Fast track Featured

6:42am EDT June 30, 2003
Coltene/Whaledent Inc. CEO Jerry Sullivan is busy packing up his office in his company's former headquarters in Mahwah, N.J.

"There are boxes everywhere," he gripes. "As we sit here, about 75 percent of our production is up and running there now, the next 25 percent will be operational by July 3. I and my entourage will be there by July 7."

The "there" Sullivan refers to is a $8.8 million, 185,000-square-foot building that sits on nearly 18 acres in Akron's Ascot Park. Coltene/Whaledent, which manufactures dental instruments and lab tools, has been working out of its new global headquarters since April 1, only nine months after the foundation for the building was set.

If that seems quick to you, you're right. Coltene and its builder, Welty Building Co. Ltd., were only able to meet the April move-in deadline thanks to detailed planning, swift decision-making by Sullivan and cooperation with the city of Akron.

"You have to have the right builder and the right architect," Sullivan says. "You put those two together and you have a successful project. It's that simple."

Plan ahead

Before a shovel hit the dirt last June, Don Taylor, president of Welty Building, Sullivan and the building's architect met to discuss the detailed deadlines facing the project and what decisions each party would have to make and when.

"This wasn't a reactive thing," Taylor says. " ... We said here's where we're going to be in November and here are the kinds of decisions that you will have to make then."

These preliminary meetings, which Taylor calls partnering meetings, were helpful to Sullivan, who, because he was still in New Jersey, couldn't be at the construction site every day for updates.

"Welty had this better organized than I'd ever experienced," Sullivan says. "These partnering meetings made the one thing happen that's critical to everybody, and that's communication. If there's a key to any relocation project, it's communication.

"Everybody in the project, we were all conscious of this, and we went out of our way to make sure that communication was really optimized."

Reduce red tape

Work on the new Coltene/Whaledent headquarters was fast-tracked by the city of Akron, with city planners approving the project with a limited outline of how the building was going to look. Likewise, Taylor's work crews had only basic design information but knew enough to set the building's foundation.

"We were able to buy the structural steel at that time because we knew it was going to be 185,000 square feet and what the configurations were going to be," Taylor says. "We had not worked out exactly how the departments were going to work, how the lighting was going to work, where the walls needed to be. We just knew this was how big it's going to be, and all those decisions had to fall within this box."

As final drawings were completed, Taylor returned to city planners for updates and approvals.

Act fast

Due to the time crunch, Sullivan was required to make significant decisions affecting the building in a short timeframe. He says the extensive planning helped make some of those problem-solving decisions easier, but others required a quick yes or no without much consultation.

"You're going to encounter some obstacles, and you really have to be prepared to make decisions -- and sometimes extensive decisions -- faster than you'd like to," Sullivan says. "In other words, you can't do it by committee. Somebody has got to take the responsibility, and that was me, in this case." How to reach: Coltene/Whaledent Inc. (330) 916-8923 or www.coltene.com; Welty Building Co., (330) 867-2400 or www.weltybldg.com