Over the past fifty years, construction management has evolved from its role as the owner’s liaison with prime contractors to its new role of coordinating the technical and functional dynamics of complex building programs within any one of an “ever-hybridizing” array of delivery methods. So it is no surprise that a “one size fits all” approach to CM has gone the way of steam shovels.
“Today, one size fits one,” says Blake V. Peck, president and chief operating officer of Fairfax, Va.-based construction management firm McDonough Bolyard Peck Inc. (MBP). “Every owner, every project is different, and the construction manager has to match up with whatever expertise and resources the owner needs.”
It’s not just complicated, large-scale megaprojects that demand such multidisciplinary dexterity. Charles E. Bolyard Jr., MBP chairman and CEO, says that even seemingly routine highway and municipal projects now must be carefully planned and executed to preserve what has become a delicate balance of interconnected infrastructure systems. “Even with a greenfield project, you turn a stone and find that someone has already been there,” he says.
For more than two decades, MBP has staked its growth on being what one observer terms a “highly valued asset” to both public- and private-sector owners, from serial builders such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) to public school systems, highway agencies, banks, bonding companies and developers.
Ranked at No. 32 on ENR’s list of Top 100 CM-for-Fee Firms, with $46 million in 2010 revenue, and at No. 25 on ENR’s Top 50 Program Management Firms list, MBP has built a highly diverse portfolio of transportation, building, industrial, environmental and utility projects in the U.S. and overseas. Between 2006 and 2009, the firm’s revenues grew by 123%, due in large part to its leading CM role in several major Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) projects for the U.S. military.
These projects include the multifaceted $2.8-billion construction program at Fort Benning, Ga.; the $800-million relocation of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.; and the $1.7-billion effort to build a new mega-campus for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency outside of Washington, D.C. Other key clients have come to include the Virginia Dept. of Transportation and the World Bank.
That MBP has the experienced-based versatility to address such a varied mix of owners and projects stems from its founders’ diverse personalities and perspectives. Bolyard, a cost and scheduling guru from a family of electrical contractors, met Peck, a West Point graduate and Army Corps of Engineers veteran, while both were principals at Alpha Corp., a Dulles, Va., firm ranked at No. 42 on ENR’s Top 100 CM list. Bolyard, Peck and a third principal, U.K.-born construction claims expert Frank McDonough, launched McDonough Bolyard Peck in 1989. Says one industry source close to MBP, “there were some hard feelings when they left Alpha.”
Over the years, the consultant became a mainstay of the federal CM-PM market, gradually branching out from its Washington, D.C.-area base. The 310-person firm’s 11 offices include those acquired in the 2009 purchase of New York City-based FAI, which boosted MBP’s presence in the Northeast construction market. McDonough sold his share in 2008 but remains a consultant and chairman emeritus.
Peck says the diverse dynamics that sparked MBP, as it is now known, continue to sustain the firm’s growth. “We’re complements, not clones, of each other,” he says. “As you broaden your experiences and knowledge, there are certain approaches and fundamentals that have to remain the same.” Says Bruce D’Agostino, CEO of the Construction Management Association of America, “[The firm] has been good at hiring people that fit in and letting them have a long leash.” One observer points to a cadre of managers who are “really sharp and hold each other accountable.”
CM colleague and competitor David Richter, CEO of Hill International, Marlton, N.J., notes, “Blake comes across as very easygoing, but he is very smart and strategic. I love to work with them and hate to compete against them.”
Strategy and Tactics
One MBP tenet is that CM is a practice that requires a distinct skill set that must grow and adapt with the changing construction environment. Both principals have been active in boosting professional standards to benefit the CM sector as well as boost the firm’s competitive advantage. Bolyard works through the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering International, and Peck advocates CM certification through the Construction Management Association of America. “Today, we have more specialization and recognition that these jobs require distinct skills and tools,” Bolyard says. “And if you don’t have them, you’re lacking as a CM.”
Federal market complexities, particularly multisource budgeting, highlights this fact, says Peck. “The CM has to be sure that specific funds are being used for their specific purposes,” he says. “In large organizations where geographically dispersed offices may interpret requirements differently, the CM has to be well versed in both their intent and execution.”
Increasingly, CMs also have assumed the role of educators and communicators as owners lose in-house technical knowledge to shrinking budgets and a graying workforce, says Bolyard. “You, as the CM, may understand everything, but the owner needs to fully understand the options to make decisions in real time,” he says. “It’s better to make a project good from the outset and not have to dig it out of a hole later.”
Few programs have been better suited to this focused approach than BRAC, which wraps in September after pushing billions in construction to meet military deadlines for consolidating missions and relocating uniformed and civilian staff. Experience is a much appreciated quality in military construction organizations, where the turnover of uniformed CM staff is a fact of life. “Many project managers are young and [in the military] experience their first CM management role that has oversight responsibilities,” says Brian Moore, vice president of The Louis Berger Group Inc., an MBP subcontractor on the Walter Reed project.
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) campus project involved a massive high-security facility using early contractor involvement (ECI)—a novel acquisition approach for the Corps, its manager—all within four years, from site selection to completion. The facility, set to become the third-largest federal building in metro Washington, will consolidate NGA operations and an 8,500-person workforce. It also is one of the Corps’ largest military construction projects.
“On a project this complex, knowledge of processes and procedures is critical, especially with a lot of stakeholders,” says Scott Lang, senior vice president of KCI Technologies, a design firm on MBP’s CM team. “You have to bring in good people, set a high-quality standard and keep everyone focused.”
Michael Rogers, NGA program manager with the Corps of Engineers’ Baltimore District, says the project would not have happened without a collaborative approach. “MBP in particular brought exceptional technical talent and integrated it seamlessly within the Corps team,” he says. Construction has stayed ahead of a mandated September deadline. “The Corps recognized what was at stake with the budget and schedule and that we could make a difference,” says Peck. “I’ve never seen a better team environment.”