In a construction market as diverse as California’s, change is constant. But since 1989, one stalwart of stability has been Tustin-based Largo Concrete. Founded in Campbell by post-tensioning pioneer Hal Long and current senior vice president Mark Carnathan, Largo has prospered through a sometimes bumpy 26-year ride during California’s robust growth and deep recession by staying close to its core business philosophy. To do so, it focuses on concrete structures for repeat clients, hiring the best people to work on those projects and, as Carnathan says, “doing the right thing.”
That’s proven particularly important as the company has expanded, relocating its headquarters to Southern California a few years ago, adding a San Diego office, and entering the Las Vegas and central Texas markets over the past five years.
“You need to know what clients want and need,” says Carnathan, who heads Largo’s northern California operations. “You can’t apply a San Francisco solution to a Los Angeles project.”
Largo has steadily increased its annual revenue in step with the state’s post-recession recovery, topping $201 million in 2014 after a 15% increase from the previous year.
Key roles in diverse projects have fueled growth. Some examples include three dormitories, including the six-level, 147,625-sq-ft Building 6, at the $650-million USC Village residential and retail center in Los Angeles.
Another project is the $135-million Great Wolf Hotel and Water Park in Garden Grove, a relatively rare foray into tilt-up work that involved fabricating and erecting a total of 40 panels, two of which were 84' tall. In northern California, Largo’s projects include a 12-level residence hall at San Jose State University and numerous parking structures and tower podiums in Silicon Valley.
“Ninety-eight percent of our work is private with negotiated fees,” says Ken Long, Hal’s son, who joined the company in 1991 and became president in 2009. “Because we have close relationships with our clients, we can get involved early and map out things that will make the job go more efficiently. We might well work on a job for two years before it gets started in the field.”
The company also has enhanced its personnel through its 2014 merger with Southern California structural engineer Arciero Brothers and the addition of Chris Forster, a former vice president at Morley Builders, as operations manager. Also in 2014, Ken’s brother Mike, a construction industry lawyer, joined as vice president and general counsel.
Bringing on talented people has been more than just a way to help keep pace with growth, according to Ken Long. “We were hammered in the recession like everyone else,” he says, “but we were able to come back quickly because we were able to hire good people who had left other firms.”
A much welcome respite from the recession came with Largo’s entry into the solar energy market, which has included projects such as the Genesis Solar Project in Blythe, CA. Tasked with installing more than 23,000 drilled caissons for the photovoltaic arrays, Largo’s team typically met its weekly 600-unit requirement in just four days, giving crews an extra day off.
“We had it set up just like an auto assembly plant,” Long recalls. “It was a lot of fun, really.”
While current economic conditions are certainly more to everyone’s liking, Largo retains what Long calls a “flat management structure,” with the staff more focused on serving clients than worrying about a chain of command. He and Carnathan examine every prospect in their respective regions and decide which to chase.
“As a company, we’ve never been busier,” Long says. “Still, things have never run smoother.”
Project preparation is also fundamental to Largo’s way of doing business, says Marshall Bain, Largo’s general superintendent.
“We pride ourselves [on our] pre-planning: matching the right superintendent to the job, putting together a dedicated schedule and having our manpower projections set three to five months before we start,” he says.
Eric Wilson, senior vice president of construction for Los Angeles-based retail developer Westfield LLC, says Largo’s ability to deliver talent to a job helps to set it apart from other concrete contractors.
“Every foreman and crew they bring is competent in their craft,” says Wilson, whose most recent project with Largo was the $350-million, 550,000-sq-ft Village at Westfield Topanga open-air retail complex in Woodland Hills. “They understand our dynamics, our schedule requirements and what it takes to work with the public, since many of our projects are at places that are already operational.”
Bain adds that, given the current intensity of construction activity across the state, strong connections with suppliers are a must.
“We also get our CAD and building-information-modeling people involved early to take care of requests for information so that any problems are worked out ahead of time,” Bain adds. “That helps us get materials orders in as early as possible.”
Long says the addition of design-build and design-assist services is a valuable differentiator when it comes to preconstruction services. “The level of detail we design a structure to is, at times, incredibly higher than the documents,” he says.
That capability was exemplified on the 66,074-sq-ft Sufism Reoriented Sanctuary in Walnut Creek. The company developed custom concrete formwork for the 13 concrete domes that encircle the building’s main prayer hall. The largest dome rises 18 ft from an 80-ft-dia base to a 26-ft-dia oculus.
The trussed-dome form consisted of a prefabricated arch system totaling some 120 segmented ribs, with each truss placed between the lower and upper ring beams and supported by shoring.
“We don’t do a lot of high-end specialty projects like this, and it really tested us,” Bain says.
That doesn’t mean Largo approaches its more routine work any less seriously, he adds. The company has been heavily involved in the $300-million Sunset La Cienega Hotel & Residential Towers in West Hollywood, casting more than 60,000 cu yd for the east parcel’s twin 10-level towers over a four-level retail and garage podium, totaling 235,000 sq ft. The middle parcel’s two nine-level, 192-unit towers rise over a three-level garage, totaling 292,200 sq ft.
Work is also underway on the 555 Fulton Apartment development, San Francisco, which includes 148 parking spaces in two levels of below-grade parking and 139 residential units in five above-grade levels. In San Diego, Largo is working on the 306,080-sq-ft Atmosphere Apartments, which will have 12 levels for 172 units and three levels of below-grade parking.
Parking garages are also a staple of Largo’s project portfolio, the most recent of which include the eight-level, 450,000-sq-ft Main Street Parking structure in Cupertino and a 300,000-sq-ft, four-level structure for the headquarters of Netflix in Los Gatos. The 930-space, long-span cast-in-place structure has a shear-wall moment-frame design. Largo completed the work in five and a half months.
Largo also is working on a 421,900-sq-ft expansion of parking facilities at Sony Studios in Culver City. The project adds two six-level structures on either side of the existing five-level garage, which will receive an additional level of parking.
Though Largo would appear to have all the ingredients to support continued expansion, Long says the company’s immediate plan is to focus on its existing markets, primarily in California. Though the past few years have proven that Largo can grow while remaining a leader in its primary markets, Long is particularly wary of stretching the company’s resources too thin, given the growing pressure for field-workers from other contractors enjoying their own post-recession rejuvenation.
“We won’t take a job if we don’t have the talent available to manage it,” Long says.
Wilson says that capability is crucial, given the increasingly competitive market for skilled tradespeople.
“There’s never an issue with manpower,” he says. “They come to projects ready to work, with people who can do the job.”
Carnathan adds that Largo will pursue the same strategy it has honed over the past 26 years by aiming “to stay in touch with client needs and continue to grow to meet their requirements.”