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Home | AUSTIN | Spotlight | Spotlight – Chris Kelley, President/CEO, Jeff Kelley, Vice President/Sales Manager, Amber Kurkowski, Vice President, Bilt Rite Scaffold/Bilt Rite Insulation

Spotlight – Chris Kelley, President/CEO, Jeff Kelley, Vice President/Sales Manager, Amber Kurkowski, Vice President, Bilt Rite Scaffold/Bilt Rite Insulation

image Amber Kurkowski, Chris Kelley and Jeff Kelley are taking Bilt Rite Scaffold and Bilt Rite Insulation to new heights.

AUSTIN – Chris and Jeff Kelley, brothers and new owners of Bilt Rite Scaffold, were a little surprised when they realized that the company that was established in 2006 had hit its 10th anniversary in April. Chris and Jeff bought the company in August 2015.

    Born in Germany and raised by their father, Charles Kelley, both Chris and Jeff give all the credit to their father for the success they are finding as business owners today.

Where did you grow up?
    Chris: We were raised in the Austin area. We went to San Marcos High School.

Were you active in sports or other activities?
    Jeff: I was active in varsity football and track.
    Chris: I was more into debate and theater. Jeff was the smallest guy on the football team but has always had the heart to push through. I found I wasn’t meant for that.

You sound like you are very different. Does one take after your mother and one take after your father?
    Chris: Jeff takes more after mom. Lots of personality, easygoing. The nice guy! Calm and caring.
    Jeff: Chris takes after our father. Very tenacious, a mystery box. Lots of ambition and strong willed.
    Chris: Yes, I tend to be more like help me or get out of the way!
    Jeff: It works out well. Sometimes Chris is the accelerator and I’m the brakes.

Tell me about your parents.
    Chris: Dad raised us from the age of one on. Life was challenging. We didn’t have money, but we learned to stick together. He devoted his entire life to making sure we would be successful. He stressed that it is always family and each other first. He insisted we work here during the summer and on our school breaks. We got good at doing scaffolding. We learned hard work, determination and discipline.
    We developed a relationship with our mom as we got older. She’s extremely intelligent, and very creative.

What happened after you left high school?
    Jeff: I went to Texas State University, majoring in sports science. I’ve always had – and still do – a big passion for sports. At first, I thought I would do something with engineering but I didn’t really like it. My dream was to take Mac Brown’s job!
    As I spent more time here at Bilt Rite, I worked my way up, became a foreman, then went into the office. I worked my way from the bottom to the top.
    Chris: The irony is when I started working here I hated it. I was 16 years old and in the Texas heat! As I moved through the company, I found I was really good at drafting and design.
    I worked one summer in the office doing design and went from hating it to loving it.
    Jeff: He’s good at a lot of things.
    Chris: When you design a scaffold, you choose from hundreds of pieces. It’s like Tinkertoys. There are infinite possibilities. It’s very exciting.

Tell me about a particular project that stands out.
    Jeff: The old Highland Mall that Austin Community College has renovated. We put up scaffolding all the way around. It was a year-long project with 850-ft of scaffold. The tallest side was 65-ft tall.
    Chris: We are also legendary for our trash chutes. No-one builds them like we do.

Your ongoing work at one of your projects has led to some new friendships and partnerships here. Tell me about it.
    Chris: We met Amber at that project. She was subbing us for the scaffolding.
    Amber: We felt there was a serious need for a quality insulation company. Most of the time you need scaffolding when you are doing insulation work.
    Chris: So, we started Bilt Rite Insulation in March and Amber came in as a partner.

Amber, tell me about yourself.
    Amber: My husband, Charles Witt, and I own K&W Engineering Solutions. I attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and graduated with a bachelor’s degree. I was active duty Army from 2007-2012 with the 1st Calvary Division out of Ft. Hood. I also received an MBA degree from Norwich University and I’m currently working on my masters in electrical engineering.
    I started partnering with Chris by providing structural engineering designs and a stamp for his specialty scaffolding projects. We also brought in Johnny Mikulec as a superintendent for insulation and as a partner.

Who are some of your other key employees here?
    Chris: Our father – he is the biggest piece of this.
    Then there is Matthew McKinney, branch manager, Greg Martinez, and Chuck Gavarette. They have all been with the company for more than seven years and have helped build the company.
    We have 42 employees at both businesses.

What is the company culture like?
    Chris: We try to hold some kind of retreat every year. We gave more than $30,000 in Christmas bonuses and we provide healthcare. We treat the company and the employees like family.
    Everyone gives to the company. In a sense, it’s all about the client. Anyone who is willing to work hard will get the training they need to succeed. I always want to see people succeed and grow. A lot of our friends from high school work here – they don’t need to have scaffolding experience. We will train them and provide opportunities.
    We have a company softball team and we take part in charity golf tournaments.

You do quite a bit of work for non-profit organizations, right?
    Jeff: Yes. Over the Edge is a company that provides the opportunity for non-profits to raise money and name recognition by having participants rappel over the edge of a local high rise building. We built a platform up to the roof of a building in Waco so the people rappelling would be able to step out away from the edge and reduce rope fraying.
    Chris: We also sponsor a Little League baseball team, The Phantoms. We helped them raise enough money to compete at a national tournament.
    Some of the other non-profits we work with are Art Alliance of Austin, Texas Wounded Warrior, #BandTogetherTX, Premiere Combat Group and FORE Charity Golf.

What are some of your future plans for Bilt Rite?
    Chris: We are planning to build a new facility. We are looking for 10+ acres with multiple space for our companies, a showroom, and extras for the employees like a weight room and a game room. We want this to be a place where people want to come to work. We will be breaking ground within a year.
    We also plan to break into some new markets, such as San Antonio and more.

What do you like to do for leisure?
    Chris: Golf, barbecue, fish, hunt. I’ve always had a passion for psychology, so I like to study that. I want to build an ECG machine that measures brain waves! I’ve always wanted to be an inventor. I also take part in truck shows. I won second at the Hays County Fair!
    Jeff: Sports! Video games, time with my family, darts – anything sports! I’m very competitive and I’m a big fan of the Dallas Cowboys, the Spurs, the Longhorns and the Texas Rangers.
    Amber: Ride horses. We do hobby farming. We have goats, sheep, horses, a micro pig and dogs. I like to hunt and spend time with my family.

Chris and Jeff, are you single, married?
    Chris: I have a girlfriend, Katie Hodges.
    Jeff: I have a girlfriend, Courtney Haynes and we have a one-year-old daughter.
    Chris: They are extremely supportive and are a key part to our success.

Any last thoughts?
    Chris: The emphasis is on our father. He’s always said this is going to be one of the better stories.
    Jeff: Our father was the right person to start this company and Chris and I were the right ones to come in and make it grow exponentially.
    Chris: And partnering with Amber has been the best move.
    Jeff: We know how it is living paycheck to paycheck. We treat our employees right so they don’t leave.
    Chris: Our business model is to be successful but it’s more about providing something that feeds and supports families and veterans. –cw


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