California’s Hansen Bros. is a family construction business in more ways than one

Updated Aug 30, 2016

COY Lead_0716Jeff Hansen knows a thing or two about tests, not the kind you get in school but the kind life throws at you—sometimes known as opportunities.

Although Hansen grew up working in the construction business started by his grandfather and great uncles, he traveled out of state to attend college at the University of Nevada Reno. Needing a part time job to help with expenses, he applied to a local construction company. When told to show up at 4:30 a.m. on his first day, Hansen pulled into the parking lot at 4 a.m. The boss showed up 20 minutes later and Hansen had passed the test.

Hansen knew from his family’s business the boss was testing his work ethic rather than his skills. A few years later, when Hansen put in his two-week notice, the boss thought so well of him he threw in an extra $200 on top his pay in gratitude. He returned to the family business in California in 1995 and started back working with the company’s crews. He eventually moved up to superintendent, then construction manager in 2009 and finally took the reins as president of the company in 2014.

Today his mom, an aunt and cousin work there every day. But when Hansen says the company is like a big family, he means much more than his relatives. Even though he’s running a large company with multiple divisions, Hansen says: “If you work here and you haven’t seen me in a while, you better at least stick your head in the door and say ‘hi.’ That’s been the company mentality forever.”


Sky is the limit

The Hansen family’s work ethic has become a template for the careers of many of his top employees, many of whom came to the company with little or no experience in construction.

COY PicA_0716“Our philosophy – and this goes all the way back to my grandfather’s days – is if a guy has the right work ethic and integrity; if he’s safety conscious and enjoys what he is doing, he deserves the opportunity to move up when the opportunity is available,” Hansen says.

“If you are willing to put in the time and learn, the sky is the limit,” Hansen continues. “We tell everybody, ‘you are in charge of your destiny here. In the years to come you can pretty much be who you want to be.’ That doesn’t mean we have the person we want on the day we want him, but for the most part we’ve been able to build a strong backbone of employees.”


A few examples:

Partner Insights
Information to advance your business from industry suppliers

• Shirley Neely started as a basic clerk, now she’s the project administrator, one of the “critical pieces of the construction department,” Hansen says. 

• Brett Schaeffer started five years ago as an operator/paver, moved up to paving supervisor and just recently moved into the office to do paving and residential estimates as a senior project manager. 

• Eighteen years ago, Kirk Harris started out as an operator and laborer. He owned his own business for a while and then came back to Hansen Bros. as a superintendent, then estimator and just last year moved into the construction operations position. 

• Brandon Hall has been with the company about eight years and after “starting out with a shovel in his hand,” Hansen says, was promoted to superintendent and most recently to senior project manager and senior estimator.

• Derek Hiatt “came to us knowing the least of anybody,” Hansen says. “But he took the initiative and he had the desire and the work ethic and now he’s arguably one of our best superintendents.”


Struggling with the recession, emissions compliance

COY Sidebar_0716The recession hit Northern California hard, construction in particular. “We probably saw 20 construction companies go under in this area,” Hansen says. “I stepped into that whirlwind and it forced us to look at ways to cut costs, but without changing the quality of our work. We also wanted to give our guys a fair wage and keep all the benefits. We tweaked a few things here and there, but we made it through and kept our wages competitive.”

California’s strict emissions regulations have also been a hurdle to overcome. “CARB (the California Air Resources Board) forces you to buy new equipment when they want you to, not when you want or need to. It does bring new technology and hopefully better production and fuel economy. But it still irritates me that the government can say I have to sell this backhoe. But that’s the hand we’ve been dealt and we’re going to play it and not lose. The ones I feel sorry for are the mom and pop contractors. In 2018, they’re going to have to sell everything and they can’t afford the new equipment. That’s not right, in my opinion.”


Friends and customers

Being a third generation construction contractor in a small town like Grass Valley, means you have to make and keep both friends and customers, and there’s no doubt the company has excelled at both.

“Jeff is on our board of directors,” says Barbara Bashall, Nevada County Contractors Association. “They are a great local company and a really strong employer.

“They support the community a lot with the non-profits. Jeff is very involved in 4H with his kids. He recently chaired a project where they rebuilt a building at the fairgrounds.”

“They are a great company, genuine and hardworking,” says Alicia Brenner, BT Consulting, a stormwater compliance consultant. “They care about the community and give back a lot. There have been quite a few projects where they’ve done things for the adjacent property owners to leave things in a better state and keep good neighbors in the community.”

At a recent community meeting where the company proposed an expansion of their sand and gravel operation, the company brought in dinner for everybody at the town hall meeting and took the time to stay as long as anybody had questions and made themselves available, says Brenner. “They even joined the neighborhood online group and offered to give anybody a tour of the facility to better understand the project to make sure the community was comfortable with what they’re doing.”