to assume all of the leadership roles that Phil had, so we worked toward a team approach of complementary partners.  

That said, it was easier for my dad to give me away on my wedding day than it was for him to sell this company.  

MWM: How did Fogel-Anderson manage to weather the 2008 recession?

Jolynne: Construction management work got us through the recession. We started that around 2004-05, because Phil saw the coming downturn of retail. In 2008, we went from a staff of 33 down to 11.  We also lost my grandfather, Ted Anderson, along with two other key people.

Roger: Coming out of the recession, school construction slowed down, so we jumped back into the vertical markets the firm established in the past including grocery stores, retail, churches, K-12 projects, office, and hospitality. From a business standpoint, we’ve been opportunistic in going where the market has taken us.

MWM: What have been some of your challenges over the years --and more recently with the current ownership --and how have you overcome them?

Roger: We recognized a few challenges when we got here. One was: how do you take a 100-year-old company and rebrand it to appeal to young people in order to fuel future growth? Recognizing where we are and the story we have to tell, we undertook a deliberate rebranding/remarketing exercise to figure out how to tell that story.

Jolynne: Some individuals weren’t ready to embrace technology and procedural changes, and some of those individuals had been part of leadership before the acquisition. It’s one of those things where you lead by example. Once Brad came aboard, he and I worked together to begin that effort. IPads started flying out the door. Training started happening. For a company that at one point in time had been ahead of its time in technology, we had fallen behind the times. But with the new ownership, Brad and his drive to bring that tech to the table really helped.

MWW: What is Fogel-Anderson’s approach to handling workforce challenges?

At one point, we had an aging workforce, but as we’ve grown we have brought in some Millennials and Gen X’ers. One of the fears (pre-2015) was, you bring in these Millennials, what will it do to the workforce? What we’ve found is that they’re working together. There’s a Baby Boomer working back there that knows it all; he’s been through it, and you can’t teach him new tricks. But you bring in this Millennial and put them side by side, and you see them learning from one another. You see that cross-mentorship and it’s been a real morale booster to watch everyone work together as a team rather than one-on-one.

MWM: Tell us about some of your current projects.

Roger: Probably the biggest project going on right now is the first phase of the BluHawk Development by Price Brothers in south Overland Park. It’s a 300-acre development; we’re doing the first phase of retail and a new grocery store right now.  

The Paragon Star Soccer Village complex will be big and exciting for Lee’s Summit. We have an ongoing relationship with the Grain Valley School District. We’re about to build another branch for Frontier Justice, the Lee’s Summit indoor shooting range, in KCK at The Legends.

MWM: What is on the horizon for Fogel-Anderson?

Roger: We take a long-term approach to what the company will be. We have a mindset that Fogel-Anderson will be a contractor in Kansas City long after we’ve passed it on to the next generation.

The way this opportunity came together, and really Phil’s role in structuring this so it could happen with the four of us, is very unique. It was a great opportunity that just doesn’t come around everyday.

Jolynne: The fact that we found the right fit for a leadership team and put together a structure that allowed me to be that fourth generation of ownership-- it’s quite amazing. I’m grateful to my dad for that. He could have sold out, he could have closed up shop, but he didn't because of what this company meant to him. And quite honestly, what it meant for my future. That was important to him as well.

New Design-Build law will drive innovation, value in Missouri

New Design-Build law will drive innovation, value in Missouri

Missouri is the latest state in the nation to adopt alternative procurement legislation, thanks to a handful of local A/E/C professionals and organizations. The new law, which went into effect this week, allows public agencies to use the design-build procurement method for all types of design and construction. It’s a process that’s promising to drive innovation and value for those who use it correctly.