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November 07 Businessexcellence 71 Keith Odister’s story of selfmotivation and determination began at the age of 18, when he decided he was going to have his own business. His father had been a mechanical engineer for General Motors, which influenced his decision to train as a civil engineer with the Air Force, stationed mainly in Alaska. After his eight-year hitch was up in 1986, he returned to Sacramento to complete a Masters degree in Human Resources Management. Why? “There’s a few aspects to it,” he says. “Since my stepfather was in the military, we moved around and lived in different cultures, so I wanted to build my company on diversity; I hired different ethnicities of employees for their insights and involvement in being part of a melting pot and they are a super team. They tend to be passionate and loyal, because coming from various lands they appreciate the opportunity to work here. The other aspect is that I like to study and understand people, in order to be able to work with them— from my own employees to clients, from city mayors to military officials, or lieutenant governors of states. I want to be able to interface with anyone and understand how they go from one thing to another.” While attending college he landed a job as facilities engineer for a land developer (who owned the Sacramento Kings basketball franchise). During the three years he spent at the job, he learned about construction as a whole and became exposed to the municipal level of politics. “I met the mayor, police chief, fire chief and other officials, and this helped me become ingrained in the community. It was a great education.” In late 1989, he started his own company, named after his initials. He began as a mechanical subcontractor, getting service contracts for HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) with the state of California. Next, according to his plan of “learning and earning from the ground up,” he started doing residential renovations and specbuilding homes, financed out of his own pockets; buying a piece of property and building materials, subcontracting most of the work, then selling the home and repeating the process with other lots and homes, and so on. “It was another step in the process of figuring out who I was, what skills I had, and how to apply them. When I did HVAC, I had to rely on others to provide my work, but this way I was more independent. I knew I could rely on myself to do this work, and generate income—even though I disliked building homes.” Next came the opportunity to do contract work for the UC Davis Medical Center (in Sacramento), which gave him an underlying understanding of commercial construction as a businessman. Then a Minority Participation program through the City of Sacramento suggested to Unger Construction that the company might consider bringing K.O.O. Construction on as part of its project team. This eventually led to Odister teaming with Unger on other highly visible projects. “They took me on,” he says, “and once I became part of their team, they tied me in with their other subcontractors, and then I was in—once you’re in, you’re in.” He was learning how the public sector worked, going from the municipal level to the county of Sacramento, and developed enough confidence to go to the federal level, starting with contracts with the Department of Defense, which had always been part of his plan. “When I served in the Air Force, part of my job as an engineer was to inspect the work of outside contractors, and I used to think, they’re being paid that much for doing only this much work?” he laughs. “I decided that one day, I’d be getting some of that.” And now he is—doing design/builds for UC Davis and the US Navy (Southern California), construction projects for the US Army Corps of Engineers (including nationally recognized, award winning multi-million dollar aircraft hangars), construction in support of the Department of Veteran Affairs national cemetery expansion (Dixon, CA) and mental health care ($6 million DOM Beds project, Southern Oregon), as well as seismic retrofits. “It’s a great feeling to go from working in the military,” he says, “saluting superiors, to sharing a shovel with two generals at a ground-breaking ceremony for a $27 million military project that my company has built. And then to have people of the same ethnicity to see that, see us overcome and adjust and move forward; it’s a very good feeling.” K.O.O.Construction

72 Businessexcellence November 07 His main offi ce is in West Sacramento, others are in San Antonio and Portland, Oregon, in order to cover the west coast from Washington to California. Construction management is a key aspect of his business; for example he recently completed a $9 million project for the US Navy and had six people on site—one was a site superintendent, the rest were quality control and administrators. On a typical job site he’ll have a quality control offi cer with an administrative assistant, a safety offi cer, an inspector for structural, electrical and mechanical work, and a superintendent. His company uses Primavera software for scheduling and cost analysis; “we always calculate the difference between us doing the work or subcontractors, so if they can’t do it for whatever reason, we can cover it.” Consistency, deadlines and on-budget completion are important to retaining clients, as is adjusting to the fl ow of the economy. He’ll go where other contractors will not; for example, Barstow, California “where the temperature’s hot and it’s short on materials and manpower and everything else, but we don’t charge extra, only what the economy will bear.” He uses Visionary Strategic Planning in identifying the curve of the workload of government projects. “Fortunately the government plans at least fi ve years ahead, and even with their changes, we can set up shop knowing what’s coming, so we can be ahead of that curve.” He believes in “giving back to the community” and has received plenty of awards and accolades, and among other service, spent two years as chairman of the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce. He handles the fi nancial and marketing aspects of his company, and intends to eventually sell it to his 40-or-so employees, perhaps with an employee stock purchase plan, so that he can pursue some land development ideas—“for a change of pace.” K.O.O.Construction