Aulik Design Build in the Star Tribune

As builder healed, his firm grew stronger, too


• Article by: TODD NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune

Gary Aulik, president of a Twin Cities design and remodeling-construction company, has faced down a cancer diagnosis and the recession.

A diagnosis of cancer turned out to be a blessing for builder-remodeler Gary Aulik, president of design and construction firm Aulik and Associates.
First, Aulik said, the colon cancer diagnosis early last year wasn't terminal. After surgery and six months of chemotherapy that ended in January -- and missing work only for those procedures -- Aulik, 52, pronounces himself in "outstanding health."


But the hands-on Aulik, who's been actively involved in every project his company takes on, also learned during his treatment to delegate more decisions to his veteran construction, architectural design and administrative staff. That's helped position the company, Aulik said, to do its best work since he founded the firm in 1980.


The company, largely booked with projects through this year, has seen revenue nearly double since 2009 to more than $4.2 million last year. Aulik and Associates, which includes the Aulik Design Group, offers architectural design, construction and remodeling services, specializing in building "premier" new homes and renovating "legacy" historic homes in the Lakes area of Minneapolis. Projects include work on both primary residences and vacation homes in the Twin Cities metro area and elsewhere in the country.


This May, the company, which has nine employees, will move from its St. Louis Park headquarters to new offices at the International Market Square in Minneapolis. The move, Aulik said, will get the company closer to existing customers and prospects. He also is stepping up marketing to target new customers, in addition to the repeat and referral customers who have driven his business over the years.


"People think it's weird when I say this, but the cancer was a blessing," Aulik said. "It was an opportunity to participate in [the demise of the disease] and an opportunity to grow that I'm quite sure that I otherwise would not have had. When you come out on the other end, there's a serious awakening. I've always considered myself extraordinarily fortunate, but maybe not to the degree that I do today."


Aulik also had his hands full as president of the Builders Association of the Twin Cities in 2010. He served as acting executive director, putting in 30 hours a week for nearly a year during a leadership transition.


He also spent many nights and weekends that year remodeling a rambler where he and his family now live, downsizing from a historic home almost twice as large.  The rambler now serves as a model for clients. Aulik encourages them to consider building "a smaller jewel with higher-quality finishes rather than a big sheetrock box."


What sets his work apart, he said, is his insistence on "timeless quality and extraordinary workmanship."


"We're focused on efficiency and providing customers with the best value," Aulik said. "Doing it fast and cheap isn't necessarily congruent with legacy-type quality."
Dan Luther, of the Twin Cities-based Luther Auto dealership group, said Aulik has done several projects for him since 1996, including renovating an Edina home and designing a townhouse in Arizona.


"Most contractors will tell you what you want to hear," Luther said. "Gary tells you what you need to know. He doesn't compromise. He won't cut a corner just so he can get a job. Gary is going to overbuild it, not under-build it."


John Higgins, CEO of San Diego-based biotech company Ligand, praised Aulik's extensive renovations to his Lake of the Isles home, which was built in 1928. The massive stone columns that Aulik brought in, salvaged from a Lake Michigan mansion that was being torn down, are perfect for Higgins' Italianate-style home, which now includes a home office and Vegas-style lounge.


"He has an absolute love for these old homes," Higgins said. "He really understands the architectural integrity and the design opportunities and limits of old homes."

The expert says: Dileep Rao, president of InterFinance Corp. in Golden Valley and professor of entrepreneurship at Florida International University, said that Aulik seems to have learned a key lesson: Companies grow to the limits of their people.


The best entrepreneurs, Rao said, recruit great people who share their passion and are strong in areas in which the entrepreneur is weak. Many entrepreneurs don't delegate because they don't know how to train and supervise others and think they have to do the work themselves to get it done well.


"This is one of the key differentiators between billion-dollar entrepreneurs and the others," Rao said. "Because he was forced to delegate during his illness, Aulik learned that he had a good team and now he can grow to their capacities. And he seems to be doing it -- both in his industry and in his company."

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address istodd_nelson@mac.com.

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