J.H. Findorff and Son, Inc. History
Madison, Wisconsin 53703-3628
Telephone: (608) 257-5321
Fax: (608) 257-5306
Incorporated: 1946 as J.H. Findorff & Son Inc.
Sales: $173 million (2002)
NAIC: 236220 Commercial and Institutional Building Construction; 236210 Industrial Building Construction
Findorff is known for its sophisticated pre-construction capabilities as well as innovative construction methods. We enjoy a high degree of repeat client business due to our clients' knowledge of Findorff as a reliable, financially strong, price conscious, schedule focused, quality contractor.
- John H. Findorff goes into business for himself as a carpenter contractor.
- Findorff purchases an old flour mill and constructs an office, lumberyard, and planing mill.
- Findorff partners with his son, Milton B. Findorff.
- The company is selected to install the first parking meters in downtown Madison.
- The company incorporates under the name J.H. Findorff & Son Inc.
- Milton Findorff is named president.
- Milton Findorff becomes chairman, while W. Harold Hastings is named president.
- John R. Findorff succeeds W. Harold Hastings as president, and Hastings becomes chairman.
- Findorff is listed among Engineering News Records' top 400 construction firms, with more than $37 million in contracts for the year.
- John R. Findorff sells the company to three long-time employees.
- Company sales reach $61 million.
- Findorff celebrates 100 years of operations, and sales reach an unprecedented $92 million.
- Findorff reveals its new headquarters overlooking Madison's Lake Monona.
J.H. Findorff and Son, Inc., is a leading general contractor of non-residential buildings serving southern Wisconsin. Based in Madison, where the employee-owned company ranks as the city's oldest general contractor, Findorff also has offices in Milwaukee. Findorff works with clients in different capacities, including that of construction manager, design-builder, and general contractor. The company's unionized workforce is capable of performing a wide variety of construction work, from carpentry, concrete, and drywall to masonry and steel work. In more than 100 years of operation, Findorff has constructed literally thousands of well-known buildings in Wisconsin. These include everything from educational facilities, governmental buildings, and hotels, to offices, parking ramps, and shopping centers.
A Family Affair: 1890-1980
Findorff's roots stretch back to the late 1800s, when a young Middleton, Wisconsin, native named John H. Findorff left his family's farm to work as a carpenter on the Dane County Courthouse, erected in 1885. The son of German immigrants, Findorff went on to work on homes and notable buildings in Madison, including the interior and dome of the state capitol.
Around this time, the city of Madison was experiencing a construction boom. With opportunities abounding, Findorff acquired the Stark Manufacturing Co. and went into business for himself as a carpenter contractor in 1890. According to company literature, "The firm's first contract was building and installing the woodwork and cabinetry for the University of Wisconsin's Armory or 'Red Gym.' This began a long and continuing tradition of Findorff building many of the UW's most notable structures."
Despite an economic depression, Findorff's business prospered. By 1904, he had purchased an old flour mill and constructed an office, lumberyard, and planing mill at South Bedford and West Wilson Streets. A fire destroyed Findorff's base of operations in 1909. However, thanks to generous support from the Madison community, the company was able to be re-established, and operations would continue from the same location for many years. According to Jonathan D. Silver of the Capital Times, John H. Findorff was "remembered as a generous man who would occasionally peel a $20 bill from his wallet and hand it to a surprised foreman as a reward for a job well done."
By 1917, the enterprise had evolved into a partnership between Findorff and his son, Milton B. Findorff, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin that year. It was at this time that the company evolved into the city's first general contractor. In its January 16, 1970 issue, the Capital Times described Milton Findorff as a "knowledgeable contractor" and "a dynamic businessman," and went on to explain: "In the 1920s, under his guidance, J.H. Findorff and son grew and added many new buildings to its list of completions--the Madison Gas and Electric offices, the University of Wisconsin Engineering Building on University Avenue, and the Wisconsin Power and Light office building among them." In all, Findorff was able to secure some 150 contracts during the 1920s--even though the nation faced dire economic times.
