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Happy Birthday, KHS&S! Celebrating 37 Years of Success

When partners Mark Keenan, Dan Hopkins, Leon Schmidt and David Stowell established KHS&S on Dec. 7, 1984, they shared a vision to create a company that was innovative, customer driven, hard-working and could anticipate and respond to changing industry trends. 

From humble beginnings in Orlando, KHS&S has evolved into an international design-assist building company that has created memorable forms and finishes for some of the most recognized projects in the world. 

“So many people made a lot of sacrifices to get the company off the ground,” says Mark Keenan, KHS&S co-founder and chairman emeritus.

Initially building shopping centers, office buildings and small commercial projects, the big break came in 1986 when KHS&S was hired to work on the first building at Disney’s MGM Studios. 

A job this size was a risk with many new challenges, but an incredible opportunity that would launch the company into the theming business. With project success, KHS&S was established as the go-to company for complex projects. Other jobs for Disney and Universal Studios soon followed.  

“We hired the best people, treated them well, listened to them and rewarded them,” says Keenan. “We gave them every opportunity to fulfill their dreams.”

“Our growth was and continues to be due to the determination of our people,” explains Michael Cannon, KHS&S CEO/chairman, who joined KHS&S in 1991 and rose through the ranks. “As clients got to know the caliber of our work teams and saw major successes on large-scale, intricate jobs, they continued to offer us new and more opportunities.”

“Customers make unique requests, and we figure out a way to do it,” Cannon says. “We never tried to stereotype ourselves as an EIFS or drywall contractor, but a business focused on finding solutions for our clients.”

Staying Ahead of the Curve

To be distinguished from the competitors, employees are encouraged to anticipate what customers want and be the first to provide it. With an eye on the future, this culture of innovation has led to many industry firsts: 

  • First wall and ceiling subcontractor with comprehensive design-assist services, starting in 1997. By becoming more involved in the initial stages of a project, better plans can be developed to save the customer time and money while increasing the measure of safety for workers.  
  • Early adopter in Building Information Modeling (BIM) to integrate design and construction. It has now been used on some of the most complex construction projects in the country.
  • Pioneer in prefabrication. Construction can be accelerated using prefabricated bathrooms, medical headwalls, corridor rack walls, and interior and exterior wall systems.
  • Leader in Lean construction, where processes and a Lean culture help teams eliminate waste, streamline the construction schedule and increase value to the client and project owners.

“While technology and communications were changing the construction industry, KHS&S benefitted more than most,” observed Erik Santiago, KHS&S president. Santiago joined KHS&S in 1995, becoming president in December 2020. “Staying on the leading edge of technology has allowed us to use innovative techniques and find more efficient ways to develop and complete projects.”

Anticipating the Future

Growth hasn’t always been easy, and KHS&S has sustained market ups and downs like all contractors. But by planning for change and being aware of market trends, KHS&S has not only survived, but thrived in the long run. Santiago credits prudent investments made over the years and hiring dedicated and talented people.

“Those who contributed to the early stages paved the way for others who followed,” says Santiago. “Today’s emerging leaders will create their own legacies as time goes on.” 

So what’s the secret to success? Keenan, Cannon and Santiago credit a “can-do attitude” as a big reason for the company’s incredible track record. “We haven’t found anything we couldn’t do,” explains Santiago.

For 37 years, that’s been the way business has been done. And moving into the future, the company will continue to try new techniques, embrace innovation, and help customers bring their dreams to life.