A Century of Flexibility
Rachel Lock | Photographer
George Senne built his business in the right place at the right time. The construction company he founded in 1914 flourished through building booms and survived during busts. It had a hand in some of the most memorable places in Topeka and the surrounding area. As Senne Company celebrates 100 years, it continues to work on cutting-edge projects that help define the community.
Senne began his career as a carpenter doing residential work around town including houses in the Potwin area. During World War I, he was called to build much of Camp Funston, a U.S. army training camp at Fort Riley. He expanded into commercial work after the war, helping develop the face of Kansas Avenue and building the Christ’s Hospital, which the current Stormont-Vail HealthCare has been expanded around.
Senne Company President Mike McGivern says George survived the early years of the company because he adjusted to the times. Senne was even able to keep the company open and all workers employed during the depression because he owned and leased some buildings. That flexibility has served the company well.
“In construction you learn to act on opportunities as they come. You can’t just make the market, you simply respond to the market,” McGivern said.
During World War II, Senne’s experience and resources earned him a government project to build a POW camp in Arkansas. That project was the equivalent of a $40-million deal in today’s dollars. It required more than 1,000 carpenters, the construction of an on-site sawmill, and a tent city that could feed and house the workers—all of which had to be completed in 3 months.
“It was an enormous project given the timeframe and the circumstances,” McGivern said.
McGivern says the kind of dedication and reliability that Senne put into projects a century ago is the same type of service that keeps the company in business today. They view each job as a means to earn the next job, so little jobs are just as important to their bottom line as the big ones.
“We try to treat the customers like we would like to be treated ourselves,” McGivern said. “I think the companies that do that generally make it through hard times and carry through a long time.”
The Senne Company specializes in three areas: general contractors, industrial millwright contractors, and commercial interior contractors. While most of their customers are local, they have worked on projects all over the world.
A recent project has been the multi-phase redesign and relocation of the Helping Hands Humane Society. It is work that McGivern says puts Topeka on the cutting edge of care for modern animal shelters.
The company has also continued with government contracts, including recent rehabilitation work on two hangers at Forbes Field and a major remodel on the headquarters for the 190th Air Refueling Wing of the Kansas Air National Guard.
Owned by McGivern and three other members of his family, the Senne Company has been family owned for three-generations.
BERBERICH TRAHAN & CO.
Flexibility has been the name of the game for more than 100 years at Berberich Trahan & Co. After spending the last year celebrating a century of service, the company is forging a path for the future with innovation and attitude.
The accounting firm began in 1913 as a branch of Washington, Henry & Co. Federal Tax Consultants and Public Accountants in direct response to the development of the Internal Revenue Code. Through the past 10 decades, the firm has changed names or affiliations more than a dozen times, but has been Berberich Trahan & Co. since 1989. The firm primarily focuses on audit work but also does consulting as well as tax and accounting solutions.
Accounting may not seem exciting, but at Berberich Trahan & Co. they do their best not to be the stereotypical “boring” accountants.
“We love accounting. We love doing what we’re doing,” Tax Director Alisa Snavely said. “The bottom line is that we try to be unique and have fun, and not be the stodgy old bean counter.”
The company encourages all employees to tackle each day with a positive and energetic attitude and find new and creative ways to serve clients.
“We are always looking for different ways to provide services instead of continuing to provide it the same old way that we’ve always done it,” Deb McGlohon, chief operating officer, said.
The company’s willingness to adapt has allowed it to survive the changing times. As it begins its next hundred years, the firm expects flexibility will be key to thriving in the future.
With tax issues becoming more global, business has also become more complicated for the company’s clients. Karen Linn, managing director, says staying on top of the new standard and constantly looking at new ways to provide added-value to clients is a top priority.
“It’s clear that there are a lot of things dramatically changing in the accounting industry and the world,” she said.
In 2013, Berberich Trahan & Co.’s 35 employees celebrated the century mark with a year of giving back to the community. They donated time, money or supplies to a different charity each month of the year.
In addition to continuing some long-held traditions, such as volunteering at the TARC Winter Wonderland and serving as cashiers at the annual Topeka Shawnee County Library Used Book Sale, they also added several other charities, where they found themselves gathering a wide variety of items from back-packs and baby wipes to pet toys and Christmas presents.
“There was a lot of enthusiasm for it,” Linn said.
It is that kind of enthusiasm that Berberich Trahan & Co employees believe will keep their company strong in the future.