June 5, 2017
Executive Profile

Kolakowski orchestrates KBE's construction pipeline

HBJ PHOTO | John Stearns
HBJ PHOTO | John Stearns
Michael Kolakowski is seen in the lobby of KBE Building Corp., where office hallways are lined with photos of KBE's diverse work.

VIEW: Executive Profile: Michael Kolakowski

Michael Kolakowski

President and CEO, KBE Building Corp., Farmington.

Highest education: Bachelor's in construction engineering technology, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Teaneck, N.J.

Executive insights:

Be more prepared than the next guy, honor commitments, be fair and trustworthy, and work with a sense of urgency.

Michael Kolakowski said he was nicknamed "Rambo" by actor Paul Newman when Kolakowski oversaw construction of Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for seriously ill children, which opened in 1988.

Kolakowski, about 25 when he was made project manager, said he got the name for getting the job done, a big project that included constructing about 30 buildings in nine months on the Ashford property.

Getting it done defines Kolakowski, 54, president and CEO of Farmington-based commercial construction company KBE Building Corp., and one of its principals.

"When we make a commitment, we need to honor our commitment and if we said we're going to do it, we are going to figure out a way to do it," Kolakowski said from KBE's Farmington headquarters.

Meeting commitments and being more prepared than the next guy help build trusting relationships, which is vital in business, he said.

"Being a trusted partner, whether that's with our employees, vendors and contractors and our owners, I think trust is the underlining theme on what helps businesses become successful," he said.

Kolakowski has been with what is now KBE his entire career.

He landed an internship with the company, then known as Konover Construction Corp., in summer 1983 doing estimating, was offered a job before he left, graduated in December and joined Konover full time in Jan. 1984. He launched a career that would take him through multiple levels of the business, eventually becoming president at age 32.

He got an opportunity to buy the business in 2007 with Eric Brown and Simon Etzel Jr., now senior vice presidents of operations and procurement, respectively. They renamed the company KBE in 2009, its 50th anniversary. Four other managers became principals in 2016.

The company has done countless projects throughout the Northeast and mid-Atlantic — it has offices in Norwalk, Columbia, Md., and New York City through a new affiliate, KBENY, as it works to build a foothold in the boroughs. Sectors it focuses on include senior living, retail, higher education and government.

Some local projects include the Sheraton Hotel at Bradley International Airport; core and shell work for the retail/office portion of the G. Fox & Co. building at 960 Main St.; core and shell work at Constitution Plaza, including the UConn business school; and a new 727-bed STEM dorm at UConn.

But Hole in the Wall is close to Kolakowski's heart, with nine photos of camp buildings framed over his desk.

"When you see the joy that place puts on the faces, not only the kids, but the parents, it's just amazing," said Kolakowski, whose wife, Eileen, a former Yale New Haven Hospital nurse, volunteers at the camp.

Running a construction company — KBE does about $300 million a year in revenue and is ranked among Engineering News-Record magazine's top 400 construction companies nationally — is like being a band leader, Kolakowski says of orchestrating a project's many parties. To help that orchestration, KBE stresses leadership development, including emotional intelligence programs, to better understand people.

Kolakowski is relentless, tenacious and compassionate, said 21-year colleague Timothy O'Brien, KBE executive vice president and chief financial officer and one of the new principals.

Kolakowski expects a lot, but gives a lot, and cares deeply for those around him, O'Brien said, adding the compassion reaches outside KBE, too, through its 50 Ways to Make a Difference and Gift of Gobble giving programs.

Kolakowski and his wife have four grown children, ages 25 to 30, and two grandsons, 1 and 2 . Kolakowski is passionate about baseball and built a ballfield for his children outside their Wallingford home that abuts farmland, evoking images from "Field of Dreams."

"I still keep it going waiting for my grandkids to get old enough to be able to use it," he said.

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