The Evolution Of Senne & Company, Inc.
George Senne left school at the age of 14, after completing only six and one-half years of education. He began his career as a carpenter working for well-known Topeka contractor Milton Council. From Council, young George learned the fundamentals of contracting. “Council figured all work with a magnifying glass,” George was quoted in a 1950’s trade magazine. George had a “phenomenal ability for getting things done.” He could lay eight squares of shingles in one day, outstanding production for the time!
Company Founding and WWI
(1914 – 1918) – George establishes his construction firm in Topeka – George Senne General Contractor. The company specialized in residential new construction and remodels. Early projects included many new homes and remodels in Topeka’s Potwin neighborhood.
World War I brings government and commercial construction opportunities. George Senne saw the opportunity, however he had a difficult time obtaining insurance.
Once he was able to enter the market, he began taking on projects at Camp Funston near Fort Riley. His first project was a pool hall. George completed the project in just 45 days, impressing Major Foster, who was then in charge of construction. These were the “hurry-up” days of World War I, and a contractor like Senne was just what the Army wanted.
George made a $10,000 profit in 1917, 10 times the $1,000 in net worth the company had accumulated since its founding. By 1920, Senne was almost entirely a commercial general contracting company.
RETURN TO CIVILIAN WORK
Back in Topeka, one of George’s first non-defense projects was the demolition of the Santa Fe office buildings. Senne entered a bid of $9,000 and was awarded the job. The project ultimately proved profitable, but not from his bid. Nearly all of the plate glass in the building was salvaged, and George managed to sell the lead sash weights for $3,500, an item he hadn’t considered when figuring his bid.
Post World War I, George Senne was busy, building the original Santa Fe Hospital, and the Santa Fe Depot in Topeka. Senne also demolished Topeka’s downtown City Hall and Fire Department buildings.
In 1926, Senne built the Christ Hospital. The job was one of Senne’s first six figure projects. Some of the original 1926 hospital building still exists within what is now the Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center.
In 1930, Senne built the old Santa Fe Hospital of Topeka, located east of I-70 in downtown Topeka.
THE GREAT DEPRESSION
(1930’s) – Business was slow during the Great Depression. During the hot summer months, George was known for shutting the office down and taking employees to the air-conditioned theatre downtown.
In 1933, George built a new building in Tonganoxie, making a grand total of $1.00. While the country struggled, George and his construction company survived by “watching costs and keeping equipment in shape.”
Late 1930’s – 1950 – The economic recovery brought new opportunities in both private and public construction. During this time, Senne constructed numerous concrete school and municipal buildings throughout Kansas.
1948 was a big year for the Company. George Senne retired at the beginning of the year. His son, Wilber Senne was named President of the company. Also in 1948, Senne’s office moves to 1734 Van Buren in Topeka (East of the current Stormont Vail Events Center)
INTRODUCTION TO MILLWRIGHT WORK
In 1951, Senne entered the specialized industrial millwright market. Work included specialty steel fabrication and erection, heavy equipment setting, and equipment maintenance for longtime manufacturing customers. The industrial millwright division is still a cornerstone of the Company today.
1970’s – 1980’s – Serving industrial clientele needs, Senne’s specialized industrial millwright work flourished. Long term relationships with repeat customers Frito Lay, Goodyear, the Santa Fe Railroad, Russel Stover’s, FMC, and DuPont are developed and maintained in this time period.
In 1988, Bruce took over for his dad Wilbur as President of the Company. Wilbur and his black Labrador Cody stay on to mentor and advise, well into Wilbur’s 80’s.
1990’s – With the construction market in Topeka picking up, the Company regained its focus on building work. Services were expanded to include design-build and interior contracting.
Milestone projects during this period included the renovation of the Crawford Building and Governor’s Place arcade in downtown Topeka. At Frito Lay, Senne built warehousing and added new manufacturing lines. Projects in the North Topeka Industrial Park included North Topeka Fabrication, and a 75,000sf distribution center for Boater’s World.
In 1998, the Company moved from Van Buren to its current space at 2001 NW Highway 24 in Topeka.
In 1999, Judy Row and Mike McGivern became part owners of the Company. Mike was named President, Judy its Corporate Secretary, and Bruce its CEO.
In 2005, Bruce Senne retired. Bruce was a third generation Senne, extending back to his grandfather George. The Company is proud of the legacy left by Bruce, Wilber and George. As a small family company, one of Senne’s strengths are its family legacies, many lasting multiple decades with the Company.