Chicagoland contractor shares the rich history and successful future of his sheet metal company.

Robert W. Kuechenberg, chief executive officer of R.B. Hayward Co. in Schiller Park, Ill., says he wants his company to be known for quality work. Hayward has worked on several landmark buildings in the Chicago area.
SCHILLER PARK, Ill. - If you ever visit R.B. Hayward Co.'s offices in suburban Chicago, notice the big round brass bell on the wall next to the receptionist's desk.

It looks like something that might hang in an old factory or firehouse. Robert W. Kuechenberg, the company's chief executive officer, says the bell is from the company's original 1900s-era Chicago sheet metal shop.

"Now we ring it every time we get a big contract," Kuechenberg says, laughing.

The bell and the company's adjacent shop were quiet the day SNIPS visited R.B. Hayward's offices, but with up to $10 million in annual sales, it's a safe assumption the bell gets a regular workout.

The bell and the company have come a long way since Ralph B. Hayward founded it in 1915. Much more than a simple sheet metal operation, today the company regularly works on projects in the health care, industrial and commercial building industries. Past projects have included ensuring airflow in a toxic-spill cleanup laboratory and installing new HVAC systems for the University of Illinois-Chicago Medical Center and pharmaceuticals maker Pfizer Inc.

"We pride ourselves on doing the difficult, quality work, and we look for the quality customers," Kuechenberg, 64, says. "We're looking to do an ongoing contract. We don't want to build a building, then walk away from it."

Walking around Chicago, its not hard to find buildings R.B. Hayward has been involved in. The Wrigley Building; the offices for both of the city's major newspapers, the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times; and many of the city's upscale hotels feature their work.

The company also installed the original ventilation system for the 73-year-old Merchandise Mart. The building, which takes up two city blocks, is one of the largest commercial structures in the world. Hayward made and installed miles of ductwork for the project.

In the 1960s, the company was also involved in the construction of the John Hancock Center, the Michigan Avenue landmark that is one of the tallest buildings in the world.

In recent years, the company has done less general HVAC work, leaving what Kuechenberg calls the most "competitive" side of the construction industry to others. Instead, the company has focused on suburban developments and specialty projects for major industrial and commercial clients.

The strategy appears to be working: While Kuechenberg says R.B. Hayward "is not a Fortune 500 company," it does count many businesses who are on that elite list of top-ranking U.S. corporations, including Allstate and IBM, among its clients.

"We want to have a reputation" for quality work, Kuechenberg says.

The company also has a reputation for involvement in the community and the sheet metal industry. Hayward is a member of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association, the Association of Subcontractors and Affiliates, the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago, the National Fire Protection Agency and several other groups.

In 2002, Kuechenberg and his wife Anita were given SMACNA's Distinguished Legislative Service Award for the couple's political activities.

The company is also active with charities such as the American Cancer Society, the Shriners and the American Diabetes Association.