By Rich Pollack
Were it not for his inability to grasp college chemistry, Mike Kaufman might have become an athletic trainer for a professional sports team rather than president of one of South Florida’s most successful construction companies as well as a leader in corporate philanthropy.
An athlete while at South Broward High School in Hollywood, Kaufman went on to the University of Florida with his heart set on becoming an NFL trainer.
Then he met the periodic table and decided it was time to move in a different direction.
He changed his major to the university’s building and construction program. It appealed to him for two reasons. The first was that he learned a lot from his dad, who was handy and could fix anything. The second reason was more, ah, elementary.
“I looked it up and it didn’t require chemistry,” Kaufman said.
Now president of Boca Raton-based Kaufman Lynn Construction, he will be honored when his company is recognized with a George Long Award at this year’s Boca Raton Mayor’s Ball on Oct. 14.
Named for Boca Raton’s first appointed mayor, the annual award recognizes visionary individuals or organizations that have left an indelible mark on the city.
Since its founding in 1989 with crew of 10, Kaufman Lynn has grown into a multimillion-dollar company with 130 associates.
While becoming one of the top 400 construction companies in the country, it has made a significant philanthropic contribution to improving the community.
With a focus on arts, education and early childhood development, the company has supported several organizations and institutions, including the George Snow Scholarship Fund, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Helping Hands and the Florence Fuller Child Development Centers. Kaufman also is a member of the Florida Council of 100, an organization of business leaders that serves as an advisory board to Florida’s governor.
“If you’re going to have a successful business with motivated associates, you have to be part of the community,” Kaufman says. “We have been supporting the community for all the right reasons for the last 15 years, whether we made money that year or not.”
That commitment to doing the right thing, even when inconvenient, has been the foundation on which Kaufman Lynn is built. It is a deep part of the company’s culture and one of the reasons for its success.
“Good character defines us,” Kaufman says. “This is absolutely a company of integrity.”
Kaufman, 58, leads by example, making it a point to treat customers, subcontractors and associates the way he wants to be treated.
“Everyone deserves the respect you ask for yourself,” he says. “No one is below you, no one is above you.”
Part of that attitude may exist because Kaufman, an east Boca Raton resident, struggled in his career for a short time before finding success.
After graduating from UF, he landed a job as an estimator with one of Broward County’s leading contractors. He soaked in everything he could learn, making lifelong friends along the way. He left after three years to join an out-of-state firm seeking to make an impact in South Florida.
It turned out to be a mistake and within a short time, Kaufman found himself out of a job, right in the middle of a significant economic downturn.
With a wife, two kids and another on the way to support, he traded in his pride-and-joy Porsche 911 for a 1988 Chevy pickup and started Michael I. Kaufman construction, doing any work he could find — including small carpentry jobs — to bring in revenue.
Through a college buddy, Joe Lynn, Kaufman landed a large subcontracting job working on a new stadium at the University of Miami. He hired a crew of 10 to help him. To make payroll, he borrowed $12,000 from his mother-in-law, whom he was able to pay back a few years later when he teamed up with Lynn to form Kaufman Lynn Construction.
Though Joe Lynn left the company and retired after 10 years, Kaufman kept the name. He will soon move to a 23,000-square-foot building just over the Boca Raton line in Delray Beach that will be the company’s new headquarters.
Kaufman Lynn’s success in the highly competitive South Florida construction industry in large part may be due to Kaufman’s determination and tireless work ethic.
“I still have the same aspiration — to do it bigger, better and best in class,” he said.
If You Go
What: Third Annual Boca Raton Mayor’s Ball
Where: Boca Raton Resort and Club
When: 6 p.m. Oct. 14
Info: Visit www.rotarydowntownbocaraton.org or contact Deborah Freudenberg at 299-1429 or email@example.com.