Over the past decade, Jokake Construction Services has transitioned from a leading interior renovations contractor to a go-to builder of health care, high-tech and industrial projects.

Jokake’s revenue has increased to $81.4 million in 2017 from $27 million in 2013, says Casey Cartier, president and CEO. That’s an increase of about 200%.

He says the success of the Phoenix-based firm comes from its technical and construction prowess along with a drive to deliver outstanding client service. He also cites a sense of accountability that he believes is spurred by employee ownership.

“It is interesting how many people want the same service on a big commercial job that we would give on a 5,000-sq-ft tenant improvement,” Cartier says.

Clients, such as Steven Johnson, general counsel at Verde Investments, agree.

“It just feels like you’re dealing with a family-owned business. Employees are committed to the business. They’re very personable, and their paperwork is impeccable. It’s little things like that,” Johnson says.

For these reasons and others, Jokake Construction Services has been named ENR Southwest’s 2018 Contractor of the Year.

Past to Future

Mike and Gary Smith founded the firm in 1983. They spent the first 23 years developing Jokake’s reputation as a tenant improvements expert. Cartier says the brothers decided to transition the firm to employee ownership around 2006 and completed the process in 2013.

Formerly with Ryan Cos., Cartier joined Jokake in 2012 with the goal of making the contractor an industry leader, including in greenfield construction.

“Jokake has always been a great company with great relationships,” says Pat Baldwin, director and a 15-year veteran of the firm. “From where we were to where we are now, it’s a huge difference; Casey unshackled us.”

Cartier says Jokake evolved from a siloed, multiple division structure covering numerous sectors to service-focused project teams. Led by two directors, Baldwin and John Parnell, project teams are assembled based on who’s available and has the best team fit with the client. Cartier says the differing client service levels among the six divisions begot differing satisfaction among clients.

“Not performing equally became a detriment to the client,” he says.

The 60-person firm currently specializes in office, industrial and health care. Project managers perform field services as well as business development and preconstruction. The firm also has staff highly adept with all types of BIM software and hardware.

Jeff Randl, vice president, at Alliance Plumbing, describes Jokake as a “great general contractor” that really understands the contractor/subcontractor relationship.

Employee Ownership Makes a Difference

Being 100% employee-owned can provide an avenue for career growth to dedicated staff, but only if the right staffers are selected. Cartier says finding a “culture fit” is precisely why the hiring process can take up to six months.

“You have to welcome accountability,” he says.

All prospective employees must have a current Jokake employee fill out a bio-sketch. That employee then becomes the candidate’s champion. The contractor’s leaders then conduct at least three individual and group interviews before hiring anyone.

The process also puts a self-imposed governor on growth since a six-month process prevents hiring employees due to need alone. On the flip side, Cartier says it makes a workforce hungry for growth and accountability.

“That puts a lot of pressure on us as a leadership team because we have to pace revenues,” Cartier says.

Employee-owners also stay productive and remain at the firm longer, Parnell says, which has allowed the firm to perform at a high level in sectors they were not competing in a decade ago.

“We have much experience and depth of understanding and can bring it to bear on any project,” he says.

Project Future, a Jokake partnership with McCarthy Nordburg, RSP Architects, SmithGroupJJR and Evolution Design to build four “office suites of the future,” is an example of this skill. The team created four distinct contemporary workspaces on the 14,245-sq-ft project for owners Oaktree Capital Management and Cypress Office Properties at Renaissance Square in downtown Phoenix.

Another recent notable project is Carvana’s Southwest Distribution Center in Tolleson, Ariz., southwest of Phoenix. Construction included five buildings on a 40-acre site that each serve a unique purpose to the rehabilitation process—vehicle maintenance, body paint, automated photo booth and administrative office space.

Jokake and its employees also champion charitable giving and volunteerism and are involved in such groups as Beyond Autism, Feed My Starving Children, Maggie’s Place, St. Mary’s Food Bank, Phoenix Children’s Hospital and others.

“We have people that care about it, so we care about it,” says Baldwin.