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On The Road Again: A GC Builds A National Presence By Traveling Where Clients Need It

The Clune team working on-site.

Many general contractors start out in a single location with ambitions of establishing a national presence. Firms that achieve this usually choose the area they want to expand to and open a regional office. They then spend years building their reputation until they have established a name for themselves in various locations. 

But one firm is flipping the script. By allowing its strong track record of client satisfaction to bring nationwide business to it, Chicago-based Clune Construction is able to send employees across the country to show the difference it can make to a project's success. 

Clune has offices in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. However, the firm works on projects in many other cities throughout the U.S. In most instances, Clune's clients have specifically tapped it to manage these projects. 

Clune also bids on build-outs in cities where it does not have a regional office, and sends its own employees on the road to work with subcontractors to bring projects to life. Through this process, the firm has organically created a broad nationwide presence.

“From an owner’s point of view, bringing in Clune makes a lot of sense,” Clune Managing Director Joe Van Oosbree said. “We’ve already worked with these people in our home market, we know their pain points and we know their communication style. They bring us into these new markets because they know we have a proven track record of success.” 

Before the firm even bids on a project in a new city, the team reaches out to key local subcontractors and sends its leadership out to their offices to explain who the firm is and what it wants to accomplish. Clune then makes the determination as to whether the subcontractor is a good fit. 

“We do this upfront work so that when the project comes out to bid, they at least have some sort of connection with us and we’re not just an anonymous company from Chicago coming in to try and do a project,” Van Oosbree said. “We find the key people that will make each job successful. Whether they have a previous relationship to a particular owner, or the right experience level to take the project on, we make them a part of our team.”  

He said being an out-of-town contractor with a strong subcontractor community has helped it expand. Clune has a reputation for treating trade partners fairly, which goes a long way toward helping it land projects across the country. 

As for its own employees who travel to these projects, Clune recognizes that being away from home for six or 12 months at a time can take its toll, Van Oosbree said. This is why he makes sure that each project and its required travel matches the employee’s specific career goals. He works with them to minimize disruption to their lives. 

“We don’t tell our employees that we have this specific job for them to work on, or we don’t have a job for them at all,” he said. “We’re not forcing them to go out of town. Clune doesn't hire for projects, we hire for careers.”

Van Oosbree said that often, working on the right out-of-town project can be just what an employee needs to catapult them into the next chapter of their career. Whether they are a field person or a project manager, being away from a regional office and all of the distractions it brings allows them to be truly ingrained in a project and become a leader.  

“You'll have an owner and every time they walk on the site, they're seeing this person and they realize they're the go-to person,” he said. “They start asking them questions and that person not only gains confidence, they gain a level of trust with the owner. This elevates them to that next level.”  

Sean Nolan, a project manager for Clune who specializes in data centers, said he enjoys the opportunity to see new cities. He also appreciates that the company gives him the freedom to stay where he wants. 

“We still have the feel of a small company, even though we have done over $1B in work,” Nolan said. “It’s all open communication throughout the company. That creates a culture of strong communication with our clients and subcontractors in every city we travel to.” 

He added he believes that without a doubt Clune’s travel policies are among the best in the industry. 

Patrick Mason, a superintendent for Clune, said that he had become accustomed to how things are done in Chicago. But when he started going on the road and working with new trade partners, he learned how things can be done differently. This gives him an opportunity to grow and embrace new challenges. 

“I've had to adapt and overcome while working on those projects,” Mason said. “Those experiences translate to more new projects. Clients feel comfortable knowing that I have more than one method of doing things, and I understand multiple different paths and techniques. It allows me to be flexible.” 

According to Mason, Clune’s clients can see the difference in the quality and the expertise of the company's work. This quality and expertise are not only demonstrated in the regions where Clune has offices, but all around the country. That’s why clients continue bringing them on the road. 

“Bringing consistency to a client, bringing that strong level of excellence and always meeting their expectations — that provides them with unparalleled peace of mind,” Van Oosbree said. “No matter where a project is located, clients know what they can expect from us.” 

This article was produced in collaboration between Clune Construction and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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