Builder Uses Lean

Patrick Finn, president of Patrick A. Finn Ltd. of Arlington Heights, believes in karma. In other words, if you do good things, you will reap the benefits. If you do bad things, it will catch up with you eventually.

“We strive to treat others as we want to be treated and we are very big on integrity,” the 42-year-old Irish immigrant explained.

“There is a Japanese word – kaizen – which means continuous self-improvement, and that is the philosophy under which we work,” he continued. “We are always trying to better ourselves when it comes to how we do business.

“Even in a down economy, what people really want is to not be taken advantage of,” Finn said. “Some of our competitors bid low and then nickel and dime their customers to death for various things. We guarantee our price upfront, unless the client makes changes. So our initial prices for remodeling projects may be 3 (percent) to 5 percent higher than others, but in the end, that price guarantee saves our customers much more than that.

“We say that we are selling value, not price,” he said.

Finn began his new construction and remodeling business in 1991, a scant four years after immigrating to Chicago from Killarney, Ireland, by way of London.

“There were no jobs in Ireland then, so instead of going to college, I went to London where I learned the carpentry trade,” he said.

But his plan all along, he admitted, was to eventually go to the United States.

“When I was 8, my grandfather took me to see the Atlantic Ocean, had me dip my fingers in it and then told me on the other side of that water was America. He had been there in the 1920s and he always had glorious stories to tell about America; so that is when I decided I had to go to America, too,” Finn said.

He made his way to Chicago in 1987 and immediately got a job framing houses in the South suburbs.

“My aim was to learn as much as I could in as short a period of time as I could, so that within five years I could be working for myself,” Finn said. “I felt that if I was going to move 4,000 miles from my family, it had better be for a good reason.”

Next he took a job working on high-rises downtown including the Sheraton Hotel and Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s parking garage. By 1990 he was building bridges on the Kennedy Expressway reconstruction.

In the fall of 1991 he ventured on his own with a carpentry contracting firm, remodeling low-income inner-city properties. Within 18 months he was acting as general contractor on multiple projects in Hyde Park, Lincoln Park and the North Shore.

He and his wife were living in Arlington Heights and conducting the business out of their home, but “no one knew us out here because we were working in the city and elsewhere, six days a week.”

It wasn’t until the couple needed to put a second floor addition on their own home to accommodate their growing family in 1996 that people in Arlington Heights knew of Patrick A. Finn Ltd. And he has been kept busy building and remodeling in the Northwest suburbs ever since, doing 90 percent of his work in Arlington Heights.

What is your dream house?

“I am already living in my dream location – a white colonial home with a red door on a five-acre lot with room for horses in Barrington Hills.”

Some day when he retires, however, Finn said he would like to live near the ocean in Belize or a South American country.

What is your favorite home amenity?

“Radiant heated floors, particularly in bathrooms.”

The details: In an average year, Patrick A. Finn Ltd. builds three new houses and remodels nine homes in the Northwest suburbs from Park Ridge to Barrington Hills.

Occasionally Finn ventures further afield. Its jobs range in price from $6,000 to $500,000.

But since the recession hit, jobs have been 100 percent remodeling, Finn said. Work ranges from kitchen and bath remodeling to the finishing of basements and large additions.

“We have our own carpenters who do the framing and trim work and then subcontractors who do the other work. This allows us to maintain control of the job.

“We also now have an interior designer on staff who assists the homeowners with the many choices involved in remodeling and new construction.

“Having her on staff helps take the stress out of remodeling for both the homeowners and for me. She has been a godsend.”

His buyers: Finn primarily caters to growing families who like their neighborhoods and want to continue to live in them, but need more space.

Consequently, most of Finn’s customers are in their late 30s or early 40s. But another sizable contingent is made up of empty-nesters who are downsizing to smaller homes, but want to fix those homes up to meet their dreams.

What’s the best part of being a builder?

“I love the challenge and the interaction with the clients. The more complex the problem, the better I like to solve it. I love to help people solve problems that they just can’t envision a solution for.

“The wow factor at the end when the homeowner sees the finished product is stunning for me.”

Finn said he also enjoys employing immigrants like himself who need a helping hand in a new country.

“I like to educate them and give them a future,” the father of three admitted.

“When I was coming up through the ranks, everyone pushed me down and that made we want to try all the harder. Now that I am an employer, I try to help those coming behind me because I believe in humanity.”

What are the biggest changes you have seen in the business?

“The American psyche is resetting. They have gone back to the mindset that a house doesn’t have to be bigger – just better. That is a nice thing.”

Some towns are now limiting the size of the homes they permit to be built. Finn is also fond of the green movement, which encourages energy consciousness and stricter codes.

Future plans: Finn expects his company will continue to grow, despite the current economic downturn. In fact, Finn said 2009 was a good year for the company (2008 was its low point).

“We are insulated in Chicago from the big swings they experience on the coasts and from the rust belt in Cleveland and Detroit. This is a resilient area and that is one of the reasons I came here when I immigrated.”

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