Jeannine Jabaay is a fourth-generation Alaskan, working in partnership with her husband, Derrick, to beautify the state one project at a time, all year round. What began as a landscaping business in 1999 very quickly transformed into a full-service deck-building operation. More recently, Treeline Construction emerged as the design/build company they are today.  

"In November 2015, we launched into remodeling as well," said co-owner and company president, Jeannine.

It was a natural progression from building decks to full home remodels for the Jabaays.  "We've been doing it for years for clients," she said. "You know, you put in a door from their deck to their kitchen, and pretty soon you're in their kitchen."

Part of what makes Treeline different is their involvement from concept to completion on many projects. While a part of their business caters to Alaskans with DIY spirit—they can do any combination of designing, laying foundations or simply bundling materials for someone who wants to construct their own deck—they also work well with homeowners who want to completely hand over the reins. Their team can design a project and take the lead from the very first 3-D renderings to the very last finishing nail.

"We're good at what we do," Jeannine added. For potential customers who want to see more than photos or showroom models, the company maintains an extensive list of references who are willing to provide their addresses and invite potential customers to drive by their decks and see Treeline Construction's work.

A Partnership

Jeannine is outgoing and warm. Her office is in the front, on the showroom floor. She is focused on human resources and marketing for Treeline. The company now employs approximately 40 Alaskans year-round, including deck and interior construction foremen, pile-drivers, architects, engineers, office staff and laborers. Jeannine personally interviews each prospective employee and only if she thinks they are a good fit will they get a second interview with a foreman.

Derrick is reserved and analytical. He can be found in the last office in the back, reviewing jobs and contacting customers for feedback to ensure quality control.

"At the end of every single job, he either meets with, or reaches out to the customer and says, 'How did we do? How did the foreman do? Are there ways to improve?' If necessary he'll meet on-site and create a checklist of things that need to be redone," said Jeannine.

Defining their individual roles was an important, and intentional, part of structuring their company. "Derrick and I actually work really well together," said Jeannine. "We have very clearly defined roles, so we very rarely blur with each other. We were very intentional from the beginning. We realized that running a company is hard on a marriage. And we were unwilling to sacrifice our relationship for a company that we love—but that's the wrong word—I wish that we were Greek so we had words that better describe love. I love my husband and I love spaghetti and I love this company, three different kinds of love, but we recognized real fast that it wasn't going to be a healthy thing for us to have too much overlap in our job because then you have to mentally transition from husband/wife, mother/father to business partners. And I think one of our strengths is the partnership."

Changing Vision

As young newlyweds, the Jabaays first settled on landscaping so they would have winters free to travel the world as missionaries. They never planned on having children or leading a growing design and construction team. But life had something else in store for them.

They adopted their son, Michael, through the Alaska foster care system. He's now the eldest of six kids. Becoming parents gave them an opportunity to rethink their business goals. They decided to stay in Anchorage for the kids, get involved with their community and grow their business. For the entirety of their company's history, their family has grown right alongside.

"It means showing up to trade shows with a baby strapped to your stomach," said Jeannine. "For so many years, it was my life." The Jabaays also homeschooled their kids for nine years. All but the youngest, Valor, are now enrolled in Anchorage schools. Until he's old enough to join his siblings, you may find Valor on the showroom floor of their Brayton Drive facility working on his art or playing with toys.

While the couple manage to successfully separate their responsibilities at work, it didn't come without effort. "Not everybody has what Derrick and I have, which is massive trust in one another, and in our capabilities. He doesn't question my style, I don't question his bids. I think it came with a little bit of luck, a lot of God's hand and years of learning trust in one another."

Diversifying

To weather the storms of a fluctuating and seasonal industry, you have to get creative. Alaska's harsh winters and short "construction season" are no match for Treeline Construction. When we met with Treeline, they were pouring a concrete foundation in February. At 20 degrees fahrenheit. One secret to their 12-month calendar of construction jobs? An innovative use of heat. They use a ground-thawing technique—pipes filled with circulating warm water that melt the snow, ice and frozen earth. The Jabaays also own Treeline Construction's sister company, Rock Solid Pile Driving. They are able to drive piles for decks, docks, carports, cabins, foundations, road projects, sheds, and more, regardless of conditions. This ensures that both businesses stay busy with hundreds of outdoor projects all year long.

For more than 15 years, building decks was the core business for Treeline Construction, but in the past two years their focus has shifted. They formally launched the home remodeling side of their company. It was a risk, but they wanted to diversify the business.

"I don't know that we were even ready. We had the team to do it, we had the resources to do it, but we didn't have the time," said Jeannine. "So we just sort of forced it to happen." It was, she added, a rough couple of months.

"Fifteen to sixteen-hour days with six kids, you start to feel … I really miss them. He really missed them. It was pretty scary, but it took. And it grew the business."

In just one year, Treeline's revenue grew over a million dollars. The increase from the home-remodeling focus helped compensate for lost commercial revenue as the oil industry took a downturn.

Treeline's full calendar also means they need to have a highly qualified team on hand. "We hire the best in the industry, we foster and grow and continue to educate our team to be the best in the industry," said Jeannine. Sometimes that means paying for continuing education or specialty classes for their employees. One of their pile drivers is pursuing a master's degree in project management and they've opted to cover half of his tuition at University of Alaska Anchorage. It's all part of their employee retention plan.

"Our goal is not to compete with the guy with the phone and the pickup truck," said Jeannine. "It's to set the standard that he's trying to keep up with."

Building a Legacy

One day the Jabaays would like to take a step back. For the next 10 years they want to continue to grow Treeline Construction, but ultimately they would like to sell to their employees. "We would want to maintain the integrity of what we've built," said Jeannine.

For now, Derrick and Jeannine have found a good balance of work and home life, and have even been able to prioritize involvement in the community by giving back to local schools and participating in the legislature. Jeannine maintains perspective about their company: "We don't find our identity in it, but we identify with it. It's not who I am, but it's a part of what I do."

"I'm just trying to do a good job being a good steward of what I've got, including my company, including my kids, for as long as I have."

This article was produced by the creative services department of Alaska Dispatch News in collaboration with First National Bank Alaska. Contact the editor, Jamie Gonzales, at jgonzales@alaskadispatch.com. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.