Eleven years ago, Dave Adolfson—now board chair for Minneapolis-based Adolfson & Peterson Construction, then A&P’s president and CEO—recognized that his family-run company had gone as far as the family could take it. Growth would require an infusion of professional management and establishing a board of directors. On the board, he’d need just the right person to provide guidance and inspiration during the transition.
Adolfson didn’t have to look far to find his business savior. He just went to church.
That’s where he offered a seat on the company’s five-person board to John Voorhees, a longtime 3M executive and fellow council member at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi. Voorhees was interested, but pointed out that he was unfamiliar with the construction industry. Others knew how to build buildings, Adolfson explained. What they needed now was the know-how to build a sound business infrastructure.
Voorhees, now 66, tackled his new assignment with gusto, focusing on customer service, business development, and the company’s balance sheet. His customer focus came from 3M, where he started out as a market analyst for 3M International in 1969 and became European director for commercial and consumer products by the early 1980s.
“John really brought a client-focused view of how we should operate,” says Richard Weicht, a fellow A&P board member and the company’s senior vice president. “That was totally different from what we’d been doing in the past, both from a marketing and a business development perspective. He would often tell us we were an internally focused organization that focused more on processes than delivering on the clients’ needs, wants, and expectations.”
“Customers change and you have to change with them,” Voorhees says. “That means you have to stay on top of the latest in technology and processes. In today’s world, the risks of not being first in the market, first with new processes, first to your customer, are too great.”
Adolfson & Peterson’s revenues have grown from $135 million in 1997 to an estimated $800 million in 2008, thanks in part to a greater customer focus, but Voorhees notes other factors, too. “The growth rate was pretty phenomenal, but the profit growth rate was even better than the revenue growth rate, which allowed for additional bonding for construction,” he says. “We brought in an HR director, focused on employee training, installed a drug-testing policy, and lowered insurance rates with a safety program. We brought in a senior marketing executive for business development, and now have offices in Dallas, Denver, and Phoenix, and are looking to expand in the Southeast.”
Weicht says Voorhees’s value to the board—in questioning management assumptions and bringing clarity to growth plans—can’t be overstated: “John was instrumental in challenging management to understand why new geographical markets should be developed, and in the divesting of our noncore businesses.”
Voorhees, who served on the board’s audit and growth committees, would have liked to keep serving on the A&P board after his term ended in September this year, but company bylaws dictated that he step down for at least three years. He retired from 3M in 2001, and plans to split his time between his winter home in Scottsdale, Arizona, and his lake home in Aitkin, Minnesota. “They call it retirement, but what I really do is mow lawns,” he jokes.
“I’ll miss the challenge of helping a company that started out as a local, family-owned construction company and is now one of the top 100 construction companies in the United States,” Voorhees says. “That’s a competitive challenge that still excites me.”
Other corporate board service? Voorhees says not for now. He’s focusing more on his retirement plans.