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The family behind the Kokosing legacy

Jess Deyo
jdeyo@dispatch.com
Members of the Burgett family

Backhoes, construction sites and office spaces: not a typical playground, but it was for the third generation of the Burgett family. It’s not for everyone, but for them, childhood memories sprouted a passion to continue the legacy that is the Kokosing Construction Co.

The Ohio company has a rich history that started seven decades ago. Co-founded by the late William “Bill” Burgett and Lester Rinehart in 1951, William Burgett Construction, now known as Kokosing, had a humble beginning with projects in Mount Vernon and Fredericktown.

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 Since the company’s conception, Bill worked to create a company that would help put food on his family’s table. He worked tirelessly to build homes and tackle remodeling projects, many of which still stand. At the time, he had only a handful of employees, and the capabilities were limited. However, he expanded his team in the years that followed and began laying the framework for continuous growth.

After nearly three decades, Bill passed the role of Kokosing president to his son, William Brian Burgett, who currently serves as chairman, in 1981. As the second wave of the family began to fill roles within the company, they followed in Bill’s footsteps. Goals were set and met on a continuous loop, and just as the second generation joined Kokosing, the third was lining up.

Of the Burgetts’ third generation is William Brett Burgett, who became the co-CEO and president of Kokosing in 2020. For Brett, being a part of the company was second nature.

“We all grew up going out on projects with our parents and grandparents,” Brett says. “There’s nothing else that I would have wanted to do and could ever see myself doing besides construction.”

Today, Kokosing generates $1.6 billion in annual revenue with eight operations across Ohio and neighboring states. At the base of the company are the Olen Corp. and Kokosing Materials, which make construction materials like aggregates and asphalt. When it’s time for the project to come to life, in step Kokosing Industrial, Kokosing Construction, Corman Kokosing, McGraw Kokosing and Corna Kokosing, all with specialties.

Key in maintaining the growth of the company are Brett’s partner and cousin, William Bryce Burgett, co-CEO of Kokosing, and sister Lori (Burgett) Gillett, CEO of Corna Kokosing, a Westerville operation the company acquired in 1995.

Similar to Brett, Bryce always saw a life in construction.

“I didn’t know to what extent it would be, but I grew up on equipment and I loved being around heavy iron,” Bryce says. “I knew that’s what I was going to do.”

Gillett was named Corna Kokosing CEO in June 2019, and since then, she has made it a goal to continue the momentum that has carried the company. Behind it all lies the company’s core value of remaining a “people business,” Gillett says.

“Our grandfather used to always say, ‘I’m building for the next 100 years,’ or ‘I’m making this decision for the next 100 years,’ ” Gillett says. “That is always our philosophy—hard work, integrity, doing things for our team members and for our people. This business is all about people. That doesn’t change.”

While the Burgett family has grown, the Kokosing team has largely stayed the same. Turnover is below 3 percent, Brett says. To celebrate, the company offers hard hat stickers for every year spent at the company.

“It’s nothing to see 20, 30, or 40 stickers on team members’ (hats),” Brett says. “We’ve had many families that have been working here for two, three or four generations.”

The ability to employ hundreds of families across the Kokosing companies is something Gillett holds close to her heart.

“I don’t think there’s any higher compliment than somebody having a family member come work at this company,” Gillett says. “To know that as a mother, I want my son or my daughter or my cousin to come work at the same company.”

While some could never imagine working alongside family, for the Burgetts, it’s hard to see it any other way. Much of the success of Kokosing can be contributed to the benefits of being family-owned. Instead of focusing on financial goals, the company can dedicate time to long-term solutions that support the team, Brett says.

“People want to come to work here, because they know that we’re going to do it right,” Brett says. “Even if that’s gonna take a couple more minutes or an hour to get the right plan in place, the right protective PPE in place, or whatever it is, it doesn’t matter what cost, we’re going to take care of our team members, and we’ll make sure that they get home safe.”

Recently, the company reached 70 years in business—and it’s already preparing the next generation. The family often spends Saturdays together for Kokosing University, a program teaching the youngest generation important life lessons, Gillett says.

Within the Saturday meetings, the family works to build trust, strengthen family teamwork, educate about the company and introduce the presidents of the different subsidiaries. When the younger generation walks away, they will have learned things like how to create a resume or read financial statements.

Meanwhile, the team is moving forward with a 2025 strategic plan that highlights three pillars: safety, people and growth. Like their grandfather, Lori, Brett and Bryce operate with the goal of helping their team put food on the table, Bryce says.

Kokosing Group

6235/6245 Westerville Road, Westerville 4308 kokosingindustrial.com, kokosing.biz and corna.com

Business: Family-owned construction companies

CEOs: Brett and Bryce Burgett, Kokosing Inc.; Lori Gillett, CEO of Corna Kokosing

Employees: 3,750

Revenue: $1.6 billion in 2020