BY ROBERT P. MADER
OF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF
BERKELEY, CALIF. — Dave Kruse, president of L.J. Kruse Co. here, will take over as president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America at its annual convention Feb. 25-March 1 in Orlando, Fla.
Kruse's firm was founded in 1916 by grandfather Louis Joseph Kruse. Originally located in Oakland, the company installed plumbing and heating in the growing residential districts that were sprouting up in the largely rural landscape. As the University of California expanded and the East Bay became more urban, L.J. Kruse Co. began to specialize in commercial development, while still maintaining its residential service department. The company has been instrumental in the growth and development of the area, and it has installed plumbing and heating in many local landmarks.
During its operation for nearly a century, company ownership and management has remained in the family, with third-generation brothers David and Andy Kruse now serving as president and executive vice president, and fourth-generation Janell Kruse Yates as vice president. L.J. Kruse has continued to grow over the years and is involved in new construction projects throughout the greater Bay Area. The company is based in a large, modern facility in West Berkeley.
CONTRACTOR had an opportunity to ask Dave Kruse about his experiences in the industry and his plans for the MCAA presidency.
Question: When and why did you make the decision to get in to the mechanical contracting industry?
Dave Kruse: I graduated U.C. Berkeley in 1973 and was thinking of going on to grad school. My dad was running L. J. Kruse Co. at the time and I asked him for a summer job because I needed a little extra cash. He said "sure" and put me out on a housing tract. The foreman was a guy I will never forget. His name was Ruben and he taught me more about life in three months than I learned in all my school days. I loved it. That fall I joined the UA plumbing apprenticeship program at Local 444 and worked in the field for a number of years before coming into the office.
Here we are 35 years later. As time went on I really began to appreciate what a great industry we have and in 1984 I became president of L.J. Kruse Co.
Q: Is it more difficult to run a contracting firm now than when you got into the business?
D.K.: There is no question it is harder today. Government rules and regulations make it tougher. Insurance issues are so much more complex and the risks are greater. More and more, the mechanical contractor is forced to assume greater and greater risk. It is a different playing field now than it was three decades ago, especially when you are talking about attracting and retaining new young blood in the industry.
The great thing about MCAA is that it really knows what the contractor needs. The Career Development Committee heads up close to 40 MCAA student chapters at universities and colleges around the country. These young people are shown what the mechanical contracting industry is all about. To stay competitive in today's world you need every advantage you can get. MCAA provides great programs like Health and Safety, the Institute for Project Management, the Advanced Leadership Institute and the Labor Estimating Manual that are a huge help to contractors like myself.
Q: What is the most important thing that you've learned?
D.K.: Probably the most important thing I've learned is to try to keep it all in perspective and try not to take it all too seriously. My brother Andy and I lead our company, and we both believe that you have got to keep your priorities straight and have fun. It is not easy in the daily grind, but we really do have a lot of fun.
Q: What will you need to do in terms of business succession planning?
D.K.: We are dealing with this issue right now. Like so many baby boomers in our industry, the leadership in our company will be leaving in the not too distant future. All our senior managers are the same age. All of that institutional memory will be lost. The key is to continue to recruit younger personnel.
Q: What is the mechanical contracting industry's biggest challenge?
D.K.: Manpower. We continue to battle plenty of other challenges such as consolidations, roll-ups, utility competition, commodity instability and the like, but this one seems different. It doesn't matter if you are big or small, union or non-union, qualified manpower is the key.
Q: Do you have a list of goals for your presidency?
D.K.: My first priority will be to continue the great work Mike Cullinane has done in working with [United Association] General President Bill Hite and the new leadership at the UA.
Also, I am a huge proponent of sustainable construction and green building technology and I think there are tremendous market opportunities out there for our contractors. Another top goal will be to support MSCA as it continues to advance the service sector. The same applies to the plumbing sector through the PCA. I'm really a plumber at heart, and if I'm not mistaken, I may well be the first plumbing contractor to be president of MCAA.