Contractor to Contractor: Mason Structure, Inc.
Established in 1978, Mason Structure, Inc. of Lexington, Ky., started making a name for itself through mostly historic preservation projects. Since that time it has grown to provide central Kentucky with quality institutional, industrial, commercial and equine facility construction. Mike Huskisson sat down with Masonry to tell us about his company's history, his apprenticeship program, and where he sees the future of the masonry industry heading.
Masonry: Tell us a little more about Mason Structure's history.
Huskisson: After apprenticing with one of the nation's best masonry contracting firms in the 1970s and getting a look at how things should be done, I wanted to build a business in my hometown and emulate what I had learned. Lexington is one of the oldest cities west of the Allegany Mountains and has a wealth of antebellum architecture, so my business began in historic preservation. By the mid-1980s, most of Mason Structure's work had grown to include mostly commercial and institutional projects.
Masonry: What do you think has been the key to your company's success?
Huskisson: Learning early on that our craft is enduring and that your business practices need to be as well. Of course, I can't leave out the fact that there have been many competent individuals who have been with Mason Structure since the inception.
Masonry: Your company completes everything from education and public projects, to healthcare and equine facilities. How has this diverse portfolio helped your business?
Huskisson: Central Kentucky's diverse economy seems to yield a unique opportunity when other regions of the country do not. In general, government-funded projects near a large university have offered significant sustenance; however, there have been years when state- and federal-funded projects were in recession, and equine work alone carried the company.
Masonry: In what ways do you think your company's apprenticeship program affects the next generation of masons? How does it affect your company?
Huskisson: Presently, this is the most frustrating aspect of the business; attracting quality people with the ability to become good bricklayers is more of a challenge than I ever thought it would be. However, the small percentage of success stories is remarkable and demonstrates that the time spent on apprenticeship training is a solid investment. Also encouraging our efforts are partnership opportunities with a regional community college and IMI [International Masonry Institute].
Masonry: Your company's website places a strong emphasis on safety. What steps are you taking to ensure safety on job sites?
Huskisson: We have gone from monitoring sites with our own safety officer to outsourcing to a local safety firm, whose representatives randomly visit job sites, make inspections and take videos of the work in process. These videos are then played back to foremen at quarterly management meetings. The results with this system have been more than satisfactory.
Masonry: Your company has won several awards and honors over the years. What is your company doing to achieve this success?
Huskisson: Except the awards for our new office on Angliana Avenue in Lexington, Ky., we usually don't have any design input. So our success is mostly a result of the opportunities that arise when buildings we build are designed by good architects. Fortunately, we work in a region where clients have commissioned the services of nationally- and internationally-known architectural firms.
Masonry: Looking back over the years, what were some of your most difficult masonry projects, and how did you overcome the challenges those projects posed?
Huskisson: The larger projects with national construction management firms have presented the biggest challenges — they often implement unrealistic schedules, experience late start dates, and demand early completion dates. Through years of experience, we have learned to call attention to these issues, document everything, and keep lines of communication open in order to facilitate a good outcome.
Masonry: What advice would you offer a budding mason contractor?
Huskisson: The most important issue is the people with whom you must work. In order to succeed, you need to build a strong team and never take management issues for granted.
Second, never forget that you can always learn from the rich history of our trade.
Masonry: What do you feel is the biggest misconception about the masonry industry?
Huskisson: There are many misconceptions about the cost of building with masonry, but when you look at the newer alternatives of building with the insulated concrete forms or panelization, the longevity and durability those materials ultimately pale in comparison to traditional masonry.
Masonry: What would you do to change that misconception?
Huskisson: The detail and workmanship visible in older masonry buildings are being replaced by simpler methods like those mentioned earlier. Architects should not discount the abilities of the masonry product; they should be required to learn not only the history of building with these materials, but also be adventurous about new ways to challenge our industry with their designs.
Masonry: What are your three biggest concerns in keeping your company successful?
Huskisson: First, we need to constantly improve quality and efficiency via inspection and production reporting. Second, we need to continue to recruit a qualified workforce. And, the third factor, one that seems to affect this region of the country, has to do with companies that violate prevailing wage laws and IRS regulations. Those businesses that continue to thrive on illegal operations are not competitors, but detractors that dilute the benefits of a strong masonry industry.
Masonry: What do you feel is the industry's biggest challenge in the near future?
Huskisson: To embrace the emerging workforce with training and legal compliance.
Masonry: Where do you think the masonry industry is going to be 10 years from now?
Huskisson: Personally, I am very optimistic, because environmental awareness bodes well for the masonry industry. I feel that we stand a good chance to gain increased market share with green building technologies.
Masonry: What do you think will be the masonry industry's biggest competitor in 10 years?
Huskisson: At present, it would certainly seem that newer building materials might pose strict competition to building with the masonry unit. However, I do not think that things will be significantly different in the next 10 years, because this building trade has always faced a cheaper, easier and quicker alternative. Building with masonry is not about being quick, easy or cheap — it is about quality, versatility and an understanding of a rich history that includes some of man's most significant architectural achievements.
Masonry: Which group do you feel has the bigger impact on masonry's future: architects, engineers or general contractors?
Huskisson: Definitely architects. This profession really needs to rediscover masonry. In today's terms, the percentage of designers that utilize masonry materials is much too small. In my opinion, architects that lack the rudimentary masonry design skills are doing themselves and society a disservice.
Masonry: What do you like most about being a member of MCAA?
Huskisson: Our collective voice.
About the Author
Masonry, the official publication of the Mason Contractors Association of America, covers every aspect of the mason contractor profession - equipment and techniques, building codes and standards, business planning, promoting your business, legal issues and more. Read or subscribe to Masonry magazine at www.masonrymagazine.com.