McKernon era ends in Brandon

BRANDON — After a stellar run of providing classic, well-built construction and sage advice in the Brandon area, a well-known local builder has finally hung up his hard hat.
Jack McKernon, founder of The McKernon Group Inc., has retired from his long time position as owner/CEO of the Brandon-based business. Kevin Birchmore, president of the company and McKernon’s business partner for the last 25 years, has acquired the ownership position of the company and has taken on a partner, Justus Cameron, who is the newly appointed vice president.
Cameron has been with The McKernon Group for four years. He graduated from Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston and has a degree in construction management. According to McKernon, Cameron is experienced in all aspects of the company and has excelled in project management
The transition was announced at a company meeting on Aug. 4, where a commemorative plaque was presented to McKernon. In turn, McKernon passed on the official “McKernon hard hat” to the new owners. The meeting was followed by a company picnic.
The McKernon Group bills itself as an environmentally responsible company that specializes in a wide variety of design/build, green construction and restoration jobs throughout Vermont and upstate New York.
With retirement in mind for the last 10 years, McKernon, 75, said that the time is right to pass the business along to Birchmore and Cameron, who bought a majority of McKernon Group stock with the company retaining the balance.
“It’s been a long time coming,” McKernon said. “It seems easy to run a business but when you worry about employing 50-60 people, each day comes with new challenges.”
Birchmore said he plans to involve the company in small jobs as well as building the client’s “home of choice.”
In addition to design/build, the company offers the services of its subsidiaries: UFO (urethane spray foam insulation); Gee (renewable energy); Vermont Woodland Cabinets (kitchen/bath cabinets, millwork and furniture).
McKernon has also served the community of Brandon well, having been a selectman and buying and rehabilitating the Howe Building on Center Street in 2003, creating the Café Provence building and expanding the under-used parking area in the rear of that Route 7 building.
McKernon was also asked to sit on the selection committee formed in the spring to hire a new public works director.
Then there are his contributions to the former Brandon Training School, where he rehabilitated the former carriage barn to house the McKernon Group’s main office and bought and rehabilitated a number of other training school buildings as well.
The new owners said they will continue to maintain the high quality that is associated with the McKernon name, and that the outlook for the company looks strong and projects are lined up for the months ahead. Birchmore also stated that The McKernon Group will be hiring in order to take on the additional workload.
Birchmore said he intends to make good use of the company’s strengths in order to “build better for less.” It is his intent to make renovations and new-construction more affordable through efficiency and streamlining company overhead. The expansion of the energy efficient building systems will be a strong focus.
In the meantime, Jack McKernon will be moving from Brandon over the gap to Rochester, but he said he will continue to be available as a consultant if he is needed.
“It will be based on a Robin Hood fee,” he said with a laugh. “The people who can’t afford it, I’ll do it for free, and the people with money will have to pay up.”
McKernon did say he has a non-competition agreement with his former company, so there is no threat of stealing jobs from the new owners, who wanted him as a consultant as well.
“They wanted me to help on a fee basis, but I wouldn’t take a fee,” McKernon said. “If they need me, I’m here. As long as the brain still works, why not?’
McKernon said the time was right to retire and couldn’t be happier with his successor.
“Behind the scenes, Kevin has done a lot for this company,” he said. “He’s a sharp businessman. He knows the value of a dollar and he knows when to say, ‘no.’ As for me, I think it’s time to step back and enjoy a good book.”

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