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Greenville Business Magazine

#14 - M. B. Kahn Construction Co. Inc.

Nov 01, 2017 12:06PM ● By Emily Stevenson

Alan Kahn

#14 M. B. Kahn Construction Co., Inc.
Columbia, S.C.
Alan Kahn, Chairman of the Board (pictured) and Bill Neely, President

M. B. Kahn Construction Co. Inc. is a construction company that offers services including general contracting, design-build, construction management, and site analysis and evaluation services. The company places emphasis on safety and sustainability in its work. Founded in 1927, M. B. Kahn recognized 90 years of operation this year. M. B. Kahn has its corporate office in Columbia and eight other offices throughout South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina. The company’s most recent project was the Metropolitan Convention Center in Columbia.

What are the keys to your company’s rapid growth?
M. B. Kahn’s rapid growth stems from our commitment to building relationships and quality. Our company believes in building trust with our employees, subcontractors, and suppliers, as well as with owners, architects and engineers. From its beginning, M. B. Kahn has been focused on doing quality work and treating everyone fairly. For example, we insist on paying our subcontractors as soon as we have been paid. Our flat organization pushes down responsibility. These principles have enabled us to attract and retain the best people and grow the organization through our most important resources, our people and our relationships. 

What do you see as your company’s greatest opportunities in the future?
We see significant opportunities for growth in construction management, in water and wastewater treatment, and in general building construction, particularly industrial, institutional, and health care. 

What are your biggest challenges and how do you plan to overcome them?
Our biggest challenge is in finding new employees who share our values, expertise, and commitment to relationship building.  

What advice can you offer someone just starting a business?
Relationships are important in building a business. 

What is your strategy for innovation?
Technology is very important to us in construction. We seek out and adopt best-in-class new methods ranging from building information modeling, to innovative field techniques, to building sustainable projects. 

Who do you consider to be your mentor/mentors in business?
Our two mentors are M. B. Kahn, our founder who insisted on the highest level of craftmanship and responsibility, and his son, Irwin Kahn, who combined great vision sharpened by a lifetime of broadly reading and learning and a commitment to the latest and best business practices. The ability to attract and retain leadership has carried the company through 90 years of  history celebrated this year. M. B. Kahn Construction is led today by Bill Neely, its  President and CEO, and by Irwin’s son Alan, and grandson Charles Kahn.  

Does your company’s geographic location offer any specific advantages?
Being in the Southeast gives us the opportunity to experience significant growth along with the region, the ability to work year round in favorable climate conditions, and to work in a right-to-work environment. 

How many employees do you have and do you plan to add any in the coming year?
We presently have 540 employees, having hired more than 120 new employees in the past 18 months. We will likely add another 30 to 50 additional employees in the coming year. 

Have there been any entrepreneurs in your family?
M. B. Kahn founded our company and was a quintessential entrepreneur living the American dream who overcame all obstacles life presented him with. His son, Irwin Kahn, founded several businesses, including the local CBS affiliate television station at the time (WNOK TV), WNOK radio, Southern Plastics, a specialty extrusion company, and Kahn and Jackson, a pipe and utility construction company.    

How old were they when they started the company?
M. B. Kahn was 16 when he came to this country in 1904 with just his carpentry tools. He started by shoveling snow in New York when he arrived. He then moved to Cleveland, where he quickly became a successful general contractor but was caught in an economic panic. He then moved to St. Augustine, Fla., where he became a successful general contractor but was caught in the Great Depression, which hit Florida early, and came to Columbia in 1927 with his tools, starting over for a third time.

What is the hardest thing about being a founder?
The hardest thing is to acquire capital and the trust of those with whom one must work and do business. 

How much money did you use to start your business? 
M. B. Kahn started without money but with expertise, hope, and determination.