Ahrens Companies Celebrates its 120th Anniversary for the remainder of this year, let’s take a moment to look back at the legacy that brought us to this moment.
Ahrens Companies leverages its past to deliver sustainable construction solutions.
While Richard Ahrens is the sixth-generation member to carry on his family’s construction business, he’s quick to credit his predecessors’ integrity as the cornerstone for the company’s longevity.
“My grandfather believed in doing business on a handshake,” says Richard Ahrens, President and Chief Executive Officer of Ahrens Companies. “Because he was a man of his word, our family businesses were built on honesty, reliability and providing cost-effective solutions. His influence still impacts the way we do business today.”
A Family’s Vision
The Ahrens’ story began in 1844 with the founding of a construction company, a building supply company and an ironworks facility in St. Louis, Mo. In 1876, the family moved the trio of companies to Philadelphia, Pa., to be closer to family on the East Coast where they remained in operation for 26 years.
Keeping true to the family tradition, both Richard’s great-grandfather and grandfather served their apprenticeships working in the sheet metal shop. But being 19 years old at the time, Frank F. Ahrens, Richard’s grandfather, had bigger dreams. He was intrigued by the rapid development occurring in Florida at the turn of the century and decided to head south. With $10 to his name, Frank moved to West Palm Beach, Fla., and found work as a plumber. In 1902, Richard’s great-grandfather, George W. Ahrens, joined his son in Florida.
Capitalizing on the needs of the burgeoning area, the father-and-son team founded Ahrens and Son Roofing, Sheet Metal and Ornamental Ironworks. The company offered a range of services, including roofing, re-roofing, and the design and construction of ornamental wrought iron chandeliers. In the late 1920s, Frank sold the company and established two new businesses—a roofing and sheet metal company and a general machine shop. Before the Great Depression, George and Frank’s payroll spiked to 500 workers, making them the largest employer in Florida.
“The growth and success of the companies was largely due to my grandfather,” says Richard. “Frank had an entrepreneurial spirit and was always looking for ways to enhance the building process. He invented and patented the first hurricane clip, a device that holds trusses to wood or concrete. He also co-designed and co-patented the first carbon-tipped masonry drill in the world. And he and my great-grandfather were the first to own a wiggle bender in the southeastern United States, which is a machine required for the manufacturing of bar joists.”
Under Frank Ahrens’ leadership, the company was involved in many iconic Florida projects, including The Breakers hotel, the Mar-a-Lago estate and the Paramount Theatre Building, all in Palm Beach.
Changing of the Guard
In 1947, Richard’s grandfather retired and turned the company’s reins over to his two sons, Richard’s father and uncle. “I grew up knowing I would someday join the family business,” he recalls. “But with degrees in marketing, accounting and metallurgical engineering, I wasn’t sure in what capacity I would serve.” After graduating from college, he decided to purchase the building supply company from his father. But fate had other plans.
“I remember my dad calling to tell me he had good news and bad news,” Richard says. “When I asked him what was wrong, he said the bad news was that he had sold the building supply company and the ironworks facility. When I asked him about the good news, he said he still had the construction company. And that’s how I ended up in the construction side of the family business.”
Richard and his father, Charles R. Ahrens, retooled the existing construction company into a general contracting firm that specialized in designing and building conventional and pre-engineered building systems. When Charles retired in 1990, Richard changed the entity name to Ahrens Companies and began diversifying the company’s services even further.
Today, Ahrens Companies provides design-build, construction management and general contracting services for projects throughout Florida. More than 75 percent of the company’s annual volume is design-build. The company’s current portfolio includes the design and construction of commercial and industrial facilities ranging in size from 20,000 to 200,000 square feet for companies such as Frito-Lay, Florida Power & Light, W. R. Bonsal Co. and National Gypsum. “We desire to build long-lasting relationships with our clients and earn their trust by delivering successful projects within budget and on time,” says Richard. “As a result, we’re fortunate in that many of our clients are repeat clients for whom we built projects in the early 1970s.”
Mother Nature’s Wrath
Dealing with inclement weather is a constant challenge throughout the construction world. Ensuring the sustainable construction of facilities to withstand natural disasters—like hurricanes in Florida—adds another dimension. For firms building in Florida, matters are further compounded because the state used to enforce separate building codes for different counties.
“Previously, the Standard Building Code applied to all Florida counties except Miami-Dade County and Broward County,” says Richard. “These two counties followed a separate code called the South Florida Building Code. The state finally mandated the creation of one code to cover the entire state.”
Richard served on the Florida Building Code Advisory Board that was tasked with unifying the various codes in 2003.
“Adopting a single code throughout the state was not only a prudent move but it maximizes efficiency for those working in the industry,” he says. “Updates to the Florida Building Code occur every three years now and are implemented statewide.”
The Loyalty Factor
Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once stated: “You don’t build a business. You build people and then people build the business.” Such could be the motto for Ahrens Companies.
Richard proudly touts that the average tenure of his employees is 16 years.
“Having dedicated employees has been key to our success. We work best when we work together as a team. My grandfather imparted a lot of valuable things to me, things he learned from his father. They both believed that just because you’re the owner doesn’t mean you couldn’t be friends with your employees. Following their model, I make a point of letting our staff know how much we appreciate them. Without loyal employees, we’re just a company. Because of them, we’re a family.”
Written by Meredith Wargo
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