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CEO of the Year 2023 Finalist: Steve Swinney

Colorado is full of devoted entrepreneurs, business leaders and tech-savvy visionaries who are constantly taking the business world to new heights. It’s no secret that here, at ColoradoBiz, we love the Colorado business community. That’s why, every year, we spotlight the most impressive CEOs throughout our Centennial state and give credit where credit is due — to the forward-thinking minds constantly chasing the next great idea and upholding their business practices to the most purposeful ideals. We’re proud to introduce our finalists for CoBiz’s prestigious 2022 CEO of the Year award.


Steve Swinney

Founder and CEO

Kodiak Building Partners

Highlands Ranch, Colorado

Website: kodiakbp.com

Under Steve Swinney, Kodiak Building Partners acquired seven new companies in the last year and grew to more than 6,000 employees, a 5 percent increase from 2022. Since 2019, Kodiak has more than doubled its staff to become one of the largest private employers in the state. 

After an impressive career in finance, acquisitions and private equity-backed ventures, Swinney launched KBP in 2011 with the idea of bringing economy of scale to the building-materials sector with a decentralized business model. Since its founding, the company has acquired interests in more than 100 locations in 25 states. 

A key to KBP’s strategy has been Swinney’s belief in preserving the individual cultures and identities of acquired companies. For example, Kodiak maintains a small corporate team that supports, rather than controls, acquired companies, thus avoiding excessive layers of management/corporate regulation. It’s also an affirming nod to the people who made these acquired companies desirable in the first place.  

In 2017, Swinney established The Kodiak Building Partners Foundation to expand the company’s capabilities for philanthropic giving, which surpassed $1 million in 2022. The foundation facilitates Kodiak’s operating partners in collecting donations for various organizations and enables Kodiak to accept donations to help employees in need. He also introduced the “Patriot Project” at Kodiak to support the Tunnel to Towers Foundation and its mission to assist families of American veterans and first responders. The month-long initiative raised more than $20,000 for Tunnel to Towers. 

 

Mike TaylorMike Taylor is the editor of ColoradoBiz.

Top Company 2023: Construction & Engineering

Now in its 36th year, ColoradoBiz magazine’s Top Company Awards program recognizes businesses and organizations based in Colorado or with a significant presence in the state that are leading the way in their fields, as demonstrated by financial performance, notable company achievements and community engagement.

To be considered, Top Company entrants submitted applications throughout the year online at ColoradoBiz.com. From those entries, which numbered in the hundreds, the magazine’s editorial board narrowed the field to three finalists (in most cases) in each industry category. A judging panel made up of area business leaders and ColoradoBiz staff then met to compare notes on the finalists and decide winners in 14 industries plus the Startup category, for companies in business four years or less.

Congratulations are in order not only to the 41 winners and finalists profiled on the following pages, but to all the companies that took the time to tell us about their achievements and obstacles surmounted over the past year that make them worthy of Top Company consideration.


Winner

Kodiak Building Partners 

Highlands Ranch, CO

Website: kodiakbp.com

CEO Steve Swinney founded Kodiak Building Partners in 2011 to bring an economy of scale to the building materials sector. 

Kodiak has since acquired more than 100 locations in 25 states with 6,000-plus employees, as the revenue has soared in the last decade. 

Swinney called Kodiak’s “decentralized business model” a differentiator. “Unlike many competitors, Kodiak’s backend support has helped enable growth across its portfolio of brands, while maintaining local independence and decision-making autonomy,’ he says. “Kodiak’s financial success and growth is a testament to how well this model works. In the past five years, Kodiak has delivered more than 10 times the return on their original investment in transactions to acquire new operating partners.” 

It’s all about operational efficiency. Kodiak, for example, recently evaluated its accounts payable processes and reduced workloads by 80 percent, which enabled the team staffed around those tasks to refocus on other value-added projects. 

