Golden Valley-based Adolfson & Peterson Construction (AP) employs 700 people across 11 offices nationwide, building nearly 300 commercial projects a year. In 2021, it had revenue of $1.2 billion. But the company’s origins are remarkably, and even proudly, modest.
“It’s a great immigrant story,” says Andra Adolfson, AP’s director of business development in the Midwest region and a member of the family’s third generation. Her grandfather, George Adolfson, immigrated from Sweden in 1929 at age of 21 and began working in construction, traveling all over the country as a mason. One stop was in Minneapolis, where he met and married Maja Olsson. After several years of work travel, Maja told her husband (according to Andra), “Listen, George, why don’t you start your own business so we can live in one place and not take our children all over the country?” In 1946, George partnered with Gordon Peterson, a naval engineer, and started constructing homes in the Twin Cities, soon shifting to commercial construction. One of the innovative ways they kept ahead of their competition: “Winterizing” jobsites using wood framing and plastic enclosures, which allowed them to lay brick and pour concrete during the coldest months.
The company’s huge growth is not the only thing that’s changed since its founding. In 1979, the Peterson family sold its part of the business to the Adolfsons, with ownership and leadership shifting to the family’s second generation in the 1980s. Seeking opportunities outside the highly competitive Twin Cities-area construction market, AP expanded to Colorado, Arizona, Texas, and Wyoming.
In the late 1990s, AP worked with Minneapolis-based law firm Fredrikson & Byron to establish a plan for the company’s future. “That’s when the family made the conscious decision that they wanted to see [AP] remain in the family,” says Scott Weicht, an Adolfson family member who retired from the company in 2015 as its president. (He currently manages the family foundation.)
The plan established an outside board of directors, currently composed of five nonfamily and three family members. It’s responsible for the performance of the CEO and developing and approving a strategic direction. Adolfson shareholders can weigh in at a series of family meetings during the year.
Since the late 1990s, AP has been led by nonfamily CEOs. At that time, “there were no clear successors with the skills and experience to lead the company,” says current CEO Jeff Hansen, who joined AP in 2012 after two decades working for other family-owned real estate and construction firms. “The board and shareholders recognized the need for new leadership throughout the executive team with the background and expertise to help fuel expansion and accelerated growth.” A nonfamily CEO isn’t “official policy,” he says, “and the door is always open for family owners to take on the CEO role in the future.”
Currently, four family members work for the company. Younger Adolfsons interested in possibly joining AP can participate in a company internship program.
“We wanted the family members to be recognized for merit, for what they’re actually bringing to the table, both outside skills and skills they’ve learned in college and in life itself,” Weicht says. As for the nonfamily members, “our goal is to continue that value structure—the culture of this organization that the family spent 76 years developing and retaining,” Hansen says.
Something else that hasn’t changed: AP’s reputation for excellent work. “For me, they’ve been a group you can just count on if you have a challenging project,” says Steve Nornes, senior project developer for Roseville-based Presbyterian Homes and Services, a longtime customer. AP is typically involved in the early planning of his organization’s senior-living projects. Nornes says his projects with AP have always been completed on schedule—even his latest one, which was built during the pandemic. “We didn’t miss a day,” he adds.
As any construction manager can tell you, materials procurement has been a major challenge. “From day one, they recognized that,” Nornes says. “And they had strategies to get our products in so we’d be on time.”
The family traditions that George and Maja Adolfson established also endure. That includes philanthropy—each year, the company donates 5% to 10% of its total profits to charitable causes—and a Minnesota-style work ethic.
Nonfamily executive Brad Hendrickson, AP’s Midwest regional president, is Andra Adolfson’s manager; he also works with the three other family-member employees. “There’s no sense of entitlement or anything like that,” Hendrickson says. “They’re working hard for us every single day.”
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