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McFarlane Wins Award

Dave McFarlane honestly enjoys winning. "It's a personality trait. Card games, business, whatever, I like to win," said McFarlane, who owns McFarlane, formerly known as McFarlane Sheet Metal, in Grand Forks. As a younger man McFarlane enjoyed being of the victorious team even when he was playing a friendly game of volleyball or softball, he said. As the owner of a small business, McFarlane also thrives on competition. "When we bid work or make a presentation people understand and say, 'You're right, we should be doing that,' that reinforces winning in my mind." The key to winning bids, McFarlane believes, is not to offer the cheapest prices, but to assure potential customers they will receive the highest quality work His employees are familiar with the oft-repeated McFarlane mantra: "You'll never win the race to be the cheapest person in town, but you'll win the race to be the best, " McFarlane said.

Growing the business

About 30 people work at McFarlane, founded by McFarlane's father, the late Bob McFarlane. In 1981, he bought the business his father founded in 1959 when it had only a couple of employees and gradually grew it. Though, McFarlane is aggressive when it comes to winning, he takes a conservative approach to managing his business. "It didn't go from two to 30 and level off. It's been a steady increase of about 14 percent a year for close to 25 years. I'm not a gambler shooting from the hip and trying this. We've been able to grow because of my reputation. Most of the work we do is based on reputation," McFarlane said, noting that about 80 percent of the contracts the company lands are because the customer was impressed with the quality product his company produces.

McFarlane also is dedicated to treating his existing employees well and hiring young people who help drive energy into the business. His business has participated in a career program with the Grand Forks School District for more than a decade and many of the students have pursued careers such as engineering and construction management as result of their work experience at McFarlane. He also hires college interns. "The interns are a perfect way to see if it's something they might be interested in and if their work ethic and background is a match for our company," McFarlane said.


The North Dakota Young Professionals has noticed McFarlane's efforts, recently recognizing him as the best company in which to intern in North Dakota.

He was also named North Dakota Small Business Person of the Year in 2007 by the Small Business Administration and was recognized as the second runner-up nationwide McFarlane, who has a ready laugh and smiles easily, is serious when it comes to his work. The president of McFarlane, he also is head engineer for the company, designing projects and coaching younger staff. "Work is my hobby. I love it. Some people like to read or collect stamps. I like to work on projects. Right now I'm cutting back, but I still work 50 hours a week." After 30 years with the company, McFarlane remains enthusiastic about his work, especially a process he called retro-commissioning and commissioning buildings.

He also is a member of the National Environmental Balancing Bureau, an organization that seeks to improve efficiency in building systems. "That's the kind of stuff I go back in my free time and work on," McFarlane said. "In working with this association, it makes us stronger and better in other fields and in developing procedures to retro-commiccion and commission." the NEBB projects he works on reinforces his company's goal to be the best and not the cheapest, McFarlane said. "Everyone can be cheap, but not everyone can do this," he said noting that his company has people on staff who have the technological training to do the work.

Family and community

Though McFarlane thrives on work, it doesn't consume all his hours.

He likes to gold and go to the lake during the summer with his wife, Kathy, and the couple are loyal UND sports fans, attending football and hockey games during the fall and winter. They also travel extensively making an annual visit to New York City where they go to the theatre.

The couple also is active in the Grand Forks community and The Chamber, Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, recently named him the Henry Harvig Award for Community Service winner.

McFarlane is a member of the Rotary Club and a founder of the organization's Rotary Wraps which raises funds to provide coats to children in the community who need them.

Dave and Kathy McFarlane also have worked at the annual St. Michael's Christmas Eve party for more than a quarter century. "I really enjoy it, the camaraderie of the people there, the smile on those people's faces is really rewarding," McFarlane said.

McFarlane also finds volunteering rewarding because it affords him an opportunity to be around optimistic people. "It gives you a good feeling, a feeling of satisfaction. When you do stuff like this you meet people who are positive. You don't meet people who are negative naysayer."