Saturday, December 27, 2008

Under 40 - Brian Keane

Under 40: Brian Keane
By Sue Marquette Poremba

Sometimes all you need is a change of scenery to boost your career.

Brian Keane was born and raised in Chicago Heights, Ill. After attending school to learn architectural drafting, Keane continued to live in the Chicago suburb with his wife and children. He worked in the construction trade, particularly with glass companies. It's possible he'd still be living in Illinois today, but in 1993 his wife was offered a job in Fort Gibson, Okla., and the family moved West.

At first, Keane stuck to what he knew and took a job in a glass contracting business. However, in 1996 he was offered the opportunity to join a company called National Barn Company, where he would work in sales and project management. He said he took the job, "For a change of pace, something different."

As the business grew, Keane moved upward in the company ranks. He became a Vice President in 1997. In 1999, he purchased National Barn's Central Division operations. He also operates a spin-off company called Legacy Homes, which specializes in post-frame building home construction.

Keane's business employs 15 people in the home office and between 30-40 field personnel, depending on the time of the year. Still, Keane considers himself to be a hands-on owner.

"I personally go to every home to oversee the construction," he says.

Keane, 39, is one of the many talented, hard-working young members of the rural building community. In conjunction with Rural Builder's 40th anniversary celebration in 2006, the magazine is featuring industry members who are younger than 40 years old, identifying the leaders of tomorrow who are already pulling their weight today.

Just a number

Keane says that he has no problems working with his crew leaders or others in the field, despite his relatively young age. This is in no small part due to his having worked each position within the company over the years. He believes that working his way up the corporate ladder has earned him the respect of his employees and peers.

"I try to lead by example," he says, "and it's important to treat your employees fairly, which I think I do."

National Barn's Central Division extends through Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska and his operation also covers National Barn Company's Mountain Division (Colorado).

The company specializes in all types of post-frame buildings, such as hay and horse barns, garages, commercial buildings, sheds, and storage buildings. Legacy Homes expands on the post-frame structure to create a high-quality home.

Over the years, Keane has witnessed an evolution in the post-frame building industry, from horse barns to homes, and he enjoys the fast-paced, almost chaotic, nature of the business.

The home front

Working on Legacy Homes has been especially pleasurable for him. "I have drawn house plans for over 12 years. I can provide the design of a house and take it through the entire building process."

Keane notes that a post-frame home is less expensive than most standard homes. Not only are the building costs lower, but overall, the structure is more energy efficient than most other types of homes. It is also a mostly maintenance-free home.

Post-frame homes are a relatively new concept, which requires a bit more work for the contractor in educating the home buyer and also for zoning officials who are unfamiliar with post-frame construction.

"Many counties are unfamiliar with post-frame techniques," says Keane, "and there are code restrictions that don't make sense with post-frame construction." Keane takes pride in the quality of the structures built by both Legacy Homes and National Barn Company. The mission statement for his company states "We pride ourselves on providing professional service and quality post-frame construction at an affordable price."

Keane and his crew's dedication to excellence proved itself during the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Because Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi are in National Barn's building region and because of the devastation to all types of structures in the regions decimated by the hurricanes, it wouldn't have been unreasonable to expect news of damage to structures built by his company. However, while Keane is quick to note that he has heard from only a handful of his many customers in those areas, National Barn's post-frame buildings appear to have withstood Katrina and Rita.

"We got hit by the eye of the hurricane (Katrina) with winds up to 175 mph, and the building constructed by National Barn Company held up immaculately," wrote a customer from Biloxi, Miss. Other calls and reports that Keane received held similar news.

"Skylights were the only problem we heard about," Keane says. He adds that his post-frame buildings stood, almost damage-free, while neighboring buildings were flattened. Obviously, Keane's company's quality standards helped keep these buildings standing, but Keane also credits the overall construction method of post-frame buildings.

"The post is well secured in the ground," Keane says, "and that post-frame construction adds to its strength."

In addition to running National Barn's Central Division and Legacy Homes, Keane serves on the board of directors of the National Frame Builders Association. He is one of the youngest members of the board.

"Being on the board gives me a voice in the industry that I didn't have before," he says. "I'm able to have a direct impact on issues like the Accredited Builder Program and the ethics within our industry."

Keane wants to see the post-frame construction industry better recognized than it is currently, and one way he believes that can happen is to insist on maintaining a high level of structural integrity and customer service.

He also serves on NFBA's safety committee. Being a member of this group has allowed Keane to better understand the safety requirements in his industry and to share this information with all the members.

One concern that Keane does have within the post-frame construction industry is the number of less-than-legitimate businesses, which ruin the reputation of the industry and hurt legitimate companies that comply with state and federal laws. "These fly-by-night businesses", he explains, "offer very low prices, operate without insurance, and don't warranty their work. This makes it harder for reputable companies to compete in many projects and ultimately has a negative impact on the integrity of the industry."

Despite this concern, Keane sees a bright future for the post-frame building industry. "We have maintained steady growth over the years and continue to look for ways to expand our business in the future.

"There are a lot of design concepts that go beyond the horse barn," he continues. "There are so many possibilities." One thing he is doing within his own company is training his employees in various building specialties and custom work.

Keane admits that taking his initial job at National Barn Company was a leap of faith.

"I didn't see a lot of growth with the glass company," he says, "but this was a chance for me to do something different." In this case, doing something different has turned into a career with almost endless possibilities.

Do you know of an outstanding member of the rural building industry who is younger than 40 years old? Call (800) 726-9966, ext. 428, e-mail or write to 700 East State St., Iola, WI 54990.

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