Fostering culture as a holding company has been a challenge, but a welcome one, Swinney adds. “It’s commonplace for holding companies to establish a standard ‘corporate’ culture that’s big on compliance and often lacking in personality. Kodiak took another approach in establishing its culture, intentionally embracing a decentralized model where the corporate office more often flies under the radar of its operating partner brands.” 

The strategy allows companies in the portfolio to build on existing strengths as part of a broader network of suppliers. “Kodiak doesn’t come in and conduct corporate shakeups,” Swinney says. “Communication flows both from the top down and from the bottom up.” 

Kodiak recently launched a program to support leadership development across the company: The inaugural class of Kodiak’s Emerging Leaders program graduated in spring 2023.  

Finalists 

Cooper Heating & Cooling

Broomfield, CO

Website: coopergreenteam.com

It’s all about energy efficiency at the largest residential HVAC replacement contractor in Colorado and the leading Daikin dealer in the state. Cooper Heating & Cooling — aka the Cooper Green Team — has been Xcel Energy’s top partner for furnace, AC and heat pump rebates for the last 13 years.  

Founded in 1978, the contractor has grown by leaps and bounds over the decades. “At almost 180 people, we are starting to grow out of that mom-and-pop shop, which is good and bad,” says owner and CEO Luke Cooper. “We are able to offer better insurance, 401(k) and other support, but it has been very important for us to keep that mom-and-pop feel.” 

The company has turned around after former leadership drove the company into debt about five years ago. “We were overdrawn on every account and on credit hold with every vendor in town.” said Cooper. “This was the hardest professional thing we have ever had to overcome, but it made us better in every way. Our team showed amazing support and together we became more efficient, structured, and successful by working together as a team.” 

I-KOTA LLC 

Denver, CO

Website: i-kota.com

Founded in 2010, I-kota is a general contractor specializing in the construction of multi-family affordable housing. The 52-employee company is now one of the top three builders in the affordable housing market sector in Colorado with more than 3,100 affordable units completed, as revenue more than tripled from 2019 to 2022. 

CEO Riley McLaughlin had to pivot in 2016 after his business partner left I-kota. “In this process, we implemented a new organizational chart, promoting three individuals from within the company, hiring an outside CFO, and sizing our business to commit to being a $50 million a year company,” McLaughlin says. “What I’m personally most proud of through this difficult organizational transition was that we had zero turnover in personnel and have a solid relationship today with our previous business partner.” 

McLaughlin says the company emphasizes people over all else. “We rewrite our business plan each year, and we do not put a growth percentage in there,” he says. “We believe that could be fueled by ego and as a company we attempt to stay as far from that behavior as we can. Instead, we understand the difficulty of hiring people. We are investing heavily in our current staff to limit any turnover and increase the quality of our product.” 

And he says, “Bigger does not mean great.” 

Preparing for Economic Downturn: 4 Tips for Colorado Business Owners

Approaching the mid-way point of 2023, the economic downturn that many predicted would characterize Colorado’s economy this year hasn’t materialized. Despite uncertainty and rising interest rates, economic indicators appear to show a resilient market. But, there is a natural cycle of economic highs and lows that all business owners have to confront at times. As we approach the second half of the year, it’s a good time to examine your position and ensure you have some intentional strategies in place to avoid “survival mode” when a downturn does present itself. 

Balancing various economic variables in a way that protects profits and cash flow, especially in a downturn, is one of the biggest challenges that business owners must address. The most successful business leaders keep a finger on the pulse of economic cycles and are prepared with both short- and long-term plans to respond to variable market conditions. 

READ: 5 Ways Small Business Owners in Colorado Can Survive Inflation

Here are four tips that can help Colorado business owners prepare for a downturn: 

Proactively manage production, sales and workforce

These three functions of business, more than any other, can provide a steadying ground for businesses during periods of economic downturn or sustained declines in demand. Business owners can create a cushion to protect themselves from the market and avoid making knee-jerk reactions by getting ahead in these areas.

