The past year was rewarding for general contractor Brasfield & Gorrie. After seeing revenue decline 20% in recent years, the Birmingham, Ala.-based firm has rebounded to exceed pre-recession levels, with $2.3 billion in revenue for 2013. The company also is marking its 50th anniversary this year while it works toward a sustained recovery.
The recession hit B&G hard. In 2007, revenues surpassed $2 billion for the first time and then dropped to $1.7 billion in 2011 from $2.14 billion in 2008, forcing B&G to reduce its workforce in field offices for the first time in its history. The company also shut down the millwork, operator and trucking divisions at its subsidiary, B&G Equipment and Supply, and laid off 63 employees.
"It hasn't been fun, and we've certainly yearned for the good old days, but we're still here, and things are starting to improve," says Miller Gorrie, B&G founder and chairman.
Even with its losses, the contractor fared better than many firms, largely because of Miller's practice of "putting hay in the barn." Reserves from the boom years and a backlog of projects allowed B&G to remain proactive. Miller and his leadership team—now led by his son Jim Gorrie, who took over as CEO in 2011—set in motion management strategies at the first signs of the recession. Those included creating the role of chief innovation officer, to develop new ideas and optimize resources. "The recession lasted much longer than previous ones and far longer than we anticipated. It really challenged us to look at what we do at every level and figure out how we can do it more efficiently," Jim Gorrie says.
Instead of chasing every revenue opportunity, as many companies did during the recession, B&G steered clear of projects with too many bidders and focused on the hard-bid market. Further, teams leveraged building information modeling, prefabrication and other technologies to keep projects on target. The company also saved time and money by Wi-Fi-enabling entire jobsites, going paperless via iPads and other mobile devices.
B&G project teams are self-performing when possible, helping clients save on subcontractor mark-ups—as was the case in February, when B&G crews poured 6,700 cu yd of concrete for the foundation of the Florida Hospital for Women in Orlando.
Not So Fast
Mindful of the "too big, too fast" mistakes that have hobbled other firms, B&G has cautiously entered new regions and markets. This "gradual, sustainable growth" strategy has served the company well, Miller says. Today, most of B&G's work is still concentrated in the Southeast, where the company operates eight offices. The contractor works in 11 market sectors across 30 divisions, each serving as its own profit center.
"People are surprised to learn that we have never acquired another company and that all of our growth has been internal and organic," says Tom Garrett, B&G safety chief and human-resources officer. "When we do enter new markets, we put our reputation on the line. We make certain we have the infrastructure, resources and leadership in place to serve our clients."
As the recession peaked, in 2010, B&G opened its newest office, in Dallas. "At the time, 8% of our business was already in Texas, and the state was faring better than most," Jim says. In addition to serving longstanding clients in Dallas, the office positioned B&G to build relationships with several Texas health-care groups. The firm's Texas health-care projects include the $110-million Resolute Health Hospital in New Braunfels and an $80-million expansion of Medical City Hospital in Dallas.
At the onset of the recession, the company also amped up its presence in the power sector, building nuclear, fossil and hydropower generation projects across 13 states, including the February start of a $32-million project at Flint Creek Power Plant in Gentry, Ark. B&G crews also will complete a $161-million upgrade at a powerplant in Kemper County, Miss., in June.
"Because we are strong in a number of different categories and different markets, we have been able to adapt and take advantage of whatever opportunities there were," says Jeff Stone, B&G chief operating officer.
Also, B&G created a government division in 2008 to capitalize on federal stimulus funding and pursue Dept. of Defense work. That tactic led the firm to add new accounting software, a new project management system, and several new apps and tools, such as Jive, Salesforce and Directorpoint. These measures helped B&G secure projects such as a design-build contract at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.