Jerry Shaw, Bob Affholder and Tom Kalishman know trenchless contracting. Not only that, they know about building a successful contracting company. So when word got around that Shaw, Affholder and Kalishman were involved in a new contracting company, O’Fallon, Mo.-based SAK Construction LLC, the industry reacted with understandable interest.

Affholder was in the business before it was even known as trenchless technology and built both the Affholder Co. and Insituform Mid-America into leaders in the underground rehab and tunneling markets. Jerry Shaw served key roles in both companies and has a wealth of experience in underground construction. Tom Kalishman also brings years of experience to the fold, growing regional outposts of Insituform Mid-America as operations manager, general manager and regional director, before serving on the Insituform Technologies Inc. board of directors from 1998 to 2005. Together, the three constitute a dream team of trenchless pipe rehabilitation and now Shaw, Affholder and Kalishman have embarked on a new venture aimed at bringing the expertise of a seasoned, local contractor to the national market.

The Story So Far…

The story of SAK Construction cannot be told without telling a bit of the story of Insituform over the last 25 years. In 1982, Jerry Kalishman, Tom’s father, and Affholder purchased their first Insituform license and began installing cured-in-place pipe using the Insituform method. They purchased five more licenses and those six operating companies, Insituform Missouri, Insituform Central, Insituform Plains, Insituform Texark, Insituform Rockies and Insituform Southeast, made up what became known as Insituform Mid-America. By 1995, Insituform Mid-America had sales accounting for 40 percent of Insituform sales worldwide.

Insituform Mid-America and Insituform Technologies merged in 1995, which placed Bob Affholder in charge of all Insituform contracting in North America. The prevailing wisdom within Insituform at the time was to run the merged companies with a contractor’s perspective. Indeed, the headquarters were relocated to St. Louis (Insituform Technologies’ headquarters had been in Memphis, Tenn.) to reflect this decision. Bob Affholder was honored as the 1996 Trenchless Technology Person of the Year.

But as time passed, Affholder, Shaw and Kalishman saw that the approach they had developed at Insituform Mid-America was phasing out and they yearned to get back to their contracting roots. So SAK Construction was founded in January 2006 by Shaw and Kalishman. Affholder joined them after waiting for a non-compete to expire.

SAK Construction

With this new venture, SAK Construction is able to get back to its roots of building an organization focused on solving problems. “We want to focus on client satisfaction and relationships built on excellent communication,” Kalishman says. “Size can be an advantage in the CIPP industry, because of purchasing power in tubes and resin. Being a local contractor can provide the advantage of better service and communication. Our goal is to combine these key ingredients for success.”

SAK focused initially on the central U.S. market. Its first contract was a lining contract in Carbondale, Ill., and the trio used that project to launch strategically into new markets as opportunities presented themselves. SAK recently opened an office in the Southwest and will open support offices as needed. “We don’t have an agenda for growth, per se,” explains Kalishman. “As opportunities arise, we’ll bring the best people on and acquire materials and equipment to meet client needs.”

Given their experience, it’s natural that CIPP would figure prominently in SAK’s expertise. “Our core business is CIPP 6- to 96-in. diameter and tunnel boring 4- to 12-ft diameter,” says vice president of business development Charlie Kuhnmuench. “Additional capabilities include shotcreting, shaft excavation and large-diameter sliplining.”

Meeting Needs and Building Relationships

SAK’s outlook returns time and again to the goal of establishing SAK as an outstanding contractor with a national presence. A recent project in Osawatomie, Kan., provides a glimpse into just how this approach will guide SAK.

Missouri-based Bates Utility Co. tapped SAK for the CIPP portion of a multi-discipline, 51,000-lf sewer rehab project that also included pipe bursting and open cut construction. SAK’s scope was 30,000 lf CIPP of 8-, 10- and 12-in. diameter, as well as more than 650 house connections.

“As a general contractor responsible for a multi-discipline project of this magnitude, it was very important for us to have the right CIPP partner as our subcontractor, whom we could depend on to deliver quality work on schedule,” says Bates Utility project manager Kris Bates. “Even though they are a relatively new organization, the people at SAK are veterans in both the CIPP and tunneling industries, and Bates Utility has worked successfully with them many times.”

Once SAK’s portion was complete, the project owner was so pleased that other portions of the work have been altered to bring SAK crews back to reline some lines that had been initially specified for open-cut or pipe bursting.

“We want our clients to want us back,” Kuhnmuench says. “And the way to do that is not only by offering the best products and having the best crews, but also by having the best partners.”

Kalishman goes on to reiterate an earlier point about the importance of communication with the client. “In most cases, what the client needs is a strong contracting partner,” he says. “Technology is not the critical aspect to solving client needs. New technologies have failed customers more times than one can count. It’s the service provided and communication with the client that makes it special. That can’t be developed in R&D.”

Looking Ahead

As SAK looks around, it is encouraged by the marketplace. Rising EPA mandates that require additional pipeline rehabilitation and competitive funding play to SAK’s strength — experience. “There’s a gap. There’s one big national player and then there are a lot of local contractors,” Kuhnmuench explains. “So there’s a gap into which we can grow as opportunities present themselves.”

Also encouraging is the word-of-mouth excitement that has been generated in the industry as Shaw, Affholder and Kalishman have re-entered the contracting market. “We are finding ourselves proactively going after high-growth markets,” Kuhnmuench says. “But we’re also eagerly responding to clients who are coming to us and requesting that we pursue work in their area.”

SAK Construction respects the contracting roots upon which its owners built their reputations. By bringing communication and cooperation back into the mix, the industry is better for their efforts and the group is poised to make the old school new again.

Greg Thompson is an assistant editor of Trenchless Technology.

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