R.D. Olson Construction

RD OlsonR.D. Olson’s hands-on service has earned it a loyal client base.

By Alan Dorich

R.D. Olson Construction specializes in being a “boutique builder” for its clients, President Bill Wilhelm says. “We’re providing hands-on service,” he states, noting that its employees are committed “from top to bottom” to its customers.

This approach has paid off for R.D. Olson. Today, “80 percent of our work is negotiated with clients and 70 percent of our annual volume is repeat business with prior clients,” Wilhelm declares.RD Olson info box

Based in Irvine, Calif., the general contracting and construction management firm has extensive experience in hospitality work, as well as healthcare and multi-unit projects. Founder Bob Olson started the company 38 years ago, after working for a small general contractor.

Olson was concerned that the builder he was employed with was not delivering on its promises. “He said, ‘I’m going to go out and start my own business,’” Wilhelm says, noting that Olson began grassroots by doing home remodels and additions.

He then moved into the restaurant industry after meeting actor and singer Sonny Bono. “Sonny asked Bob if he’d be willing to do the first Bono’s restaurant,” Wilhelm says, noting that R.D. Olson built several locations for Bono until his death in 1998.

Today, the company’s portfolio also includes hotels, offices, country and athletic clubs, and healthcare and higher education projects. With a long 25-year career at R.D. Olson, Wilhelm gives credit for its success to the work environment, which gives autonomy to its employees.

Not only are they allowed to make important decisions, “We empower them to be entrepreneurs and run this as their own company,” he says. “We make sure to provide the support and guidance they need and it is our culture that ensures they feel a part of a team and a family.”

Hot Properties

R.D. Olson is keeping busy with a full slate of projects. “We’re running anywhere from 10 to 15 projects at a time,” Wilhelm says, noting that these can range from a $2 million lobby renovations to a $75 million high rise.

The company is also heavily involved in many adaptive reuse projects like renovating an office building into a hotel or turning a hotel into a timeshare development. “That has been a very big segment for us,” he says.

One such project is the NoMad Hotel location in downtown Los Angeles in which R.D. Olson is converting a bank building originally built in 1923 into a 240-room, five-star property for The Sydell Group.

“This project is probably one of the most anticipated in the West Coast hospitality market today,” Wilhelm says. “We’re looking to have heads on beds this fall.”

Better and Better

R.D. Olson’s recent initiatives include updating its technology. Last year, “I took a step back and looked at everything,” Wilhelm recalls. While the company was ahead of the industry in many areas, it insisted on staying innovative which meant improvements.RD Olson 2

“We invested heavily across the board,” he says, explaining that the company improved all of its platforms. “Our objective is to have a complete collaboration between all our different departments, from daily construction operations to accounting to our ongoing execution of contracts.”

The company also aims to go completely paperless on its job sites. “Our associates are building their projects on the mobile platforms they have available to them,” Wilhelm says. “They pull up plans, they pull up RFIs and have real-time information at their fingertips.”

These changes have made R.D. Olson more efficient in its work, Wilhelm says. “We’re able to respond quicker, and the software available to us keeps getting better and better.”

Strong and Steady

R.D. Olson is coping with challenges managing the quality of resources, especially when selecting its subcontractors. “The industry has been crazy for the last number of years,” Wilhelm says. “We’re all busy and we’re all very careful with our selections because we have limited quality resources.”

Additional market conditions have made work more challenging. “Our clients are experiencing that financing is getting a bit tougher to get,” he explains. “The hotel industry is being cautious about how many more products of a certain type they allow in particular geographic areas.

“Everyone is trying to balance the scale of supply and demand,” he continues, adding that he predicts the market will get less intense in the next two years. “What I’m now starting to see is that things could start to slow down a little bit.”

The company sustains by partnering with customers earlier on projects. “It’s a way to start the negotiation process and keeps it in check until everyone gets a pulse on what’s actually going to happen,” he says.

Despite these conditions, Wilhelm predicts much future success for R.D. Olson. Although conditions have plateaued in some of the company’s markets, “Work will continue,” he asserts, noting that the contractor will see its amount of renovation work increase.

Wilhelm also predicts more new build construction for R.D. Olson. “I definitely see that market continuing to have some steam and continue to provide opportunities for companies of our type,” he says.

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