KAI-DB’s Acquisition of Volk Continues Firm’s Knowledge Base Expansion

By on November 6, 2018

by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL

With the announcement this week of KAI Design & Build’s acquisition of 51-year-old Volk Construction, Michael Kennedy Jr., president of KAI-DB, has faced a Catch-22 situation head on.

In recent years Kennedy has built a design/construction management juggernaut that uses cutting edge technology. He also heads a 300-plus-employee company that self-performs carpentry and electrical services. He recruits and is bringing along the next generation of young construction professionals.

David Volk Jr., Michael Kennedy Jr. and Melanie Volk

Kennedy exponentially grew KAI-DB from the architectural firm founded by his father Michael Kennedy in 1980 into a multi-faceted, technology-based, national organization. But the innovative leader kept hearing from owners that they wanted KAI-DB to come along slowly in terms of project scope. “Owners would say, ‘You need to crawl before you walk, and walk before you run.’ I figured I only have so much time on this earth.”

The KAI-DB president observed that owners wanted diversity but wouldn’t let his firm do many projects without having their campus experience and the projects they could work on were few and far between to even have an opportunity to bid. So he decided to invest in the transfer of construction experience from the Volk Boomers to the KAI Gen X and Millennials, and in the institutional construction knowledge of the Volk clients and how they like to do business.  “In the case of large institutions such as BJC and Washington University,” he said, Volk’s field personnel, some of whom have worked on sites for decades, “often know more about the facilities because often Volk’s personnel have been there longer than most of the owner’s staff.

“This coming together of these two companies will create everything an owner ever wanted: Trusted time-proven resources, diverse ownership and a diverse staff, cutting edge technology, ability to self-perform and have greater control of cost and schedule.”

Second Recent Acquisition

The acquisition of Volk Construction, announced this week, actually closed on October 1. It was the second KAI-DB announcement in recent weeks. On October 22 KAI-DB announced that it had  acquired Atlanta-based Dorsey Engineering, Inc., which also became effective October 1. The acquisition expands KAI’s service reach into Georgia and Florida, while providing Dorsey’s existing clients with access to expansive technologies, additional engineering consulting and design resources, and BIM capabilities offered through KAI.

Since its founding in 1983, Dorsey Engineering has provided prime engineering consulting and design services to building owners, architects, federal and state government agencies, design-build contractors and a vast variety of clients throughout the United States and the Caribbean.

Providing construction management services for 21 years, KAI-DB, headquartered at 2060 Craigshire in Maryland Heights, provides architecture, engineering and program management/construction management services nationwide. It reported 2017 revenue of $32.5 million, ranking it as f the region’s fifth largest MBE firm, according to the St. Louis Business Journal.

About 65 of its KAI-DB’s 115 total employees are based in St. Louis. The company had about $4.19 million in local architectural billings last year, according to the Business Journal. KAI’s affiliate locations include Atlanta, Omaha, Dallas and San Antonio.

The UP Companies, LLC — a group formed and headed by Michael Kennedy Jr. — which is also based out of 2060 Craigshire Rd., self-performs full-service electrical, carpentry, drywall, demo and construction cleanup work. UP Companies posted sales of $32.43 million in 2017, placing it in sixth place, right behind KAI-DB, on the Business Journal list of largest MBEs.

A Legacy Dating to Old Busch Stadium

Volk Construction Company will complete current contractual commitments with its owners, subcontractors and suppliers. All new opportunities as of October 2018 will move forward as KAI Design & Build.

Volk Construction traces its history to David Volk Sr., who had a 20-year career in the industry culminating in 1966 as project manager for Fruin-Colnon (now Bilfinger) on the old Busch Memorial Stadium. He founded Volk in 1967. His son joined the company in 1979 and became president of Volk Construction in 1995.

Dave Volk Jr.’s daughter Melanie — a 2012 graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia in civil engineering — joined Volk in 2015  as a project engineer, advancing to project manager. Recently, Kennedy said, she had been on loan to HBD Construction. He said that her return to her family’s company was critical to the success of the acquisition.

“Volk Construction Company has earned a reputation in St. Louis for treating subcontractors and owners fairly and equitably. Their dedication to quality workmanship, ethics and safety is unsurpassed in the industry, and we couldn’t be prouder to have acquired such a reputable and well-respected general contractor to join our team,” Kennedy said.

Volk projects in recent years have included Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology Clinical Center for Imaging Research; Washington University School of Medicine Genome Sequencing Data Center; Cooper Bussmann headquarters; Christian Hospital Northeast emergency department renovation; Audubon Center at Riverlands; Washington University Danforth Campus Busch, and Wilson Hall renovations; Christian Hospital Northeast kitchen renovation; Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis sixth floor renovation; Veterans Honor Park Memorial; and YMCA Trout Lodge Renovation.

“Over the last several years, the A/E/C industry has evolved dramatically with innovative technologies, enhanced means and methods, and greater collaboration with customers, staff, architects and engineers, subcontractors and suppliers. In short, our industry has become much more efficient,” David Volk Jr. said in a news release.

“This modern model of efficiency and collaboration is exactly what has driven Volk to become part of KAI Design & Build. The combination of Volk’s heritage and commitment to St. Louis combined with KAI’s progressive approach to collaborative design and construction solutions aligns perfectly and will create a powerful platform to meet the evolving needs of our industry and national customer base,” said Volk, Jr. “My daughter Melanie Volk and I, along with our other team leaders are very excited about the future with KAI.”


About Tom Finan