Entrepreneurs of the Month: Jim Bognet & Jeff Kaiser

FEBRUARY 2010 ENTREPRENEURS OF THE MONTH:

Jim Bognet and Jeff Kaiser, owners
BOGNET CONSTRUCTION

By Hope Gibbs
Portrait by Steve Barrett

Little did Bognet Construction founders Jim Bognet and Jeff Kaiser know when they leased their first office in 1998 for $500 per month in the basement of a Starbucks on MacArthur Boulevard that 12 years later they would be manning a $50 million firm that employs 45 people.

“We love construction, and are relentless about delivering high quality, on-time, on-budget solutions for our customers,” the owners say. “Our goal is to continue to build this firm into a $150 million company in the next five years.”

WHY THEY DO IT: Construction is in their blood
Bognet Project: Metro Park Conference Center (Photo: ING Clarion)

Jim Bognet’s father thought maybe his son would become a doctor. The lad was so good in math and science, it seemed a natural fit. The young Bognet thought differently. The family business was construction, and since he was 7 he’d snap on his little tool belt and head out on jobs with his dad, Rocco, owner of the general and mechanical contracting firm Bognet, Inc.

As he grew, Jim spent his summers as a laborer and estimator, and operated heavy equipment until he graduated from Penn State University in 1988 with a degree in mechanical engineering. One of his professors was a vice president from the George Hyman Construction Company and helped him land a job with Tiber Construction. By 1991, he was working for Oliver Carr and by 1996, was the director of the DC office for The Leapley Company. That’s where Jim met Jeff Kaiser.

A local kid who also grew up in the construction business, Jeff’s dad worked as an architectural engineer for the federal government. After serving in the U.S. Navy on the USS John F. Kennedy, he began his career in construction as a carpenter while attending Montgomery College in Rockville.

Jeff was an estimator at Leapley when he and Jim started meeting for dinner at Murphy’s Irish Bar and Kilroy’s to talk about how they might go out on their own. After three months of discussions, they went in to talk to Dennis Leapley, “and by the end of the conversation, he wished us luck.” The next day, they opened the office on MacArthur Boulevard.

WHAT THEY DO: Rebuilding existing spaces — and making them “green”
Bognet Project: Arlington Free Clinic (Photo: Ken Hayden)

Rebuilding interiors at corporations such as Freddie Mac, Chemonics International, and General Dynamics has long been a staple for Bognet Construction. The firm has built GWU’s Alexandria Graduate Center, the offices for Visa International, ManTech International, and multiple projects for the General Services Administration.

Bognet Construction has an agreement with the local carpenter’s union that enables them to perform Union projects in the Washington metropolitan area. And in recent years, Jim and Jeff have focused on bidding on LEED Sustainable projects. Several of the company’s project managers have completed their LEED certification — something the owners believe is critical as they move forward.

“We created an incentive for our staff to go through the process, which provides independent, third-party verification that a building project meets the highest green building and performance measures,” Jeff explains. “This is important to us, as we understand the environmental impact of construction, and want to do everything we can to be part of the solution.”

LEED projects completed to date include: Unite Here Local 25, the Metro Park Conference Center, Brookfield Properties, the Independent Sector, and the Arlington Free Clinic, which has received four prestigious design awards because it fosters a healthy environment and reduces energy use.

FIVE STEPS TO FOLLOW when relocating and / or rebuilding your office
Bognet Project: Unite Here (Photo: Spielmann Studio)

1. Involve your general contractor early in the selection process. They can help real estate agents and tenants with negotiating tenant improvement allowances with the landlord. Take into consideration plumbing riser locations, HVAC equipment, electrical service and building accessibility — it’s costly to move those elements.
2. Review space plans. Your architect will create drawings that best utilize the space, determine existing lighting fixtures that can be used, and identify plumbing locations and ceiling systems.
3. Approve construction budgets and documents. A good general contractor will outline an initial budget and modify the scope of work to meet your desired budget without losing the overall intent of the design. This step takes 6 to 8 weeks.
4. Apply for a building permit. Once construction documents are completed, plans will be submitted to the local jurisdiction for review and issuance of a permit — which takes 4 to 6 weeks.
5. Participate in weekly meetings. Once the job begins, the general contractor will host weekly meetings to coordinate with the subcontractors, tenant vendors, and suppliers. Sit in on these meetings to track the progress of your project.

Check out Jim and Jeff’s Tips for Entrepreneurs.