“It’s crazy where the technology is today, and Komatsu is leading the way’’”
When Dan Oakes was growing up, his grandfather, Arnold William Oakes, shared some sage advice that would guide Dan and shape a multi-generational, family company.
“He told me that I should do a job I enjoy, even if it meant being a fishing guide, because I only have one life to live,” remembered Dan. “I took it to heart, and I am glad with my choice to stay in the construction business, but I still do like fishing.”
Fortunately for his numerous customers and employees in Racine, Wisc., Dan really enjoyed construction. Today, he is the third-generation President of A.W. Oakes & Son, the company started by his grandfather – and expert advice giver – 70 years ago. His passion for the industry has led the firm into one of its most productive phases.
“I purchased the business from my dad, Glenn, in 1991 after he retired, and the economy wasn’t great,” said Dan. “At that time, we had nearly 110 employees, several divisions and diesel was $2 a gallon. I was only interested in the construction part, so I downsized. I sold some divisions and paid off my debt. Then with 35 employees, we went all-in to start building again.”
In the 27 years that followed, A.W. Oakes & Son became one of southeast Wisconsin’s leading, full-service construction firms with 250 employees, including Dan’s sons, Daniel and Max, who comprise the fourth generation of the Oakes family in the company.
“We can take a project from a vacant field and handle every aspect until vertical construction,” noted Dan. “We do it all – stripping, building retention basins, installing utilities, putting stone down for parking lots, grading, digging footings and foundations and laying the sidewalks. The general contractor doesn’t have to worry about scheduling several people for each phase. They just need to call us and then find a builder for vertical construction.”
Big jobs, big family
A.W. Oakes & Son focuses on large commercial projects within an hour of its home office in Racine. While keeping crews busy is one thing, making them feel valued is the firm’s specialty.
“We’re a family company, and that extends to all of our employees, not just the ones named Oakes,” explained Dan. “We stay local so people can be home at night, go to their kids’ activities and have a life outside of work. If they are happy at home, they’ll be happy here. It’s a philosophy that serves us well; we have some second- and third-generation employees, which I think speaks to the way we treat people.”
The proof is in the results as motivated crews from A.W. Oakes & Son routinely check off extensive assignments.
“We had a recent project where we moved 40,000 yards of dirt for a retention pond, and crew members were ready to dig footings, but they were already two weeks ahead of schedule,” recalled Dan. “They had to wait for the customer to get the building permits. That’s what we can do, handle big jobs quickly, efficiently and – most importantly – correctly.
Being an early adopter of advanced technology is a calling card for A.W. Oakes & Son. That is why it turns to Roland Machinery Company and Territory Manager Aaron Strade for Komatsu intelligent Machine Control equipment.
“I had a laser for slopes when I first started, then it evolved into add-on GPS devices,” shared Dan. “It’s crazy where the technology is today, and Komatsu is leading the way. We have a special relationship with Aaron, Roland and Komatsu. They have the best equipment as well as the best people, which is crucial.”
A.W. Oakes’ fleet has included intelligent Machine Control pieces from the time the first dozers came onto the market in 2013. Today, it includes three D61PXi dozers, a D65PXi dozer and three excavators – a PC210LCi, a PC360LCi and a PC490LCi.
“We had TOPCON aftermarket devices on the dozers before, so we had an idea of what GPS could do, but the integrated technology blew us away,” said Project Manager, Survey & Staking, Matt Krok. “The dozers proved themselves to the point where it was clear that we would be getting the excavators as well.”
By deploying the intelligent Machine Control equipment on its jobsites, A.W. Oakes’ crews maximize their efficiency.
“I would estimate that we are 20 to 25 percent faster on site-preparation jobs,” stated Matt. “We don’t have to cut twice, and we’re within a few hundredths percent of grade. We can use fewer people in a crew because we don’t need a surveyor there at all times.”
“We continue to find applications that the excavators can thrive in,” added Dan. “Utilities, especially on new construction, are an area where we’ve noticed a real advantage. We save time and material because we can grade both the trench and the rock bedding without a person assigned to the hole.
“Another advantage is that we save all of the plans,” he added. “If we are building a subdivision, we know where the lines and tie-ins are when we come back. There is no second-guessing, ever. The technology is extremely helpful.”