Mark Henderson had a lot to learn when he took over his father's company in 1990. He already knew a lot about construction, having worked at Jack B. Henderson Construction Co. since 1968 as an estimator, project manager and superintendent. But he knew little about running the business side and issues such as bonding, insurance and banking.

How times have changed. In the 22 years since he took the reins as CEO, Henderson has led his Albuquerque-based firm from being a small family business into one of the region's leading specialists in mechanical, process piping and ultra-high-security work in microelectronics and nuclear facilities. But it's the firm's capacity to incorporate new ideas and improved processes—and apply that knowledge for the benefit of its customers and employees—that has kept the company vital and constantly expanding into new territory.

Firing On All Cylinders

In 2011, J.B. Henderson reported a 63% jump in subcontracting revenue, with the firm's four Southwest offices each hitting its stride. "All of our market segments were doing well at the same time, which is unusual," Henderson says. "A typical year goes that most of them have ups when the others have downs. This particular year all our major customers grew, and that made a lot of difference."

The Los Alamos, N.M., office found opportunity at Los Alamos National Laboratory, with work to prepare for the $4.2-billion Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (since put on hold).

But it was the firm's four-year-old Arizona office that really kicked the company into high gear. In May 2010, Arizona staff had been reduced to just nine people. "We were making plans to demobilize due to the lack of future work at this particular site," Henderson says. But after winning a two-year-plus project for a confidential microelectronics manufacturer in Chandler, Ariz., the office grew to more than 70 employees in the span of a few months.

Henderson, an avid racing car enthusiast, guided his firm into the fast lane while still maintaining stringent safety and quality protocols. In fact, J.B. Henderson recently received the Quality Contractor of the Quarter award from the Chandler site owner and Portland, Ore.-based Hoffman General Contracting.

On such projects, the personnel in the field are critical, says Maria Guy, J.B. Henderson's vice president of operations support. "If you don't have the resources in place, then you really have no business going after work. That makes or breaks projects."

Because the firm's field employees regularly work around dangerous chemicals on process piping projects and on Dept. of Energy nuclear projects where the risk of radiation poisoning is a real possibility, all employees are trained to embrace quality and safety, but they also keep an eye on profitability.

"We have what we call three wars that we fight every day, all the time," Guy says, referring to safety, quality and profitability. "Everyone knows the three of these are not negotiable. We don't sacrifice quality or safety, and we don't take on work that isn't profitable and won't keep us in business." As a result, the firm is one of the Southwest's safest specialty contractors, with an experience modification ratio of just 0.80.