Lintel was one of the first construction companies to offer design build services in Mexico since its inception in 1983. The step, considered ‘risky business’ at the time, has now just proven to be the foundation of Lintel’s early success. Gibran Haq reports.
Normally, most construction projects follow a traditional course: the client picks a group of architects for designing it, and later those sketches are taken to a contractor for the physical execution of the project. Having two totally different entities in charge of designing and executing one project is something that may cause different kinds of problems, mainly because when something unplanned occurs or an initiative simply doesn’t work out, both parties may end up blaming each other.
Acknowledging the difficulties that come along with two-phased projects, while noticing industry trends in the United States, Asia and Europe, Lintel decided to jump into the construction business following the emerging design build model.
Design build, also known as single sourcing, is a development model in which one sole entity takes full responsibility for the two phases of designing and building a project, something that has clearly become a huge advantage for clients. Since the vast majority of the construction companies that follow the traditional method cannot provide an estimate of the total cost of the project, nor can they deal seamlessly with the overlapping process of design and construction, the partners that gave birth to Lintel more than two-and a-half decades ago decided to take a chance and bet on the new design build construction model.
A WELL MADE DECISION
Miguel Barreda is one of Lintel’s partners and vice president of business development. He, better than anyone, knows the benefits of following the single source model. “Having dealt with last minute changes or unpreventable issues in the circumstantial development of project, clients have grown fonder of single source companies, mainly because they can rely on them to avoid these issues, while being able to keep crystal-clear and hassle-free communication between the parties involved. After the given timeframe, the client receives his keys – end of story, and major headaches are avoided,” explains Barreda.
While Lintel can develop industrial, commercial and corporate projects, the majority of the more than 160 projects executed by the company have been industrial complexes for U.S. based corporations. “Our company is the perfect size for us to provide personal attention to our customers. We only accept projects that we know we will be able to execute in a satisfactory way, therefore we do not overload ourselves by committing to projects that we might not be able to execute within the initial timeframe we offered our clients. One of our main goals in each one of our projects is to have our main principals keep in touch with our clients on a regular basis, a philosophy that has made most of our clientele come back to us throughout our two- and a-half decades of history. These are the clients that account for 90 percent of our business, while the remaining 10 percent of our clients come to us for a single project,” explains Barreda.
“We’ve got about 130 employees, including direct-hires and payroll employees, because Lintel, following the practices of most major construction companies, also chooses to subcontract some aspects of the design and construction stages of our projects, namely the implementation of mechanical, electrical, hydraulic and sanitary installations and facilities. Although the companies in charge of executing these stages are independent, we consider them to be part of one big family, mainly because these subcontractors work mostly with Lintel, therefore, they follow our same maxims and corporate philosophy, so we consider them to be part of the Lintel family,” explains Barreda.
One of Lintel’s biggest projects for the industrial sector is Las Colinas, a hybrid complex of commercial and industrial installations located in Guanajuato, comprising 370 acres. Major transnational corporations such as Lear and Wrigley’s are some of its occupants, and according to Barreda, Las Colinas is one of the finest examples of Lintel’s real estate development projects.
But on many occasions, Lintel works on projects previously conceived, yet not executed. These are brought to Lintel by clients that are looking to have work done, or need improvements or specific modifications. In the industry, this practice is known as value engineering, a process in which the contractor maximizes the overall cost of the project by making suggestions and proposals to the client in the form of alternatives to the original design, which may result in considerable savings, both in the initial investment and in the latter maintenance stages of the site.
Lintel’s main office was opened in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, but by the year 2000 there was a growing need to open a another branch. Lintel’s second office was strategically located in Silao, Guanajuato to serve more efficiently the needs of clients that have projects spread throughout different regions in Mexico, thus allow- ing Lintel to execute projects virtually anywhere inMexico.
“We have worked in Baja California and Sonoral, but a lot of our work has taken place here in Juarez, Chihuahua, also in cities like Torreon, Guadalajara and Nuevo Laredo. We’ve been especially active in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Monterrey, Nuevo Leon and even in more remote locations such as Cuernavaca, in Morelos. Having opened an office right in the middle of Mexico is something that makes it much easier for us to coordinate any endeavors related to projects located in remote cities.”
During many years, and due to the border, the northern cities were the first picks by companies looking to establish branches and manufacturing subsidiaries in Mexico. However, throughout the years, and with increasing competition for labor, these companies started to leave towards the southern region of Mexico. Although odds are that there will always be activity for construction companies in the north region of Mexico, for the past five to eight years, the most dynamic market in the construction sector has flourished in the Mexico’s central region, in places like Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, Queretaro or Aguascalientes.
According to Barreda, the U.S. recession of 2001 and 2002, was the biggest reason behind Lintel’s small profits during the mentioned years, mainly because most of the company’s clients are American-based companies. “We did not see much activity, neither new projects nor expansions. However, the market’s revival came around 2004, and since then we have experienced lots of growth. I can safely say that these past four years have been some of the best years the construction sector has ever seen, and definitely since Lintel was established.”
Lintel has worked on projects that go from 20,000 to 700,000 square feet. in one phase and the variety of its projects is not solely about size, but also about final purpose – installations that go from warehouses to highly technological and sophisticated installations specially designed and built according to the clients’ specific needs.
“We are extremely proud of our most sophisticated and technologically driven projects, such as the ones we have made for the different divisions of Lexmark and Johnson’s & Johnson’s here in Mexico,” says Barreda.
Reportedly, one of the most highly technological design build projects undertaken in the north of Mexico, is the installation facility built by Lintel for the production of circuit systems that go into Lexmark’s ink cartridges. Because of the specifics of circuit processing, the building required highly controlled temperatures, and many other specific requirements which Lintel effectively worked on.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF SUCCESS
For Barreda, Lintel’s vision is an essential part of the company. Beyond offering the design build concept before most other construction companies in Mexico, Lintel also invests time and resources to investigate the feasibility of using new construction materials as well new and different construction methods, which in most cases they try out in their own markets. “As part of that philosophy, we have been the pioneers in our markets in the utilization of construction methods such as Tilt-Up, a very popular method in the U.S., but not in Mexico, simply because there was a bigger availability of construction workers here, and at lower prices than across the border. Although, a few years ago, those qualified construction workers became harder to get and constructing with the Tilt-Up method started making more sense, and at the same time, it is more aesthetically appealing,” Barreda says.
To learn more about Tilt-Up, the Lintel core team came to the United States at the end of the 1990s and visited with users of the construction method. The trip proved to be extremely beneficial because by the year 2000, and after what was only Lintel’s second Tilt-Up building, it received its first award from the U.S. based Tilt-Up Concrete Association for its Plexus building. “We were the first company to receive this award, and what made us win the award was a method our engineers internally made with the purpose of curving the walls of the building, to give them more dynamic and movement to its façade. We won the award again in the year 2002 and 2003.”
Lintel is one of the few constructions companies to always aim for being up to date with the market’s trends and it seems that beyond specializing in the many different aspects of their field, the eager desire to produce an end-product that will not only satisfy its clients, but the own company as well, is the key of its success. “Whatever it is that we do, we take it seriously and delve into it, putting all our capabilities and resources to work because we want our buildings to stand out. That’s what differentiates us from our competitors,” concludes Barreda.