Helping building businesses
It won’t come as any surprise that Rich Umbel, who heads up United Companies in Grand Junction, first took to the construction industry as a kid with a Tinkertoy set.
Umbel still likes the business of pouring concrete, paving roads and growing houses, but he’s added another skill — that of building people.
Or, perhaps more appropriately, helping people build themselves.
Umbel is more precisely the president of Oldcastle SW Group Inc., which owns United Companies in western Colorado. The Oldcastle business plan is to buy local companies, maintain their venerable names, and develop them as part of a network of similar, regional organizations.
Umbel, 42, moved to Grand Junction in late 2011 from Albuquerque, N.M. In doing so, he took over operations in a community with which he was familiar, having worked with some of the employees from afar.
A native of southern Idaho who grew up in northern Utah — and is, curiously enough, a rabid Pittsburgh Steelers fan — Umbel said he and his wife, Sandi, were immediately taken with Grand Junction.
“It’s large enough to have plenty of amenities, but small enough that you can walk safely downtown,” Umbel said.
The sense of family in the Grand Valley is one of its main attractions for him, Umbel said
He was taken with the farmers markets of the valley as well as community efforts such as Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Colorado.
The idea of reaching beyond his normal experience is part of his professional life as well as the leisure time Umbel affords himself.
United Companies and a sister company in Eagle, B&B Companies, known as a traditional builder, paver and concrete supplier, stretched last year to bid on the VelociRAFTA project, a high-speed busway for the Roaring Fork Transit Authority.
It was disappointing that the company didn’t get the contract, Umbel said, but it also was important United and B&B and their staffs proved they could recognize and compete for new kinds of projects.
“We’re constantly looking for ideas that are outside our usual business structure,” he said, pointing to the importance of the company mission statement: “To champion the safety, empowerment and development of our employees.”
His own career is something of a case in point, Umbel said.
He started in the construction business delivering concrete to construction sites.
He was fascinated by the challenge of taking a load of concrete to a site and “placing it in with as much precision as possible,” then watching buildings spring up from the foundations he set in place.
Nowadays, he is less involved with installing foundations than he is in building up his employees and encouraging them to make the most use of their abilities, Umbel said.
“Our people are so talented, I would put them up against anybody in the nation,” he said.
Likewise, his palate has become dependent on local offerings, one in particular.
“If I couldn’t get those green chiles,” he said, “I’d freak out.”