U.S. Capitol Visitors Center
Architect of the Capitol
U.S. Capitol Visitors Center

It’s not enough to be great,” says Susan S. Klawans, Gilbane Building Co.’s director of client satisfaction. “You need to be able to satisfy clients and build long-term relationships. Repeat work driven by long-term relationships is the cornerstone of our business, and we’ve been doing it 134 years.”

It works. About 70% of Gilbane’s clients are repeat business and 30% is new market growth, says Klawans. “We’re relying on satisfied clients and architects to be our champions with the new clients,” she says.

In addition to Klawans’ oversight, Gilbane has a number of tools that it uses to assure smooth project delivery and customer satisfaction. Several times during the course of a project, the firm will survey the owner and architect regarding its performance during the design, procurement and construction phases and about team characteristics. “This is a formalized method to obtain feedback that we can aggregate by project, region and market to determine areas that need improvement,” says Klawans. “It is real time and it is active, and we use it to formulate training programs for our staff.”

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  • Gilbane assigns a numeric value to the survey responses and tracks them by region and specific project functions. Last year, it processed 650. “Architect and engineer ratings are important because they provide references and on a day-to-day basis instruct us on what we need to improve,” says Klawans.

    Gilbane Building’s client advocacy emphasis has brought new responsibilities and stresses to management and employees alike. No one wants to let the team down. “It is the process that breaks down, not the people,” says Thomas F. Gilbane Jr., chairman and CEO. “So the question is how do you block and tackle, yet be creative at the same time.”

    Gilbane executives say that the best assurance of profitability and positive reputation is through educated employees. Education is something the firm takes very seriously, spending up to $5,250 per employee per year for work-related college credit benefits, and over $6 million annually to run Gilbane University, a virtual school that includes company instructor-led courses in classrooms or on line.

    Through GU, employees can earn continuing education units from the University of Rhode Island that are accepted for undergraduate credit at many colleges and universities as well as for professional certification. Gilbane currently is negotiating with Roger Williams University, Bristol, R.I., which has an established construction management program, to make GU credits transferable. “We see GU as a retention tool and as a calling card,” says Diane L. Fasching, GU vice president. Over 400 courses are offered.

    Discovery World satisfied client.
    Chris Winters
    Discovery World satisfied client.

    Gilbane also has a computerized lessons-learned database, which now contains more than 5,000 lessons on a variety of topics from safety to finishes that any employee can tap into. And, the firm’s Healthcare Cost Advisor is a cornerstone of its health-care centers of excellence. Management “identified a need for clients to have early overall budget capability and to study alternative and different scenarios to balance the cost of facilities to revenue,” says Klawans.

    Providence, R.I.-based Gilbane Building is one of two operational arms of Gilbane Inc. Gilbane Development Co. serves clients’ real-estate and facility needs through turnkey development management, strategic planning and acquisition and investment. The two operations often work together. “We can do every kind of real estate deal, tailored to a client’s facility and capitalization needs,” says Alfred K. Potter II, Gilbane Building senior vice president.

    Evolving Form

    Today, Gilbane Building employs 1,900 people nationwide. The firm has posted double-digit growth for several years, generating about $3 billion in 2006 revenue primarily in the education, health care and government markets. But new markets such as heavy civil also beckon. Recent key Gilbane projects include the $621-million Capitol Visitor Center and $100-million World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.; the $205-million University of Michigan Biomedical Science Research Building in Ann Arbor, Mich.; and the $50-million Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

    Employees Learn to Avoid
    Seven Deadly Project Sins
    Inadequate project staffing caused by turnover,
    assigning unqualified or inexperienced personnel,
    understaffing and removing key people too soon.
    Authorizing out-of-scope work to proceed without
    written owner approval.
    Inaccurate cost reports that result in poor future
    cost projections.
    Inadequate subcontractor management caused by
    incomplete scope of work, poor understanding of
    local practices and extended contract closeout.
    Accepting poor contract documents without
    objection or written documentation of deficiencies
    before starting construction.
    Noncompliance with the contract compounded by
    inadequate management oversight and unwillingness to ask for help outside the region.
    Inconsistent development of initial project schedules
    and preparation of monthly schedule updates.
    Source: Gilbane Building Co.

    Over the past century, Gilbane evolved from a hustling hard-bid operation into a sophisticated service provider. Fast-track U.S. Navy work during World War II started the transformation. Currently, Gilbane books about 70% of business through its bread-and-butter construction management services sector, largely CM-at-risk with some agency CM work. Another 25% is in its growing program management services with the remainder in design-build and general contracting projects. “Our fundamental business model is construction management, which started the evolution of our client-based systems,” says Potter.

    Beyond extensive preconstruction services, Gilbane Building also offers an electronic project turnover package called eTop, an occupancy and maintenance database. “We are taking CM to another level. We are the only firm that does document review in-house,” says William J. Gilbane Jr., president and COO, and the firm’s...