Progress continued during the 1930s. During this decade, Findorff began investing in the newest equipment in order to stay at the forefront of the construction trade. Examples of the company's purchases during this time include a crane in 1936, and a concrete pump the following year. Notable historic buildings constructed by Findorff during the 1930s include East High School and a state office building in 1930, as well as Quisling Apartments in 1937.
In 1941, Findorff made history outside of the building realm when it was selected to install the first parking meters in downtown Madison. The company continued to operate as a partnership for approximately 30 years, until incorporating under the name J.H. Findorff & Son Inc. in 1946.
In the wake of material shortages that brought many jobs to a halt, Findorff focused its attention on the war effort during the 1940s, constructing such facilities as Truax Field, the Badger Ordnance, and the Gisholt Machinery Company's Northern Works. At the Badger Ordnance site, Findorff once employed an astonishingly large crew of 900 tradesmen.
By 1948, Milton Findorff had been promoted from vice-president and treasurer to president. He, in turn, received assistance running the company from his son, John R. Findorff, who at the age of 30 had become a company director. Prior to joining his family's company, John R. Findorff served in the Coast Guard during World War II and graduated from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1941. He was the third generation of the Findorff family to join the business.
By the time John R. Findorff joined his family's organization, it had evolved considerably since the early years. In addition to functioning as a general contractor, Findorff offered a millwork service, a sizable ready mix concrete operation, and a wholesale and retail lumber business. The company also marketed a variety of building materials. Shortly before his 81st birthday, in the May 2, 1948 issue of the Capital Times, John H. Findorff elaborated on his company's growth and success, explaining: "Yes, we have been very fortunate in the type of organization built up. I want first to point out that only because we had loyal and conscientious associates, men who have been with us as long as 45 years, we have succeeded. Recently, we could count something like 30 employees who have been with us a quarter-century. Our construction superintendents are men who know their jobs, and while the general public may not hear very much about them, they are in fact the very core and backbone of the Findorff business."
A construction boom rippled through Madison during the 1960s, and Findorff played a major role. According to the company, major construction projects during this time included the Anchor Savings and Loan Building, Hilldale Shopping Center, the State of Wisconsin Hill Farms Office Complex, and an upper deck addition to Camp Randall Stadium.
In 1961, W. Harold Hastings was named president of Findorff, succeeding Milton Findorff who became chairman. Over the course of many decades, Findorff had witnessed a great deal of change in the area of construction methods and techniques. In the January 20, 1967 issue of the Capital Times, Milton Findorff described the evolution: "First there was the wood era. Then came steel, then concrete, then the reinforced concrete we use today. Now we are also erecting prefabricated metal buildings for certain applications."
During the 1970s, Findorff expanded outside of the Madison area to nearby Milwaukee, where it managed the construction of the Medical College of Wisconsin. Other noteworthy construction jobs during this decade included the Petit National Ice Center and the Henry Reuss Federal Center.
By 1971, Engineering News Record recognized Findorff, which then employed approximately 400 workers, as one of the oldest construction companies in the nation. That year, John R. Findorff succeeded W. Harold Hastings as president, with Hastings becoming chairman. Two years later, in a joint venture with Fon du Lac, Wisconsin-based Hutter Construction Co., Findorff received what at the time was reported to be the largest contract ever awarded by the state of Wisconsin. The $23 million contract was for construction of the University of Wisconsin Medical Center's first phase.
As the 1970s progressed, Findorff continued to receive industry recognition for its work. In 1977, the company was ranked 307 in Engineering News Records' top 400 construction firms, with more than $37 million in contracts for the year.
Gerd Zoller was named Findorff's president in 1979. Zoller had joined Findorff as a project manager in 1968 after working as a civil engineer in Finland. He had subsequently rose through the company's management ranks, and was named vice-president in 1976.
By 1980, John R. Findorff was serving as Findorff's chairman and CEO. The previous year, Findorff expanded operations outside of Wisconsin when it established a branch in Tampa, Florida. Around this same time, Findorff/Potter, Inc., a separate company, was founded when Findorff teamed with Potter, Lawson & Pawlowsky Architects. The new organization provided design/build services, and also offered pre-engineered metal building systems to customers.
