At Briner, it’s always been about the people.
Current chairman and former president of Briner Building, Inc., Mike Swinford, points that out recently in a speech he gave at a company-wide celebration to commemorate Briner’s 50th anniversary.
“It’s all about people – you in this room,” said Swinford. “We have always had a reputation of having good people. It’s been a group effort. You are our best asset. All of you have contributed to the Briner long-term success we have enjoyed and earned over the last 50 years.”
Swinford’s father George bought Briner Building in 1969 when it was a small agricultural construction business. George designed and built commercial and farm grain systems then. He grew the Briner agricultural service and construction sales in the 70s.
Swinford joined the company in 1974. Briner was a family business then: his father, mother Kathleen, brother Ron and four employees.
The Briner family business disbanded in 1983, when George wanted to pursue local build-lease development projects.
Swinford retained ownership of Briner Building, Inc. with six employees, including Dave Dunwiddie, in 1984. He reorganized Briner to be a design-build general contractor specializing in commercial and industrial building systems.
Current partner, Chris Elser joined Briner in 1987. His first Briner job was a 100,000-square-foot Scott’s Grocery Store and the Harrison Development shopping center in Bluffton.
In 2006, both Dunwiddie and Elser became Briner partners and owners. Briner had transitioned from a family business to an employee-partner business with 15 employees.
Bryan Harshbarger was recruited by Elser in 2007. His first large job was Midwest Metals, a 155,000-square-foot pre-cast concrete industrial facility in Muncie.
After becoming a Briner partner, Harshbarger was appointed president in 2016. At that time, the company also completed its Briner partner succession plan, with Swinford announcing his pending retirement.
“After 45 years, the older Briner partners are retiring and paving the future for the next generation of company leaders to grow Briner,” says Swinford.
One of those next generation employees is Cameron Green, an estimator and project manager who started working as an intern with Briner while studying construction management at Ball State University.
“Briner trained me and supported me while I was still a student,” says Green. “One of the partners, Chris Elser, was my mentor. When I graduated, I came to work full time at Briner, and Chris, quite frankly, showed me how little I really knew about the construction industry. I thrived in school and really enjoyed it, but I did most of my learning while on the job at Briner. Fortunately, Chris took me under his wing and I’ve had the pleasure of working with all of the Briner team members who have so much knowledge and experience.”
Elser chimes in, “Your internship out in the field was important to the understanding you have today.”
“People buy from people, they don’t buy from buildings,” says Harshbarger. “We always emphasize that to everyone, and especially to the team members who are leading the company into the next 50 years.”
Harshbarger points out that much of Briner’s success stems from the strong relationships it has with its clients. Some of those clients have been with Briner for multiple decades.
“Everybody here started out in entry level positions, but progressed through their experience and learning from their mentors, just like in Cameron’s case,” says Harshbarger. “Our clients come back to us time and time again for different projects because they like and trust our people. Now, as we transition to a new leadership team, we are taking steps to make sure our clients get to know them and work with them and form good relationships with them.”
“I was barely out of college when Briner hired me as a foreman,” says David Theye, superintendent and safety director. “In the past, I’ve been asked to speak to high school students about careers in construction and I think Briner is a great example of how there’s always room to grow and advance. I spent ten years working in the field before becoming the safety director so I know what the guys in the field are going through and what challenges they face on the job. That helps me to have a better working relationship with them because I used to do what they’re doing now.”
Dave Dunwiddie has also been integral in training the next generation.
“Dave was my mentor when I started working for Briner in 2009,” says Dave Anderson, vice president of construction. “I had actually worked in construction since 1998, building houses. Dave recruited me to come work for Briner. I started out as an iron worker and then transitioned to a steel foreman before the position I’m in now.”
As Swinford, Elser and Dunwiddie prepare to transition out of the workforce, they have spent years laying a solid foundation for their successors to continue to expand and build upon as they enter Briner’s next 50-year journey.
One of the ways they’re doing that is by embracing new technology.
“When I first started working for Briner, the guys said, ‘We know you’re right out of college and you’re passionate about technology and software and the future and how we can use that in our business,’” says Green. “And they’ve been flexible enough to think outside of the box, so if there’s a proposed solution, they’re willing to consider things like project management software or drone technology. I’m working on getting my license to be a drone operator and the possibilities that a drone gives us are really endless.”
Swinford agrees and laughs when he thinks about how they used to take aerial photographs, hanging out the window of a small plane, before a drone was a part of the business equation.
“We used to hire a pilot to fly a small plane and sometimes I, or a hired photographer, had to literally hang outside of the plane’s hinged window to snap some pictures. Now, with a drone you can use it to take all kinds of photographs for marketing purposes, for the customers, even for safety training videos. It’s amazing.”
All four partners agree that supporting the younger people at Briner will lead to its future success.
“Going through this transition slowly, but correctly, is the right way to go,” says Harshbarger. “Now, we’re set up to do more, better and quicker and still hold onto the values we’ve always had with our people.”
Address: 761 N. Main St. Bluffton, Indiana 46714
Phone: (260) 824-0120
Years in Business: 50
Number of Employees: 45
Products & Services: Full service design/build general contracting from concept to delivery for industrial and commercial construction.