Peter Beck recently walked one of his firm's jobsites and asked a veteran project engineer what the job would have been like 10 years ago. The engineer said it probably would have needed three project engineers instead of one and the work wouldn't have been as accurate, among other things.
"He took me through all the innovations that have evolved over the last 10 years, in the field and in the office," says Beck, executive chairman and managing director of The Beck Group, Dallas. "It's quite extraordinary."
Founded in 1912 by Beck's grandfather, Henry C. Beck, the company has evolved into an industry innovator. It is dedicated not only to designing and constructing buildings but also to solving clients' problems. That overarching philosophy has made The Beck Group one of the largest contractors in the Texas region. The firm posted revenue of $673.4 million in 2012 and had $780 million in awarded business by midyear 2013. The Beck Group employs 600 people and has offices in Dallas, Atlanta, Denver and Mexico City. It expects to have 750 employees by the end of the year.
The firm's projects range from signature skyscrapers such as the 62-story, I.M. Pei & Partners-designed Fountain Place in Dallas to the contemporary Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention facility in Atlanta. Beck also builds hospitals, university buildings and churches.
The contractor led the way in using negotiated contracts rather than lump-sum bidding. It also focused on cutting waste while maximizing efficiency through collaborative integrated project delivery. Beck has spent millions of dollars creating Beck Technology, which has lifted building information modeling to a new level through the development of DProfiler. The software helps contractors better understand and discuss project cost, scope, scheduling and other data in real time, according to Beck. Aware that getting designs early and correct improves construction and reduces rework, Beck created its own architecture division and bought Dallas-based Urban Architecture in 1999 to boost its design capabilities.
Beck believes in building leadership from within. The company brings in new CEOs while they are still in their 30s and keeps previous chief executives around for 10 to 15 years to mentor the new leaders.
"This idea is not about me; it's about the company and what we believe in terms of what makes a company great," says Fred Perpall, 38, The Beck Group's CEO since January. "You have to have a pipeline of leaders and consistently invest in developing people."
Originally from Nassau, the Bahamas, Perpall was trained as an architect and has degrees from the University of Texas at Arlington. He was working at Urban Architecture when Beck acquired the company and is only the fourth CEO in Beck's 100-year history.
"I remember in my first years as CEO, it was great to sit down and talk to someone who'd been in the role, who explained what worked for him and where he made mistakes," says Peter Beck, who is in his late 50s and took over the firm's top job at 35 from his father, Henry C. Beck Jr. "I didn't necessarily do the job the way he did, and Fred is already doing things differently from how I'd do them. It would be a shame not to take advantage of new thinking, new blood, to make our company stronger."
In addition to getting his on-the-job training in the construction business, Beck holds a civil engineering degree from Princeton University and an MBA from Stanford University.
During the recent recession, the company cut employees to shave costs, but kept its best people and continued to add leadership positions. "Our culture is focused on meeting client expectations, and it's hard to hire off the street and maintain that culture," Beck says.