In May 1999, Jake McClure and his dad, Alan, were caravanning home from Texas with a new semi when an F5 tornado struck.
They pulled both vehicles under an overpass for shelter, but it was too late.
Alan’s car was sucked up and spit out by the twister, killing him on impact. He was 45.
Jake, who watched the tragedy unfold from the semi, walked away without a scratch.
Not only did the 20-year-old lose his father, but he was also left to run the family business, Alan’s Excavating, on his own.
Meanwhile, his cousin Nick had just graduated from college and was unsure of his next move.
While the pair grew up working in and around the business and family farm, they didn’t know much about the inner workings of the field or office operations. But what they did know was hard work.
“Growing up around the family farm, you develop four important skills; maybe the most important for the dirt world is a strong work ethic,” says Jake. “The others are understanding horsepower and hydraulics and having common sense.”
The cousins bought the business from Jake’s mom, Marilyn, and with the help of a few mentors, figured it out along the way.
Marilyn taught them the ins and outs of accounting. But Jake says the real key was hiring Dean Linot as the company’s general superintendent and foreman.
“He was at a bigger company at the time, but knew we needed help – and that it would afford him a position with more control,” said Jake. “He showed us how to move dirt because we didn’t know how; we were just kids. We didn’t even know how to get jobs. Dad hadn’t taught us any of that yet.”
In the 24 years since the business fell into their laps, Jake and Nick have built up their skills, reputation and crew of top-notch employees in the Greater Wichita area, doing their best to honor Alan’s legacy. (A tribute to the founder, father and uncle is emblazoned on the side of the company’s red Peterbilt semi.)
Today, the $5 million to $7 million business has 20 employees and can handle anything from the development of large commercial projects down to ponds for local farmers.
As if that doesn’t keep them busy enough, Jake and Nick also manage the family farm, raising row crops and cattle, as well as operating a limestone quarry, Silverdale Quality Stone, that they bought in 2018.
“Alan’s always had a knack for making the tough challenges look easy,” says one client. “From demolition projects with very tight schedules to large earthwork packages, they are always a contractor that helps us drive and improve project timelines.”
For that reason and more, they are one of Equipment World’s 12 finalists for the 2023 Contractor of the Year Award.
Technology drives efficiency, profitability
Being early adopters of technology has proven advantageous for the company, especially amid a period of inflation and high interest rates. This year marks 20 years that Alan’s has used GPS.
“We can raise our labor or fuel rates, but it doesn’t cover what we really need to cover,” says Jake. “Technology allows us to be more efficient and lean as a company to make that up. There’s less rework, and if we get revisions, it’s so much faster to get it to the guys in the field.”
With that, it’s no surprise that tech is the driving force behind their fleet purchases. Alan’s fleet is composed of more than two dozen machines – from excavators to dozers to scrapers – nearly all Caterpillar.
“Nick and I do like equipment…maybe a little too much,” Jake says and smiles. “Much of our fleet is new and has all the latest and greatest technology on it.”
It’s a move that has enabled them to flex employee duties based on workload.
“We’ll take truck drivers out of trucks, put them in equipment, and then hire in trucks if we have a big enough job,” he says. “Maybe they’re a little green yet, but they can all run anything.”
He surmises that all that tech gives his crew the productivity of five additional staff members. “The last two years has really shown we’re doing a lot more work with fewer people.”
A culture of care
Building multiple businesses together has undoubtedly made Jake and Nick close – and that family bond extends to the entire staff at Alan’s Excavating.
“It sounds cliché, but we treat all of our employees like one of our family members around here,” says Jake. “We view our role in it as providing a safe working environment, picking up work that is profitable, having the best equipment and technology around and treating everyone with respect.”
The family atmosphere also means caring for people personally – and to Jake and Nick, it starts with changing the conversation around safety.
“A lot of people in this industry spend way too much time talking about hard hats and safety glasses when they ought to be spending it on mental health,” says Jake. “Often, the biggest safety factor is what someone did the night before or what’s going on at home. If we can head it off there, the rest will fall into place.”
A more robust mental health and personal development program is in the works for employees, which the two feel will aid in overall safety and retention.
Beyond a caring culture, Jake and Nick also offer their staff plenty of opportunities to sharpen their skills, noting that the “return on investment is the best you can make.”
Regular office and field sessions ensure both new and tenured operators understand all the technological features on the machines. “We do a lot of infield design; it’s pretty neat that we can show up on a site that doesn’t have any information, go out there with tractors and build something that’s just perfect.”
Customers and business partners agree the investment in people and technology has paid off.
“It is very refreshing to work with people as honest and trustworthy as the employees of Alan’s Excavating,” says Brooks Dohrman, director of operations for Simpson Construction. “Typically, companies have a mix of personnel with some good and some bad, but I can trust that everyone in their company will follow through on what they say they are going to do.”
“They have continued to hire quality people and invest in them,” adds Scott Tolley, product support representative at Foley Equipment, Alan’s Caterpillar dealer. “Seeing them take this from a small contracting operation to a multi-layered company, all while making sure their family and community is taken care of, says it all.”
The Contractor of the Year program, which Caterpillar has sponsored since its inception, recognizes contractors who display the highest standards of business acumen, equipment management expertise, attention to safety and community involvement. Each year, 12 finalists receive an expense-paid trip to Las Vegas to participate in roundtable discussions and an awards ceremony.
Nominate yourself – or a contractor you think we should know about – for the 2024 Contractor of the Year Awards. Submissions are due September 22, 2023. For more information, visit https://www.equipmentworld.com/contractor-of-the-year.