Construction management power duo, Russ Zellmer and Josh Schultz, discuss how they are taking Langer Construction to the next level  

For over seven decades, Langer Construction (Langer) has been building from the ground up. Now a national success, the company has recently reached new heights under the watchful eye of President, Russ Zellmer, and Vice President, Josh Schultz. The company’s history dates all the way back to 1946, as Russ explains: “Langer was founded by Louis Langer after he returned home from WWII. He quickly moved from building single-family homes in West St. Paul, Minnesota, to commercial general contracting in the early 1950s. We’re now a full-service commercial contractor specializing in owner-occupied facilities.

“I am the President and co-owner of Langer and have been with the company for 28 years. Growing up on a farm in southern Minnesota, I joined Langer as an intern after graduating college and quickly moved up the project management ranks into senior management and eventually ownership. During my time I’ve been fortunate enough to have held nearly every position within the company.”

Over the past 78 years, the leadership team behind Langer has made a conscious decision to build relationships first; investing in its people and long-term partnerships with clients. These values are especially important to current Vice President and co-owner, Josh, as he reveals: “I joined Langer in the spring of 2016 after eight years in the construction industry. My family has strong ties to the company as I am the third generation and the fifth member of my family to work here. With my close ties, I inevitably compared every company I worked for to Langer and ultimately ended up where I belong. Now eight years into my tenure with Langer, Russ and I have pushed the company into unprecedented territory.

“The people side of the construction industry is of critical importance to the success of our business. First and foremost, we look to create a culture of personality rather than education, previous accomplishments, or skillsets. We tried – and failed – a few times to force someone into a role within our company just because they possessed what we thought was the right background. Instead, we flipped our project management hiring practices and now hire based on personality and potential. If someone doesn’t have the character traits needed to fit within our team, we move on. Skills can be taught over time, but personality cannot change. It is through this notion that we created the team we have today.

“In creating a culture of meshing personalities, you eventually form a team that wants to succeed both individually and collectively. We also approach project management a bit differently than other companies in the industry. We give our project managers the responsibility to run their own projects from start to finish with oversight from Russ and myself. There is no middle manager over the top, and they are not isolated to just managing one specific element of a project,” adds Josh.

Strategic growth
Continuing 78 years of steady success, Russ and Josh set Langer apart from the competition through strategic growth and movement into new markets. As Russ discusses: “Langer is continuing to increase its market share in owner-occupied businesses; designated market sectors include religious and non-profit, industrial manufacturing, and automotive to name a few. Unique to Langer, we are considered the premier builder of religious and non-profit work in the Midwest, a title that we’ve worked hard to build and take immense pride in. A sizable portion of our work on a year-to-year basis is dedicated to this market.”

“We understand difficult construction and thrive on challenging, unique projects that many tend to avoid,” adds Josh. “The knowledge and skillset that our company acquired in concrete and masonry throughout our history is unmatched. As more companies look to shed their field labor, we still perform some of the work with our own trades.

“We are currently experiencing our greatest growth in the history of the company! Since Russ and I took ownership, revenue continues to climb. We attribute this to a two-pronged approach; expanding our role in the preconstruction process before a shovel ever hits the dirt, and our reputation as a historically hard-nosed contracting company that meets or beats the budget and pushes the job to completion,” Josh continues.

Representative projects
Working primarily with owner-occupied businesses has given Langer opportunities to work on iconic large-scale projects. One of the company’s most recent accomplishments is the renovation of St Paul’s Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. “Originally established in 1908, this church has been at its current location in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul since 1952,” Russ details. “Recognizing that the condition of its existing pipe organ had deteriorated to a critical stage, the church began collaborating with the architect and LeTourneau Organs – located in Quebec – to develop a master plan.

“Langer renovated the chancel, chapel, and sanctuary spaces, and coordinated the installation of a new pipe organ. The chancel remodel was extensive; in order to extend the chancel, two structural columns in the sanctuary needed to be removed. New seating was also installed and reorientated in the nave and chapel along with new finishes throughout. Historic items were also preserved from the sanctuary including the pulpit from which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in 1957. We were especially cautious when moving that piece!”

Within the automotive space, Buerkle Automotive Group has collaborated with Langer on multiple projects over 15 years at all three of their dealerships, with Langer recently completing an expansion and remodel of Buerkle Hyundai in St. Paul.

“I am very selective in the projects I run, but this was one I couldn’t pass up!” Josh adds. “The project involved updating the entire facility to align with Hyundai’s new image and brand standards; the showroom was extended and all associated spaces were remodeled. In addition, the service shop was expanded by 9,000 square feet to allow for more efficient and convenient service operations. The project totaled in excess of 60,000 square feet, all of which was completed while the owner remained in operation. It was crucial that Langer was involved early on and developed a multi-phased approach as the owner could not experience a significant amount of downtime.”

The future looks bright for Langer as Russ and Josh continue to grow the business. As Josh concludes: “In three-to-five years, we would look for organic, managed growth and further strengthening our presence in a range of markets. We hope to have the same team we have now. We invest in training and giving our people the experiences they need to grow their skillset, so I’m excited to see how strong our team will become. Ultimately, we would love to cross into 80-years of business while celebrating a cumulative billion dollars of construction in the religious and non-profit market.”