The HADCO Train: Learning the ‘isms’ of John Hadfield


HADCO Construction President and CEO John Hadfield at the company’s headquarters in Lehi, Utah.

John Hadfield learned the value of getting his hands dirty at an early age by working in the fields with his father, John Sr. The Lehi-based family found success installing and servicing agricultural irrigation systems. When Hadfield was only 12, he learned to press pipe and, by the time he was in high school, he was installing wheel lines and pivots across the state.

  • Around the time Hadfield enrolled in the construction management program at Brigham Young University, John Sr. sold a large piece of property to Ivory Homes for development. Because of his pipe laying experience, Hadfield went to work installing infrastructure on the property.

    Once Hadfield earned his real estate license, he began selling residential building lots and attracted the attention of Ivory Homes, who offered him a job selling homes for them. He continued to sell real estate to put himself through school but quit in 1994, with only one class remaining.

    He left college to pursue his dream of starting his own company and HADCO Construction was born. Nevertheless, six years later he returned to school and completed his degree, because he never forgot the core principles he learned while growing up, working side-by-side with his father: work hard and never quit until the job’s done. Those principles are still inherent in the core values of HADCO Construction today.

    Challenging the Status Quo
    HADCO Construction, based in Lehi, Utah, began as a company with a total of four employees. Today, the company has close to 600 employees and does myriad of work from excavation and concrete work to road construction projects, and everything in between.

    Hadfield says the company believes in vertical integration – being self-reliant, limiting outsourcing and doing as much as possible in-house. “It’s something I learned from Larry Miller,” says

  • A photography mosaic highlighting different
    people and services offered by HADCO
    Construction lines a corridor at the main

    Hadfield. “It was kind of his forte.”

    Vertical integration helped to solve a challenge the company was facing in getting residential homes from the point of excavation to pouring the concrete floor: trying to coordinate three to four different trades, all working at the same time, was both daunting and time-consuming. Hadfield and his team implemented what they call the “HADCO train” and bundled the trades together to provide an all-in-one service for their customers. “Now, we dig the hole and we pour the footing,” says Hadfield. “We work with a plumber and he does his portion of the process, all under our purview. Then, we backfill it and have our concrete crews do the pour and finish work.”

    By simplifying the scheduling process and using vertical integration, HADCO cut the time from “dig to concrete floor” in half: what used to take 24 days now takes 11 or 12.

Honestly, most of our business is driven by our customers. We are focused on the long-term relationship and what our customers’ wants and needs are.”

— Jeff Seliger, General Supervisor of Development
  • HADCO Construction President and CEO John Hadfield at the company’s headquarters in Lehi, Utah with his personal assistant and daughter, Ashley Hadfield.

    Chief Estimator Kendall Page (right) and Jeff Seliger, General Supervisor of Development (second from the left) go over a work order with a group of operators.

  • One want from homebuilders that has turned into a niche service is trampoline holes. “Why not?” says Residential Division Manager Erik Peterson. “Our crews are already digging in the area.” When asked if there are any other unusual requests, Peterson says he’s surprised at how often homeowners ask: “Can I sit in the backhoe and take a picture of you digging my basement?” He says their operators oblige because it only takes a few minutes and “it makes for happy customers.”

    At the Company’s Core
    HADCO is about people, company culture and teamwork. From the very beginning, a set of core values emerged and, over the years they have been refined. Every six weeks Operations Manager Dixon Downs, who manages the company’s leadership training, expounds on the core values of ethics, hard work, accountability, and commitment to long-term relationships. “We want our people to be committed to us, just like we’re committed to them and to our customers,” he said.

    HADCO’s focus is on retaining and promoting employees from within. There are opportunities to train, educate and recognize “how valuable” employees are to the company and show them the contributions they’re making to society in building the future of Utah – building roads, building subdivisions, preparing for people to live and grow in the neighborhoods that they build.

Current Challenges
Hadfield says that finding and hiring the right people is currently one of their biggest challenges. “We had to add 100 people this year to keep up with growth,” he said. “Unfortunately, we only kept eight of them.”

Hadfield wishes the trades, or blue-collar workers, would get more credit than they do.

Most of his workers – regardless of gender, race, color or orientation – make good money, have good careers and are smart. “It’s an honorable profession,” he says. “There’s an honor in what we do.”

HADCO is looking for good people who want to be here.

We do construction, but we are really in the people business,” he said. “Finding the good, solid employees, and finding a home for them is important to us. We can teach skills, but we can’t teach attitude. If you do your part, HADCO will do theirs.”

— Fred Bond, Concrete Division Manager
  • Hadfield said that millennials think differently: it’s not that they’re lazy, but their expectations are different. So, HADCO is pairing their experienced employees with the new ones. He said it’s a bit of an effort and a learning curve for everyone, but once they get in and find their place, they work hard.

    Chief estimator Kendall Page says he speaks to people who look skeptically at the construction industry. “I want to tell them to come and see what we’re about, what kind of a living you can make and what kind of contribution you can make to society. There are enough opportunities here that you can go out and get what you want. If you are assertive, hardworking, ethical and you have the drive to succeed, you can go just about anywhere.”

    Hadfield thinks a leader is crucial to a business, “because he sets the pace, the tone, the vision” for his team. He says a leader should always be learning and seeking new practices from peers, employees, competitors and customers.

    Hadfield does a manager training every Monday morning where he shares catchy sayings with the group. His team jokes about the sayings and they have taken to calling them “John-isms.” “Attack the problem, not the person” and “If you have the title, freaking do the job” are two such phrases, or John-isms.

    In addition to the –isms, Hadfield establishes a theme for his team each year. This year it’s “Be the Alpha” and he relayed the story of the order of the wolf pack. He uses the acronym ALPHA to relate it to his group: A is assertive, L is loyal, P is persistent, H is heart, and A is awesome. “If we’re going to do this why not be awesome at it?” Hadfield asks.

    “I know we haven’t invented anything new,” John says. “I use them to get my team’s attention. They’re basic principles but hopefully they’ll figure them out and understand what we really believe.”

    Hadfield thinks that for companies to succeed, they need to plan for succession. He says spending time now doing all these management trainings is worth it, because in 10 years they’ve got to be able to do it. Peterson agrees that the next generation needs to

  • Members of the leadership team at HADCO Construction’s main equipment lot in
    Lehi, Utah.

    step up, learn the skills and become the leaders.

    Looking Toward the Future
    When asked about being part of the growth of the Silicon Slopes, Hadfield acknowledges that it’s beengood for business: HADCO has done 50 percent of excavating and building the infrastructure. “We get to see daily progress on something we’ve created,” says Hadfield.

    While he likes some of the conveniences that have come with the technology surge, such as Costco and the selection of restaurants, he dislikes some of the effects it’s having on the people and the sense of community. He says that for the people and companies that have grown up in the area, it’s been easy for the small-town atmosphere to get swallowed up. He remembers a time when the grocery store was a “fun place to go” because you’d run into people you knew. “You don’t know people now,” he says.

    If there is any message that Hadfield hopes to share, it’s that building and developing is a great industry. “We have great people who work in it; they’re smart, well-read and tech- savvy,” he says, “and basically, they’re nice people.”

    At this point in life, Hadfield wants to focus on what is most important, and that’s taking care of his family and “his people.” When he has a chance to enjoy some downtime, he likes an adventure. “I like to leave the phone behind and try something new, something different, something exciting,” said Hadfield. “Honestly, I don’t mind a day at the beach, but after that, I’ve got to do something.”

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