Total Construction Services

An Interview with Mr. Kevin Jackson, Founder and CEO of Total Construction Services, Inc.
By Azhar Kalim & Sean Foster, Creighton University MBA students

For more than 22 years, customers have trusted Total Construction with their reconstruction and restoration needs. They have three business areas of focus: commercial, residential and insurance restoration. They also do roofing and consulting services. Founded in 1987 by Kevin Jackson, the company currently employs about 40 full-time employees and 30 contractors. During this period, they have served thousands of clients averaging about 400 to 600 clients per year. It is remarkable to note that they had only one complaint of an unhappy customer during this entire period. To learn more about the firm, please visit their website at www.omaharemodeler.com.

How does your early upbringing and family play into your ethical development?

My father came from a construction background and instilled a strong work ethic in me, based on long hours and a commitment to get the job done. I worked construction as a kid and learned how to problem solve and troubleshoot, leading to an attraction to engineering. This gave me the creativity to face challenging projects. My mother helped me develop my people skills and interaction with my clients. She was an English major, and developed a good foundation for communication.

Very generally, when you think of “ethics,” what does it mean to you?

A measure of superior exposure; meaning if you do it ethically, you don’t have to be concerned if people will pick it apart, when looking at it or reviewing it. They should be able to put your work under a magnifying glass and find few to no faults.

Have you done business anywhere other than Omaha? If so, where?

We do travel to other areas, mainly in the Midwest, for insurance consulting. We have found the experience pleasant and ethical.

Is there “something in the water” in Omaha, Nebraska, that makes it a great place to do business?

Using different comparisons, yes, I would have to agree with that. We do the same business in Kansas City or elsewhere, but things are easier in Omaha because of the comfort level and the type of clientele. Let me elaborate, the clientele is highly educated in Omaha, making it easier to do business with them. It is easier to do business with them because rationality of thought exists. Once you understand your client and know their past and thoughts, you can understand where they are coming from and what their expectations are. For example, doctors and pilots have very different mindsets. Pilots expect the product or service to perform with no flaws, doctors expect warranties or guarantees.

Describe an ethical situation in business you have faced that was relatively easy to handle. Who was involved, where, what did you do and why?

I was once working with a commercial client on a hotel project. The final payment request was not approved because the client did not feel the work satisfactory. The quality of the work was not up to her expectations, and she did not find the work to be satisfactory. I told her I would come take a look at it. If the quality is not there, I should also notice this and be able to see it. I went to see the job, and I was not proud of it. I had the job redone and made sure our client was satisfied. I could have easily stayed in my office and argued that the payment be made and not visited the job site. But that would have not been the right approach to this situation, we need to tell our clients that we care about them.

Describe a difficult-to-handle ethical situation?

We did a high cost roofing job, which required outside contractors doing a part of the job. However, when reviewing the quality of work, we noticed that the job was not done right. It was a very complex roofing application. Our client probably would have never known anything was wrong. However, over time, the quality of the application would have dilapidated. There were flaws in how the component was put together, tar paper should never be seen behind shingles. Unless you knew what you were looking for, you would not have known that the life of the roof would be reduced by 50 percent. Unfortunately, the subcontractor we used was neither bonded nor insured. Total Construction decided to redo the whole roof at our own cost. I cannot think of any other way to handle this situation, than what we did.

Do you believe there is a link between the ethical culture and the leadership?

Our management team doing the estimates and our workers’ performance are the two of the most important things we are selling. We believe that, if our product won’t stand the test of time, we must redo it and correct the issue. The neighbor might have gotten hailed on and damaged the roof, but if it isn’t on yours, then it isn’t there. Sometimes we have to argue with the insurance company, and sometimes the client, and then sometimes we have to agree to disagree and walk away. One must be willing to pay for the work that you are doing, otherwise, why would anyone else? In other words, don’t sell what you wouldn’t buy yourself!

Do you have an ethics mentor? If so, who, and why?

There are certainly other contractors that I’m proud to have worked with. As much as I would like to share the room with them, I want to be known as a high quality contractor myself. Barry Larson is a mentor that I would benchmark myself and my firm after. Barry always says, “When confronted with a client issue, deal with it quickly and be quick to perform. Don’t let it smell.”

What are common ethical problems within your industry? How do you ensure you don’t make these mistakes?

Performance is probably the strongest issue we have with other companies. You don’t make these mistakes. We must always have a big focus on doing it right the first time. Many other companies have little focus on performance, because they are constrained by time and want to move on quickly. Ethically, workers cannot afford to do the wrong thing, they have to do the quality of work expected of them. They cannot let performance be effected by feelings, even if they are having a bad day, their best work must be put forward. Accountability is another area we take very seriously. Our lead man is ultimately held accountable for each job they are in charge of. If something goes wrong, he cannot blame anyone else because he is in charge of the overall project. Also, each trade must take ownership of their work.

How does Total Construction ensure project accuracy and proper billing?

The construction business is unique, all jobs have to be very well documented. They have to pass the tests from the insurance companies. There has to be a relationship between the quote and the work performed. The standard of craftsmanship has to be present. It’s like baking a cake. Only so much of each ingredient can help.

Technology has forced us to be accountable. Everything is measured and documented. Insurance companies can look at the photos from before and after, complete documentation, and measure the quality of our work. We are working for the client and the insurance company. One wants more, and the other wants to give less. We have to find a healthy medium and satisfy both— balance the expectations of the client and the insurance company—while respecting the ethical boundaries. One of our sayings in our BBB application is, “it is what it is.” Both sides have to understand that.

Final comments, words of advice for us?

Base your performance off an ethical standard, and you will never get caught short. Do the right thing, providing the best service possible.