Look to optimize your accounting department and focus on data-driven forecasting. With better data, executives will have the upper hand when it comes to predicting slower periods. This information gives you more time to prepare and make sound decisions before you feel the full impact of a downturn. 

Human resources is another key area that can make or break a company’s ability to weather a downturn. Set up systems to ensure you have flexibility in managing your workforce. Avoid costly hiring-firing cycles that economic swings can set off by creating an all-the-time loyal workforce. Invest in workforce development. Look for opportunities to decentralize your management structure to offer more autonomy for decision-making. A culture that engages people will always be more resilient in tough times.

Work to ensure your product or service is creating essential value for your customers

Companies that create products or deliver services that people cannot live without will protect revenue during a recession because you’re unlikely to see major changes to demand. When the economy forces Coloradans to look for more ways to save, we naturally start evaluating needs and wants. Business owners who’ve positioned their product or service firmly in the ‘need’ category will fare better because a downturn has little impact on the value of something that consumers deem essential. 

Business owners can adapt their products and services to create more essential value by paying close attention to consumer trends and responses to market conditions. We saw many examples of this phenomenon during the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies shifted business models to stay relevant and meet changing needs; restaurants prioritized takeout programs while in-person dining was restricted; retailers developed the curbside pickup option; gyms pivoted to create on-demand programs for home fitness. Even though these industries likely experienced a decline, companies survived by adapting their offerings to hold value. 

If you experience a decline in sales, you can avoid rock bottom so long as your product or service provides essential utility for your customers. 

Diversify revenue streams

The ebbs and flows of the business cycle tend to vary across industry. The threat of a recession doesn’t necessarily mean doom and gloom for every industry as macroeconomic trends tend to affect different industries in dynamic ways. It’s an exceedingly rare economic event that challenges companies across all industries. 

What’s more common is that a downturn for some will be a boom cycle for others. Diversifying your business and creating multiple, and varied streams of revenue will minimize the impact of any slowdown.

READ: What Are the Safest Industries to Start Your First Business in 2023?

Solidify your capital management strategy

The old adage that cash is king holds true today. It’s no surprise that companies with reliable access to capital are going to be the best positioned to survive and thrive during economic downturns.

Analyze your working capital to identify opportunities for improvement. Can you decrease the amount of cash you have tied up in inventory with better data that allows you to predict demand and make your ordering of products more efficient? Another tactic to improve working capital, sit down with your vendors to identify opportunities for better terms. Finally, diligent credit procedures with your customers may allow you to more quickly convert sales to cash.

As with any area of business, relationships matter when it comes to capital, too. Having a strong relationship with your lenders is essential. Communicate with transparency and form a partnership with those who you borrow money from, ensuring that you are both ready to weather an economic storm together successfully.

If you have a solid financial foundation with accessible capital during a downturn, it can be an excellent time to take advantage of growth opportunities as acquisitions tend to pick up during recessions. Many companies need backing and support when times are tough. For example, the initial success of our business at Kodiak Building Partners was largely established as a result of the 2008 recession and housing crisis. Many of our first operating partners signed on with Kodiak as a holding company during a down period to access the financial strength the model offers. If you have a sound capital management strategy in place, your business is more likely to thrive during a recession. 

READ: Recession Ahead — How to Protect Your Financial Plan

Navigating economic downturns is a critical skill for business leaders. No one can predict with 100% certainty where Colorado’s economy will go in the next cycle, but business owners who work to create some protections with well-planned strategies will be better prepared to withstand a downturn, regardless of when the economic headwinds shift. 

 

Steve Swinney headshotSteve Swinney is Co-Founder and CEO of Kodiak Building Partners, one of Colorado’s largest privately owned companies. His experience as a financial executive spans more than two decades, with expertise in mergers and acquisitions, private equity-backed ventures, financial analysis, investor relations and overall business strategy.