New Ownership: 1980s and Beyond
In 1981, John R. Findorff sold the company his grandfather had founded nearly a century before to three long-time employees: Curt Hastings, Ken Kruska, and President Gerd Zoller. Despite the worst economic conditions within the construction industry since World War II, the company thrived by adapting to change. It also shifted to a more marketing-focused approach instead of waiting to bid on potential projects. Findorff found that customers were relying more on negotiation to choose contractors instead of the bidding process. From 1972 to 1982, the percentage of Findorff's business attributed to negotiation switched from 50 percent to between 60 and 70 percent. Despite a sour economy, Findorff's sales reached $61 million in 1983.
In 1988, Kruska succeeded Zoller as Findorff's president, and Zoller was appointed chairman. Kruska's relationship with Findorff began in 1954, when he joined the company as a carpenter's apprentice. A number of promotions followed over the years, including that of general superintendent. After leaving the company in 1966, Kruska returned in 1971 and made vice-president five years later. In the November 4, 1993, issue of the Capital Times, columnist Jonathan D. Silver described Kruska the following way: "A friendly man with a firm handshake, sage eyes that seem to be perpetually half-closed and a mouth that turns down at the corners, Kruska cuts the picture of a rough-and-tumble construction executive. A hard hat looks at home on his head. And the company has left a deep a mark on him as it has on Madison itself."
By the time Kruska was named president, the company's management philosophy had truly evolved. In the December 1989 issue of In Business, Kruska said: "I was practically brainwashed into the old style. That meant you were told what to do, and management was always second-guessing everything you did. As a matter of fact, that's one of the reasons I left the company (in 1966), because I felt if I didn't do something exactly as someone wanted me to, I was wrong, no matter what. But now, you look at the ingenuity of some of these people. It's crazy not to use it. They've got good ideas. And it creates a much better morale. You get a lot fewer ulcers this way."
Findorff celebrated 100 years of operations in 1990. The occasion was marked by an anniversary dinner at Madison's Sheraton Inn, where 22 employees were recognized with silver bowls for at least 25 years of service. In all, some 115 employees had received such recognition over the years. By this time, Findorff had grown to be among the state's largest contractors, serving Madison, Milwaukee, and other towns throughout Wisconsin and Illinois.
In Milwaukee, Findorff was recognized as the city's largest minority business in the July 20, 1992, issue of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. According to the publication, when Milwaukee's Next Door Foundation remodeled its facility, Findorff offered its expertise in the spirit of good corporate citizenship by helping the foundation manage other minority businesses involved in the project.
In 1990, Findorff's sales reached an unprecedented $92 million, a 51 percent increase from 1983 levels. However, an economic recession pushed revenues down to $83 million in 1993. Even so, a great sense of optimism prevailed, and Findorff continued to secure high-profile contracts, including a deal worth more than $60 million to manage the construction of Madison's Monona Terrace convention center, which was based on the design of the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright. By this time, Findorff's employees owned 49 percent of the company. The firm employed many long-time workers, including some whose families had worked there for two or even three generations.
In 1994, Findorff's sales reached $94 million. That year, Ken Kruska succeeded Gerd Zoller as Findorff's chairman, and Curt Hastings was appointed president. With formal training in the field of civil engineering, Hastings had joined Findorff in 1969 as an estimator and was named vice-president in 1977. His father, W. Harold Hastings, had served as Findorff's president and chairman during the 1960s.
Findorff built a permanent office in Milwaukee in 1996. The following year, plans were announced to move the company's building materials and construction yard operations from 601 West Wilson Street to a site at 703 Mayfair Avenue on the city's east side, where Georgia Pacific planned to vacate a distribution center. The new 14-acre site was obtained for $1.35 million. However, Findorff remained committed to the neighborhood in which it had operated since 1890, and opted to keep its headquarters there.
