Jodi van Haren established Advantage Mechanical Refrigeration (AMR) in 2001. After working for a mechanical contracting company out of high school, she knew that along with her drive and passion for business, she had a great foundation to own a company in the construction industry. Several years later, she acted as the General Contractor on her own home and enjoyed the process immensely. Looking back at her former jobs and work experience, along with her entrepreneurial heart, Jodi van Haren knew that this was the industry in which she belonged.
The first large-scale project Advantage Mechanical Refrigeration completed was a project for the City of Grand Rapids as a subcontractor for a general contractor in 2004. While performing the actual work on the project was not new to her very experienced and qualified field staff, the procedures of adhering to the ways of construction contract documents at a larger project level was a whole new world.
I set aside my ‘pride’ and called some fellow construction contractors for their advice and help. I learned that it’s okay to not know everything when you’re starting out in business. Even starting a new sector or division should not hold you back from moving forward successfully. Knowing when and who to ask for help as you navigate new territory and growth for your company can be critical to your success.
More recently, Advantage Mechanical Refrigeration completed a project for the General Services Administration that was much needed by the Department of Homeland Security. The project itself had been in the works for years, and they had been waiting for a giant generator on top of the 27-story Patrick V McNamara Federal Building in Detroit to be broken down and removed and a new generator installed. Safety was of utmost importance as hundreds of feet of electrical conduit needed to be installed in the elevator shaft, and the process of installing the new generator on the roof took a large amount of thought and planning. AMR self-performed all of the demo, piping, and other HVAC-related work required and project-managed the rest of the scope of work. Many subcontractors were hired all across the state, including some in West Michigan. Jodi van Haren stated that she never would have attempted a project of this scope without having the experience and knowledge of completing projects in multi-story buildings for the Federal Government, knowing the safety protocol, how to correctly bid the job, and many other factors.
While Jodi van Haren still faces challenges running Advantage Mechanical Refrigeration as a female owner of a construction company in a male-dominated industry, she has overcome many obstacles to get to where she is now. In 2012, Jodi van Haren bought out her former business partner and became the sole owner of AMR. With quite a bit of debt left over from the 2008-2009 recession, continuing the company, and on her own, was no small feat.
I let God know, and told myself over and over, that this was HIS company and I just simply work for Him. That truly takes a lot of the pressure off. Having faith in God that this career path is where I was meant to be and believing in myself and my team along with a lot of hard work has helped me overcome so many challenges.
When asked about core values that make Advantage Mechanical Refrigeration successful, Jodi van Haren mentioned that the company’s core values are more than just the signs on the wall in their offices. They hire, fire, and review their team by these standards. She encourages her team to always be truthful, care, and reminds them that the mission is not complete until the customer says “Wow!” By treating others with kindness and respect, pursuing growth, and learning in every aspect of the job, and overall doing the right thing, her team speaks of their values often and takes them very seriously.
Many minority contractors, Jodi included, believe that encouraging minorities to think of entrepreneurship and the trades early on in their lives is crucial to their success. By presenting, discussing, and showcasing construction trades to high school students, or setting up an association or group with the mission of encouraging students, business ownership should be presented to them as a viable option for their futures.
The most important element to this would be having established minority owned businesses give their story and explain how they got to where they are. The construction trades can be a very wise choice. If you are good at what you do, there is a lot of job security, especially in skilled trades areas like electricians, HVAC, plumbing, and controls. If a particular area in the U.S. goes through a construction ‘slump’ there will always be another city where it’s most likely booming.
Jodi wants project owners to understand that equality on their projects begins with them. When an owner chooses and Construction Manager (CM) or General Contractor (GC), they should keep in mind the bidding and awarding practices of that CM/GC and confirm that minority contractors are being reached out to.
If minority contractors are not bidding on a project, the owner should find out why. Ask questions. What is the CM/GC’s pre-qualification process? Is it open and accessible to all contractors? Once a pre-qualification is filled out, are there personnel assigned to a contractor, following up with that contractor? If the contractor is not deemed qualified, is there feedback as to why? It’s pretty easy to hear that a ‘good faith effort’ was made for equality and leave it at that, but project owners could definitely dig a little deeper and get more involved in the selection process. They might be surprised at what they find.
Jodi van Haren does business with other minority contractors whenever possible, and is always available to encourage and help with business or construction industry-related questions. She is a resource for minority businesses who are interested in business development programs and certifications available to minority businesses, as she has had experience with many of the same programs.
A business owner can feel so alone in facing some of the obstacles all businesses face, not to mention the obstacles faced due to being a person of color or a female. The educational classes in critical areas of the construction industry will be relevant and instrumental to their success.
By participating in the Strong Foundations Program, Jodi believes that minority construction companies could be positively impacted in their businesses, and therefore their lives. With the Construction Allies in Action Steering Committee’s involvement, as individuals and collectively, good experience, wisdom, and advice will be brought to the participants of the program.
Read more about Jodi van Haren here.