Reaching for the top
October 1, 2006
GRAND BLANC TOWNSHIP, Mich. - For anyone driving Interstate 75 north of Detroit, it's hard to miss Dee Cramer Inc.
The sheet metal contracting company has a massive 66,000-square-foot facility just off the freeway, with a huge sign and logo emblazoned on the building's side.
The last time SNIPS visited the company was at the building's groundbreaking in 2000.
The Grand Blanc Township company is well known in the greater Detroit area, thanks to a wide variety of residential, commercial and industrial clients amassed in the last 69 years: the University of Michigan and General Motors among them.
Few companies can claim to "do it all" (and even less might want to), but Dee Cramer officials don't seem to mind. That includes Richard "Dick" Cramer Sr., who will be adding the title of Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association president to his resume at the end of this month's convention in Phoenix.
It marks the culmination of almost 35 years of involvement in SMACNA for Dick Cramer, and decades more when you add the time his father, Dee Cramer, put into the organization. Dee Cramer was SMACNA president in the early 1950s.
In 1997, Dick Cramer was named SMACNA's Contractor of the Year, the annual award given in memory of Ed Carter, the founder of SNIPS magazine. Dee Cramer received the same award in 1983.
Like most SMACNA presidents, Cramer's term will mean lots of travel and talking to members, as he becomes the association's highest profile member and an advocate for its publications and programs. While some people might dread the travel, Cramer said it's not so bad.
"There's a lot less travel than there used to be," the 65-year-old said in a meeting room at the company's facilities, adding that he remembers when it really was like a concert tour.
When he is speaking to other contractors, Cramer will be stressing the importance of becoming involved with the group at all levels.
"It starts at the local level," he said. "For people to be members or want to be members, they have to see some benefit."
Those benefits should be readily apparent, Cramer added.
"We're all in the same business - although our businesses vary quite a bit," he said. "We all have some things in common."
HistoryCramer is currently chairman of the furnace repair and installation company his father founded in 1937.
Dee Cramer has come a long way from those less-then-auspicious beginnings. Today, the diverse company averages more than $30 million in annual volume, with about 300 year-round employees. Its client list includes major hospitals and factories, but workers also do home heating and air-conditioning services. The main offices include a showroom full of residential fireplaces. Dee Cramer was named the No. 8 sheet metal contractor in the United States by McGraw-Hill Cos.' Engineering News-Record, and the company is known for its use of technologies like 3-D computer modeling.
"We always believe we want to be on the cutting edge," Cramer said.
Cramer's father, Dee Cramer, probably didn't worry about such things in 1937. During his company's first nine years, he worked alone. His brother Jack joined him in 1946, but they didn't have a non-relative employee until Gerald Davis was hired in 1951. Davis had a background in the growing air-conditioning market and led the company to expand into commercial work, adding cooling to existing buildings. Future company vice president Jim Hicks joined Cramer in 1952.
IncorporationIn 1953, the company became a corporation, with Dee Cramer as president and Jack Cramer and Davis as vice presidents.
With General Motors having a number of factories in the area, it didn't take long until Cramer added the world's largest automaker as a client - and with it, expanded into industrial work.
Dick Cramer wasn't yet officially part of the family's business, although he certainly was a presence in the shop. His father would occasionally take him to jobsites, and he'd practice driving in the company car. Around the time he turned 16, he started working summers in the sheet metal shop.
"I did everything," Cramer recalled. "I made ductwork, I installed ductwork. I worked in service, I worked in the office."
It was a good way to make money. But a career? Maybe not.
"I wasn't always sure I wanted to go into the business," he said. He was more interested in the aerospace industry, and even had been offered a fellowship from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration after graduating from Notre Dame University with a bachelor's in mechanical engineering.
Following fatherBut after earning a master's from Michigan State University, Cramer decided to join his father in the family business instead of joining the space race. He is also a licensed professional engineer.
The addition helped further grow the company. Dee Cramer Inc. started moving outside the Flint region to Lansing, Michigan's capital city to the west. By 1968, the company had opened its first facilities there, eventually expanding into their current Lansing offices in 1981.
By the 1980s, Dee Cramer was focusing on the metro Detroit region further south on I-75. It won a $5 million contract with the prestigious University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. This led to another office in that city. In 2005, the company opened a shop in Wixom, Mich.
Like his father, Dick Cramer's sons followed him into the family's business. His daughter Kim even worked in the sheet metal shop for a time. Richard J. Cramer II started doing project-estimating work after graduating from Notre Dame in 1986. In 1993, Matthew Cramer was hired as controller after also graduating from Notre Dame and spending three years in the computer industry.
Today, Matthew Cramer is company president. His brother, Rich, serves as vice president. The company also has two additional vice presidents, Rick White and Valerie Bradley.
Despite a state economy that sees its fortunes shift with the boom-bust cycles of the auto industry, Dee Cramer has maintained its success. Dick Cramer credits his employees.
"We've had good people and we've let good people do their thing," he said.
For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail email@example.com.