March 13, 2015

All in the Family: Family Succession Planning

Rees Construction's door plaque reads "Since 1887." To put this date in perspective, the family sedan was a horse and buggy, roads were mostly scraped out of dirt, and indoor plumbing and sanitary sewer systems were almost nonexistent. Steam tractors were just beginning to appear on American farms. Construction equipment? Hook up your horse team and grab a shovel.

History Channeled
Located on the banks of the Mississippi, Quincy, Illinois, has a rich history. Lincoln and Douglas butted heads here—the largest city to host the Lincoln-Douglas Debates.

Beginning in the 1840s many German immigrants settled here, including Rees Construction founder, Casper Rees, who immigrated during the 1860s. Casper is the great-great grandfather of the company's current president, Paul Rees, making five, count 'em, five generations of Rees—six if you add in Paul's son Cole. He's only four, but he loves playing with trucks in the sandbox.

Rees Construction began paving the city's streets with brick in 1887, becoming Quincy's first paving contractor.

At the start of the 20th century, the company began installing sewer systems in Quincy and many surrounding communities. The sewer and water business would become the focus of the company for a century.

"I'm very proud of being a part of this company's rich heritage and being one of the top contractors in the region," says Rees. "We've earned a reputation for doing quality work and, with the help of John Deere, we hope to carry on this tradition long into the future."

When you've been in business almost 130 years, you're obviously doing something right. Construction equipment has always been important to Rees' success and when the company started out, horsepower literally meant teams of horses and mules providing the power for grading and hauling materials supported by large crews doing handwork. Around the turn of the 20th century the company added an immense steam-powered trencher that looked like something out of an H.G. Wells novel. Even with the help of this machine, work was still done mostly by hand. "Back then you'd have 14 or 15 guys on a crew. Today you have four or five employees on a crew and they are far more productive."

The company has been using John Deere equipment since the 1970s. "Since I was a kid, all I remember seeing was Deere equipment—I grew up with it."

Around this time, the company was installing a lot of sewer systems in new Quincy subdivisions and in small towns around the area. "We started out buying John Deere excavators," says David Rees, Paul's father and president of the company from 1980 to 2011. "When a competitor backhoe couldn't lift a manhole, we started buying Deere backhoes, too."

Diversification has also helped the company survive and thrive. Over the years it has expanded beyond paving and sanitary-sewer services, to site work and full concrete services including curb, gutter, sidewalk, and pavement installation.

Since taking over as president two years ago, Paul Rees has guided the company through the transition and helped it grow.

While he is humble about his contribution, others are quick to tell you he has had a major impact. "Paul foresaw how the competition was getting tighter for water and sewer jobs," says Todd Lehenbauer of Tri-State Construction Equipment, Rees Construction's John Deere dealer. "He really took the bull by the horns and expanded into concrete and earthmoving. He's terrific at bidding jobs and knows exactly when to add the right equipment to his fleet to handle bigger jobs. I expect even bigger things from him in the future."

Go Deep
Today the company owns a large number of John Deere backhoes and a 700J Dozer as well as numerous excavators. "The Deere 350G LC is the perfect machine for sewer applications," says Rees. "And it's just the right size for a small contractor. We don't have to break it down to move it. It can reach as deep as needed for all of our applications. Our guys just love it. And it lifts anything we need it to lift."

Uptime is critical to the company's success. "If a machine is sitting, we're not making money. We have a long history of buying Deere equipment because it has always been extremely reliable. And if we have any minor problems, the dealer is all over it and resolves things very quickly."

Image is also important to Rees. "We always try to present ourselves in the most professional manner possible. And when we show up to the jobsite with quality John Deere equipment, we make a strong statement to the customer about who we are. Without Deere equipment, our company would not be where it is today."