Greenfire

Michael Murphy, director of northern operations for Greenfire in Wausau, has helped the Potawatomi expand their business in Northcentral Wisconsin. The Business News photo by Jerry Rhoden

Fire holds a sacred place in Native American cultures, gathering wise, experienced leaders and fostering visionary discussions. It’s with that amalgamation of tradition and progression that Greenfire Management Services strives to write its own chapter in Northcentral Wisconsin.

Aptly named for its stated purpose, Greenfire — an arm of Milwaukee-based Potawatomi Business Development — opened its Wausau offices in 2019 with an eye toward sustainability and forward-thinking construction and management.

“It started in Milwaukee with a lot of multifamily housing,” said Michael Murphy, director of northern operations, “and they wanted to diversify geographically, into different markets.”

That’s evolved into development and renovations of libraries and schools around the region, a $55 million community center in Forest County, and even apartments in the Titletown District near Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

That’s evolved into development and renovations of libraries and schools around the region, a $55 million community center in Forest County, and even apartments in the Titletown District near Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

Locally, Murphy’s experience of more than 30 years in regional construction has helped Greenfire kindle a strong reputation.

“The Potawatomi have been so successful because of their strong bonding capacity,” said Murphy, whose own knowledge of area developers, general contractors, sub-contractors, and area municipalities have played an integral role in establishing Greenfire.

 

“Our model is a little unique,” he said. “We bid all aspects of our program out. We can cover about 2/3 of Wisconsin from here, so we end up with a different mix of sub-contractors in different areas. We’re a real melting pot of talent.”

Working with the number of subs that Greenfire uses has helped the company avoid some of the employment crunch that so many firms are experiencing.

We can cover about two thirds of Wisconsin from here, so we end up with a different mix of subcontractors in different areas. We’re a real melting pot of talent.”

—Michael Murphy,

director of nothern operations,

Greenfire Management Services,

Wausau

“It’s tough to acquire talent,” Murphy said, “but we’ve established a healthy culture here where everybody has a say. We have 4 p.m. office meetings. We’ll discuss financial status, hear from everyone, from field supervisors, and we’ll change some of our processes. It’s not just a top-down structure.”

Murphy mentioned Greenfire’s employee referral program and bonus structure as ways to cut through some of the unknown of hiring new personnel.

An employee in good standing who knows the culture of the company can vouch for someone he or she thinks might be a good fit. Murphy sees that as a big step forward in the on-boarding process.

But just when Greenfire was figuring things out in the areas of project management and personnel, along came the universal curveball of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020.

Like many firms, it forced Greenfire to rethink how it conducted meetings and work habits.

“Our staff meetings now are over Zoom,” Murphy said, while also allowing for ways to try to maintain the interpersonal component that can get lost in the digital world.

“Sometimes we’ll do like a show and tell, just to try to maintain that personal connection,” he said.

While the pandemic shuttered countless businesses and appears to continue to disrupt supply chains, it didn’t have a significant impact on Greenfire’s bottom line.

“We were able to keep all of our projects

running through COVID,” Murphy said, pointing to the long-range nature of construction.

It takes a healthy workforce, though, to keep those plans moving forward, and processes were put in place to try to maximize health and minimize downtime.

“We were constantly sanitizing things,” said Craig Bailey, a site supervisor for Greenfire. “Things that a lot of people would touch in common.”

“A couple of times we had to quarantine a crew,” he said, “but we wanted to make sure people weren’t working right on top of each other.”

Foremen, for example, were charged with signing in all personnel on work sites to try to regulate who — and how many — were coming and going.

While projects were able to keep chugging forward in general, the sluggish supply chain did leave a number of blanks that would simply need to be filled in later.

“Light fixtures, for example,” Bailey said. “Some of those went from being four weeks out to being 20. Steel, that tripled in price.”

While the young company hasn’t experienced a “normal” year yet, careful management of pandemic protocols and judicious planning have helped Greenfire experience a projected $145 million in sales for 2021.

“We have a robust pre-construction department,” Murphy said. “From planning and architecture, even to decided between lumber or metal because of supply chains. That’s really how we’ve been able to keep our numbers up through all of this, with the amount of detail we cover up front.”