Frank Stanek's expertise lies in school construction and he has fond memories of some of his earliest elementary and high school projects. Photo by Jim Gebben
Frank Stanek seems like a low-key, humble guy, and a dedicated family man who likely would make a good neighbor.
He is an achiever, too, having worked his way up the Owen-Ames-Kimball Co. ladder to become the eighth corporate president in the company’s rich, 122-year history.
Stanek began at O-A-K in 1996 as a superintendent, fresh out of college. He moved to a project manager position, then to director of operations and then to vice president.
In January this year, Stanek replaced Bill Schoonveld, who had been with the firm for 34 years and led it for eight. Stanek credited his predecessor, who remains with O-A-K as an advisor, with teaching him many of the industry’s ropes.
Stanek said the company isn’t about him. “Our company is not just about one individual. Over the past few years, it’s been made up of thousands of people, and that’s what’s unique about us.
“I don’t look at it as about being president. I look at it as being associated with a bunch of great people who know how to build buildings, are down-to-earth and approachable. I feel good about the fact that I get to work with a bunch of great people here.”
As for his biggest career break, Stanek didn’t hesitate to say it was joining O-A-K nearly 17 years ago.
“I was interviewed on July 5 on a Friday, and on July 8, which was a Monday, I reported for work. And I’ve been here ever since,” he said.
“The economy was booming then and I had just graduated. I sent out a bunch of résumés, sort of cold turkey, and I got a phone call from Bill Schoonveld. He sat down with me for about a half-hour and told me to get a physical and take a drug test. I started on the next Monday.
“That was probably my biggest break, and I’m fortunate to be here. It’s a good company.”
During his time with O-A-K, Stanek has been involved with a lot of projects, but his expertise is the area he first started in: K-12 school construction. His first project was supervising the building of Greenville High School. Today, that project remains one of his favorites because it was his first management job at the company.
Another favorite project was building Meadow Ridge Elementary School in Rockford in 1999.
“I met a lot of good people and I have fond memories of the people I worked with then. The other part of it was, the project was supposed to be done in 16 months, and we finished it up in just under 13 months,” he said.
He remembers one day in particular.
“If I close my eyes right now, I can still see it. It was in January and we had some water coming in the building because it still wasn’t enclosed. It was probably 4 degrees at the time and the lights just kicked on. When I walked in, I could see the masonry walls and it looked like they had diamonds. It was the coolest visual image.”
Stanek came to O-A-K with a civil engineering degree from Michigan State University. Engineering seems to be in his family’s bloodline. He has three cousins who are engineers — one mechanical and two electrical, and his dad was a chemical engineer who also built his house.
“I always liked math and science in school, but I wasn’t too much of a fan of electrical and mechanical. My grandpa was a carpenter and my dad was a carpenter, so I combined the two and decided I would like to do civil engineering,” he said.
Stanek got his first taste of the construction business as a high school student working summers at a concrete company near his home in Decatur in Van Buren County. He also did some residential construction work to generate extra cash for college.
“During my summers in high school, I would go down there and work. Then I was introduced to more of the commercial end of it and really liked it. I’ve always liked to see large buildings come out of the ground and how they were built. I always liked the structural aspect of it, and that’s what kind of drew me to the commercial side,” he said.
Frank also was drawn to Dana, his wife, a native of Cleveland. They’ve been married for 15 years, after dating for three years. They met through a mutual friend on a boating trip in Ohio when Frank was doing an engineering internship in the Detroit area while a student at MSU.
“I insisted that he introduce us and I’ve been with her ever since. Then she ended up moving here, and we started a family together and we’re still together today,” he said.
The Stanek household is in Kalamazoo and it’s an active one. The Staneks have four children: Gaige, Matthew, Alexandria and Carly. Gaige attends college, Matthew will go to high school in August, Alexandria is a first grader and Carly will be 3 in June.
Dana graduated from Ohio University with a degree in social work, and worked in that field until the kids came along.
“She’s busier now than I think she was at work,” he said.
Stanek serves on the board of directors for the Associated Builders and Contractors of West Michigan. He also does some part-time coaching on his kids’ athletic teams. Gaige and Matthew have played football, baseball, basketball, golf and soccer. Alexandria is a newcomer to the sports scene. “I stay pretty active with the kids at home,” he said.
In his free time, Stanek likes to fish, hunt, play tennis and just get outdoors whenever possible.
“Playing with the kids is probably my number one, but bow hunting is probably number two — and fishing is right up there,” he said.
He prefers inland lakes to fish for walleyes, perch and bluegills. When asked if anything tastes better than a freshly caught walleye, he immediately responded, “No, I don’t think so.”
Stanek is now about six months into his presidency and he feels that, at least for the coming months, he’ll be busy becoming acclimated to his new post. In addition, he’ll continue to promote the firm’s century-old message that O-A-K is about teamwork.
“I need to get my feet underneath me and learn, observe and rely heavily on our team that we have here because, quite honestly, if I weren’t here today, the company would still operate the same, which is good. So I’m just trying to figure out my place and how I need to operate in the company, and try to get a grasp on what works well for us,” he said.
“There are some ideas that we need to implement here in the next year that are part of our strategic plan. So I think for the most part, it’s just trying to be myself and to let everyone know that we’re all in this together. I’m not here to do drastic changes.”