While most Midwest builders are eager to rev up, Menasha, Wis.-based Faith Technologies Inc. is ramping down—albeit not for long. Last year, the electrical engineer saw regional revenue leap 79%, to $204 million from $114 million. It added 250 employees. It opened a 106,000-sq-ft fabrication shop in Neenah, Wis. It acquired Verona, Wis.-based CSS Power, a firm specializing in mission-critical facilities. And that was just in the Midwest.
Due to a burgeoning national presence, including locations in Georgia, Oklahoma and Kansas, Faith originally was on course to double overall revenue to $500 million from 2012 to 2014. The work, from hospitals and manufacturing plants to apartment buildings and data centers, kept pouring in.
"Then I said, 'Stop,'" recalls firm CEO Mike Jansen. "I thought, this isn't going to be good for our health, for the health of our employees. So we decided to slow our growth. We should wind up doing $400 million this year. In the meantime, we're putting out resources for a great 2015."
The breather comes on the heels of a growth spurt that not only found Faith expanding its geographic breadth but its breadth of services. "In 2008, we had two designers, neither of whom was licensed, and one BIM operator," says Tom Clark, Faith's executive vice president of preconstruction. "Our prefabrication capabilities were, 'Oh yeah, we need to do that.'"
Then came the recession. "We decided we weren't going to use it as an excuse. Instead, we came up with an objective, and that was to maintain our size," says Jansen. "We also came up with a strategy, and that was to expand geographically. We asked each other, 'Are we ready to do this, to do what it takes to go national?'"
"To grow, we recognized we needed to involve ourselves with clients and projects at the earliest point possible, rather than remain complacent, waiting to price the sets of drawings that crossed our desks," says Clark.
Federal work that sustained Faith during the recession served to underscore the point. "During our government days, when federal contracts came to account for 40% of our volume, we'd find ourselves three, four, five tiers away from clients," says Jansen. "You can't control your destiny that way. We realized the closer we could get to the end user, the better and more efficient our product would be, and the better we could ensure our growth and success."
While awaiting the return of private-sector work, Faith launched a preconstruction practice it later dubbed Start Smart. Though recessions aren't ideal times for significant capital outlays, "We decided we needed to put those resources in place before they were needed, so we wouldn't find ourselves in a reactive mode once markets came back," Clark says. "Were we as profitable as we would have liked to be during that period? No, but every one of us is proud we made those investments and sacrifices and maintained profitability throughout the recession."
To acquire design expertise, Faith recruited project managers from the field. "We thought, let's take tradesmen with practical field experience and move them into the role of designers who can present clients with practical solutions," says Clark. "Then, if they wanted, they could advance by becoming licensed, which many of them did."