NHQ Silver Award Winner: Tim O’Brien Homes

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Holding trades to an exacting benchmark helps attract the best in the business.

Birchwood by Tim O’Brien Homes nhq silver award

The Birchwood by Tim O’Brien Homes. Tim O’Brien Homes treats subcontractors like an extension of the company: Of its 60 current trade partners, 32 have been with O’Brien since the company opened in 2007.

October 08, 2015

With labor availability being tight, subcontractors can pick their builders. Trades can even avoid those builders that throw a lot of prerequisites at them, which some trades just consider pesky hoops to jump through before their crew is hired, and instead work for a less-demanding outfit.

The Milwaukee division of Tim O’Brien Homes requires that any window installer, roofer, sider, or rough carpenter working on the building envelope must complete Tyvek-certified installer training from housewrap manufacturer DuPont. That means passing the written test, initial site inspections, and random inspections thereafter. Therma-Tru training also is mandated for door installers, and all trade partners are expected to finish Tim O’Brien Homes–provided lessons for using its BuilderMT scheduling software. Then there are the jobsite rules, purchase order and payment procedures, and scope-of-work expectations.

So why would trades submit to those demands? Because Tim O’Brien Homes treats them like an extension of the company. Of its 60 current trade partners, 32 have been with O’Brien since the company opened its doors in 2007, and 16 have been working with the builder for at least four years.

And more contractors want to climb aboard. Recently, senior managers interviewed a roofing subcontractor referred by a siding trade partner. “They’re already primed about our core values and our expectations before they get to us,” says Craig North, vice president of construction.

Numerous team members were involved in that vetting process, including North, the production manager, and the vice president of purchasing and design. The interview’s goal is not just to learn about the roofer’s experience. It also seeks to capture that tradesman’s values, while also sharing the builder’s seven core values and its trade partner core values, which were collaboratively developed by Tim O’Brien Homes’ trade council.

The council, consisting of six trade partners and three builder team members, was established in 2011 and meets quarterly to discuss ways to improve process, communication, and to lower the cost of doing business. The council also developed its own set of core values that Tim O’Brien Homes uses as a guide for evaluating and selecting subcontractors. Among the values: fostering a safe working environment, encouraging teamwork through respect, and nurturing a learning organization. Trade partners participate in biweekly “Trade Traction” meetings, which are forums for discussing construction issues and sharing data about sales and customer satisfaction. Trade partners can suggest topics for the traction meetings ahead of time.

“Essentially, [the council] is saying that these are the kind of partners we want to work with in regard to safety and education practices,” says Tim O’Brien, CEO of the Pewaukee, Wis.-based company, which also has a division in Madison. “They know they have a voice here and that they can contribute.”

The Great Room of the 2,839-square-foot Azalea

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