Graber Post Buildings

Graber Post Buildings manufactures all its components and buildings. D. Robert Donaldson has seen many changes since entering the family business in 1968. The 1970s marked the company’s focus on New York City construction work, which was followed by new management and communication processes spurred by the computer age. In 1996, Donaldson became sole owner, formed an executive committee and inducted his son, Douglas R. Donaldson into the business.

Through organic and strategic growth, The Donaldson Organization has become one of the largest interior contracting firms in the United States, comprised of four companies. Despite the plethora of changes, the company maintains several core aspects that have not changed – and it’s not just the name.

“We’re growing through acquisitions, growing through joint ventures and growing through international ventures,” CEO D. Robert Donaldson says. “But our major growth is still developed due to the day-to-day personal relationships that we produce through tried and true ways of Donaldson, which is to produce value to our customers.”

During a time when everyone is forced to stretch their dollars, Donaldson says that value added is an even bigger player in today’s market, and for this company it’s not just a buzzword. Although The Donaldson Organization is an interiors-focused company, it thinks like a do-it-all contractor. Two years ago, it added a preconstruction division that services all four companies – Donaldson Acoustics Co. Inc., Donaldson Interiors Inc., Allcraft Fabricators Inc. and Donamo International LLC. With the preconstruction services, each company is able to do what it does best.

“Our own preconstruction division zeroes in on the latest technology and research and development in the market,” Donaldson says. “We certainly focus on that aspect of our company to again afford clients the latest technology that is out there and hopefully supply them with some great cost saving ideas.”

In Good Company

Donaldson Acoustics specializes in core and shell construction. The company says it “lives at the heart of The Donaldson Organization,” being that it is the surviving entity of Robert T. Donaldson Inc., which was originally founded in 1906. Donaldson Acoustics was reestablished in 1953.

In 1997, Donaldson Interiors joined the team. It specializes in interior build out and renovations. It has provided custom corporate interiors throughout the tri-state area. Donaldson says Acoustics and Interiors are the organizations flagship-type companies.

However, Allcraft Fabricators, which dates back to 1963 but was acquired by Donaldson in 1999, is also a formidable name. “Allcraft’s focus is to be a leader in the millwork trade just as Donaldson Interiors is in the interior trade,” Donaldson says. “It is well on its way to achieving that goal.” Allcraft provides architectural millwork out of its recently expanded 40,000-square-foot woodworking facility using a combination of craftsmanship and advanced technology.

Donamo International is the newest addition. It was formed “in response to our clients’ expressed need for a company that can effectively manage and control the products that are fabricated in Asia, thereby delivering the best product from the best company for the best value,” according to the company. Donaldson enforces its quality assurance standards through managers who oversee and inspect the work. The products are used for casework and furniture for the high-rise residential and hospitality markets.

All four companies are managed through one executive team. “It is all linked though executive management,” Donaldson says. “Different executives are focused on different aspects of the company.

“Primarily you can say the [companies] leverage each others resources, but also know that each company can work independently of one another,” he continues.

Together, since the great recession hit, the companies have garnered work on a significant amount of high-profile projects in the New York City area, such as:

  • 11 Times Square Office Tower;
  • 839 6th Avenue Condo Tower;
  • Metro Avenue School Campus;
  • J.P. Morgan Chase Headquarters;
  • MTA Fulton St. Transit Center;
  • Gotham Center;
  • Stony Brook Hospital;
  • Flushing Towncenter;
  • Rockefeller University; and
  • Silver Towers.

In March, Donaldson began renovation work at New York’s Aqueduct Racino, the casino at the Aqueduct Racetrack.

“It is one of the major projects being done in the New York area and also in America,” Donaldson says. “We are helping to transform the Aqueduct Racetrack into a racino through a joint venture of Donaldson and KHS&S out of California. The joint venture will produce all of the finishes in the entire interior project except lighting formats.”

Donaldson says whether it is a joint venture or acquisition, the partnership must be mutually beneficial. “We look for what type of support the acquisitions and/or partnerships can bring,” he says. “We want to make sure the synergies produce value for our clients and ensure that there is growth potential.”

For the Aqueduct Racino project, Donaldson says KHS&S’s vast experience in racino and casino construction combines well with Donaldson’s more than a century experience in the New York construction market. The partners will conclude their portion of the work in September.

Sign of the Times

Donaldson says the Aqueduct Racino project is a good indication of a market ready for a comeback. “We see the evidence happening right now,” he says. “We see it through the new projects that have been contracted. The prices are still well depressed, but while they are depressed, there is actual work now. There is more work, which should reflect positively on the return of a stable construction market.”

As it awaits the construction market’s turnaround, Donaldson says that the company has been “extremely lucky in this great recession.” The credit goes to Donaldson’s longevity and creativity which has weathered economic storms worse than the current one. He says the management team addressed the problems early. Forming its preconstruction services to bring more value to its clientele was a direct result of that effort.

“We’ve been blessed not to be affected by it too much,” Donaldson says. “Our hope is that the worst is over and construction will start increasing in the area and that the company will be back to its record levels in the very near future.”

Through it All
Recession or no recession, Donaldson affirms that the company will retain its key growth strategy of building relationships. One way it achieves this is through valuing employees, who in turn value the clients. “We always depend on our great employees,” he says.

“We make sure that the employees are happy in order to keep the clients happy,”?he continues. “We keep our clients’ needs in focus no matter the market. It comes about due to our great length of time being in this business. We use that experience to help our clients in good times as well as in bad times.”

He says he has enjoyed watching longtime employees develop their careers at Donaldson. Many of them have started their tenures as workers and moved their way into management positions. “Watching them succeed and become true pillars of the community is very satisfying for me now,” he told Construction Today in May 2008.

In return for the organization’s caring and honest culture, the employees show their gratitude by excelling in the workplace. “Everybody is trying to do right for the company because the company is doing right for them,” Donaldson says.

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