In May 2002, Findorff revealed its new headquarters at 300 South Bedford Street--a 38,000-square-foot, three-story office building overlooking Madison's Lake Monona. Designed by the architectural firm of Potter Lawson, the new $5 million facility contained an employee fitness center, lunchroom, and underground parking. In the June 2, 2002 issue of the Wisconsin State Journal, architect Doug Hursh explained how the new building was created with the surrounding neighborhood in mind. "We wanted history to be part of the design," he said. "We looked at the buildings around that neighborhood to relate it specifically to the Bassett Street neighborhood." A foundation of rough-cut Minnesota limestone was used because it was once quarried in the area, and a roof with deep overhangs and large support brackets was inspired by nearby tobacco warehouses.
In addition to its new headquarters, Findorff had much to celebrate in 2002. Topping the list were several high-profile construction projects in Milwaukee. In January, Midwest Construction Magazine announced that it had given Findorff an Award of Merit for its work on the $32 million ASQ Center, a historical combination of five buildings that formerly housed Gimbel's department store and Marshall Field's. Serving as general contractor, Findorff renovated the combined structures, which spanned an entire city block and dated back as far as 1890, to create a structure containing offices and a Marriott Residence Inn.
In February, the Daily Reporter announced that Findorff had received Excellence in Construction honors from the Wisconsin Department of Administration's Division of Facilities Development. The honors were related to the company's construction of the $62 million Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility--the state's first high-rise detention building. Finally, in July, Wisconsin's governor and lieutenant governor praised Findorff for its work on the 275,000-square-foot Wisconsin State Fair Park Exposition Center. The massive project involved the use of more than 30 different subcontractors.
By 2002, Findorff employed approximately 550 workers in both Madison and Milwaukee, and had sales of $173 million. Each year, the company completed more than $100 million of construction. By this time, Richard M. Lynch was Findorff's president, having succeeded Curt Hastings, who became chairman. A 1974 University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, Lynch led the company toward a bright future. Beginning with one carpenter's hammer and a dream, Findorff had truly prospered during three centuries of American history.
Principal Operating Units: Preconstruction Services; Construction Phase Services; Post Construction Services.
Principal Competitors: C.G. Schmidt, Inc.; Marshall Erdman and Associates, Inc.
- "Award of Merit," Midwest Construction Magazine, January 2, 2002.
- Balousek, Mary, "Findorff Gets Terrace Job," Wisconsin State Journal, October 12, 1993.
- Druml, Tom, "Ivory Tusk Comes to Life," Daily Reporter, August 31, 2001.
- "Excellence in Construction," Daily Reporter, February 25, 2002.
- "Findorff Elects New Board for 81st Year in Business," Wisconsin State Journal, May 30, 1971.
- "Findorff Firm, in 77th Year, Has Bridged Several 'Generations' of Building Methods," Capital Times, January 20, 1967.
- "Findorff Is Part of Madison Story," Capital Times, January 16, 1970.
- Hickok-Wall, Ellen, "Exposition Center Celebrates Opening," Daily Reporter, July 15, 2002.
- Ivey, Mike, "Building on Tradition: Contractor Stays Downtown with New Headquarters," Capital Times, May 25, 2002.
- Kades, Deborah, "The Contractor's New Headquarters Is Next Door to its Former Home," Wisconsin State Journal, June 2, 2002.
- Martin, Chuck, "Findorff Tradition Builds On," Wisconsin State Journal, March 21, 1982.
- Molvig, Dianne, "Ken Kruska, CEO & Carpenter," In Business, December 1989.
- Parkins, Al, "Findorff to Fete 100 Years. Helped Sculpt City Landscape," Capital Times, May 18, 1990.
- Pitman, Sharon D., "Findorff Adjusts as Construction World Changes," Capital Times, May 9, 1980.
- Silver, Jonathan D., "Kruska Built His Way to the Top," Capital Times, November 4, 1993.
- ------, "Spanning the Decades. From Old Red Gym to Convention Center, Findorff Leaves its Mark on Madison," Capital Times, November 4, 1993.
- Sorensen, Sterling, "Findorff Writes American Success Story in Brick and Stone and Steel," Capital Times, May 2, 1948.
- Vue, Long, "Minority Businesses Get Contracts, Job Training," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 20, 1992.
- Wendling, Patrice, "Findorff Move Will Open Up 6 Prime Acres in Heart of City," Capital Times, January 6, 1997.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.60. St. James Press, 2004.