The George W. AUCH Company just celebrated its 110th year of being in business in southeast Michigan with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at their brand-new building in downtown Pontiac.
The firm was founded in 1908 by George W. Auch. Previously a Lutheran schoolteacher, Auch chose to get into the construction industry so he could better serve his community, building parochial schools, churches, and then some residences. As the company grew it started building banks, along with warehouses and distribution centers, then later moved into healthcare.
“One thing that is seen throughout the company’s history is that as AUCH entered a certain market its focus on customer service resulted in a level of repeat business that provided for a significant share of that market,” says Vince DeLeonardis, President and CEO of AUCH.
But no matter what other market sectors the company got into, its core business still includes education. They are currently active in 14 school districts and served a total of nearly 20. Healthcare remains a significant part of their business as well and the company regularly works for five of the major health care providers in the area. Municipal and commercial projects add to their well-rounded business portfolio.
DeLeonardis says the secret to the company’s longevity – and being able to ride out the economic downturn of 10 years ago when so many other companies went under, losing only one employee in the process (to retirement) – is customer service. Many of their clients have been with them for over 30 years. Last year alone, the company was awarded $322 million in contracts from repeat customers. In fact, during the downturn, they even gained customers, taking on a larger number of smaller jobs that their competitors didn’t seem willing to do, just so they could keep the company strong and keep their employees working. Now some of those customers are part of that same repeat business.
That stellar customer service that leads to such a loyal clientele base is because of a stellar staff that is equally loyal to the company.
“We work hard to engage our employees and make sure they’re satisfied,” says DeLeonardis. “We understand the importance of compensation and believe that’s only part of the equation. We have a very high employee retention rate that is a result of our efforts in employee engagement.”
AUCH also offers its employees a variety of career enhancement, community engagement, and health and wellness opportunities, which is another reason why the company has been named among the Detroit Free Press “Top Workplaces” four years in a row.
With about 100 total employees, AUCH is not necessarily considered a large company, which might seem a little odd given the company’s long history. But keeping the company focused and responsive with controlled growth is very intentional.
“Growth is not our number one priority,” DeLeonardis says. “We want to continue to grow incrementally because we understand completely that business is cyclic. If we continue to grow incrementally, when the economy changes we won’t be in a position to downsize. We are fairly conservative in our growth plans while still providing employees with opportunities to grow and be challenged.”
Recently, though, the company has grown in terms of its office space. Their brand-new building located at 65 University Dr. in downtown Pontiac broke ground in August 2017 and was completed in May 2018, and all of their employees have moved into the striking new space.
Designed by HED – Harley Ellis Devereaux Architects – in Southfield, the 20,000-square-foot building serves as the eastern gateway to Pontiac and as such makes quite a dramatic impression. Sitting atop a slope that is about 6 feet above the street, the building has a commanding presence, even at one story. The effect is further amplified by 17-foot floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides of the building; DeLeonardis says that the building’s exterior walls are nearly 50 percent glass.
And while the design and aesthetic are certainly important – the building serves as the company’s showpiece, and they’re constantly offering tours and hosting meetings inside the space –functionality was the key focus.
“The most important part is how this building functions,” says DeLeonardis. It’s a very open floor plan, he explains, that encourages interactions between employees, especially those that need to be in constant communication with their team members. There are 9 collaboration tables that encourage team discussion and co-learning, which employees, themselves, expressed a desire to have.” They also have 8 meeting rooms of various sizes that provide a comfortable environment to work together in person along with the availability to video conference with remote groups.
DeLeonardis’s office is right in the midst of things and while he has always had an “open door policy,” the openness of the space encourages greater work interaction. “We spent several years looking for a building where we could create that openness and make it very accessible to employees,” he says. They just so happened to find it on a site where a GM dealership and training center once stood, but had since been razed. The site provided them easy accessibility to major thoroughfares and ample parking for employees, as well as close proximity to urban amenities. On any given day you can see AUCH employees grabbing lunch at places like the Lafayette Market and Fillmore 13 Brewery, both walkable downtown businesses.
Building new also allowed them to build to LEED Silver standards, which they achieved through sourcing local and recycled materials, utilizing energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly systems and materials, and redeveloping a brownfield site.
There are also some 5,500 plantings comprising the landscaping, which includes a rose garden dedicated to Martha Auch Wissman, daughter of founder George W. Auch, who was present at the groundbreaking at 103 years old. Sadly she passed away before the project completed, so “Martha’s Garden” was planted in tribute to her, with a bronze plaque honoring her.