Dan Harvey describes how acquisitions and technological innovation fueled its remarkable growth.
In a mere 43 years, Greenman-Pedersen Inc. (GPI) expanded from a two-man startup into a multidisciplinary, multidivisional enterprise. In relative terms, that represents rapid development, and Engineering New Record (ENR) duly noted the growth. In 2008, this recognized bible of the construction industry ranked GPI within its top 100 national design firms.
Founded in 1966 by A. Beecher Greenman and Herbert M. Pedersen, GPI evolved from a transportation-focused enterprise into a consulting engineering, planning, survey, mapping, and construction management and inspection firm. Headquartered in Babylon, N.Y., GPI specializes in innovation applied to civil, mechanical, electrical and structural engineering services, explains Keith Giles, GPI senior vice president/director of planning. “Our specialties still include transportation design and planning, particularly highway and bridge design and construction inspection, but we are now also involved in many other areas such as power systems, which entails engineering for power plants and telecommunications.”
Specifically, its comprehensive services include coatings, geomatics, Geographic Information System (GIS)/asset management, underwater engineering and construction, energy/power design, oblique imagery, environmental sciences and engineering, and water resource management. Also, the company’s inspection services take it into the data centers/telecommunications, mechanical, electrical, plumbing design and maintenance areas. In addition, it engages in land development, building systems, power projects design, modeling and installation services. In this way, GPI serves a variety of government agencies, municipalities, institutions, industries, architects and developers.
Such versatility contributes to its high ranking and growth. “Each year, ENR lists the top 500 engineering firms in the United States, and in 2008 it ranked us 78th,” reveals Giles. “In 2007, we ranked 86th with $132.5 million in revenues. In 2008, our revenues climbed to $158.9, which represents about a 20-percent growth rate.”
Using music-industry trade magazine parlance, GPI is rising up the charts “like a bullet.” Says Giles: “We’ve been on the ENR top- 500 list since 2000, and throughout the decade, both our rankings and revenues have consistently and steadily risen.”
ACQUIRING NEW COMPETENCIES
Giles indicates that GPI’s growth results from internal and organic factors as well as acquisitions. Today, transportation activities (design, construction and inspection) still remain GPI’s largest segment, comprising about 60 percent of its business. The full menu of transportation design services includes airport improvements, bridge design and evaluation, construction services, environmental, geomatics, highway design, port and marine facility design, traffic analysis and design, transit system improvements, and transportation planning. But as the company grew, it began diversifying into other closely aligned business activities. “One of the most important developments occurred in the 1980s, when we began acquiring other companies,” relates Giles.
When Steve Greenman, son of Beecher Greenman, became president and CEO in 1994, he kicked this approach into high gear. “That proved a major turning point for our company,” comments Giles. “Steve is a very forward-thinking individual, and he focused on acquiring firms that would help us grow by branching out into other areas.”
FROM LAND TO SEA
Among GPI’s major subsidiaries garnered through acquisition is Underwater Engineering Services Inc. (UESI), a Port Saint Lucie, Fla.-based enterprise that serves nuclear and non-nuclear and balance-of-plant needs. The comprehensive service range (provided both in immersion and above water) extends to maintenance, retrofits, spent-fuel pool services, reactor vessel and internals, underwater welding, plasma arc, electronic/exothermic cutting, underwater demolition comprehensive inspection, nondestructive examinations, ASME Section XI, condition assessment and failure analysis, nuclear consulting and qualification services, among many others.
The GPI/UESI association has led to substantial projects, such as the recent St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant upgrade. The plant, operated by Florida Power & Light, is located on Hutchinson Island, a barrier island off the Florida coast. “The plant has intake and discharge canals that bring in seawater for cooling purposes and then carries the water back into the Atlantic,” says Giles. “The canals sustained serious damage from hurricanes during the 2004 and 2005 storm seasons.”
Specifically, the hurricanes caused severe erosion to canal embankments. “We engaged in a project to armor those canals,” says Giles. “The engineering was performed by GPI, and the actual work was accomplished by UESI.”
LEADING WITH SUBSIDIARIES
GPI’s other subsidiaries include Corrosion Control Consultants & Labs, Inc. (CCC&L) of Kentwood, Mich., a nationally known firm specializing in corrosion protection accomplished with industrial coatings; Keller and Kirkpatrick of Morris Plains, N.J., a leading engineering, surveying, planning and landscape architecture firm; Strategic Environmental and Ecological Services, Inc. of Westerville, Ohio, a full-service environmental and land surveying consulting firm; and the Port St. Lucie-based SGP Instrument Sales, Inc., which offers a wide variety of engineering equipment for sale and rental, such as coating inspection, safety, GPS units, and software.
“Thanks to our subsidiaries, we’re a leader as far as underwater building and construction and we’re probably the country’s leading coating company in terms of corrosion control and painting systems, in both the transportation and nuclear power sectors,” says Giles.
Indeed, GPI’s coatings group, which includes CCC&L, SGP Instrument Sales, and UESI, includes expert consultants, technical specialists, NACE and SSPC inspectors, professional structural engineers, metalizing experts, chemists, and SSPC protective coating specialists. The group also has a full service lab, an instrument sales division and an underwater nuclear coatings application division.
GPI is also recognized for its photogrammetric and oblique imagery services, which involves survey and mapping via aerial photography combined with state-of-the-art equipment, adds Giles. Equipment and services include low-altitude mapping photography, light detection and ranging, digital ortho photography, and on-screen viewing and measurement tools that integrate oblique and vertical aerial photos.
In this area, GPI teamed up with Pictometry International, the premier global purveyor of oblique imagery technology. According to GPI, the collaboration offers a one-stop shop for a comprehensive range of high-resolution oblique imagery and geo-spatial and engineering services. Combined attributes provide clients with a superior analysis and implementation-based decision-making capabilities.
With the acquisitions, GPI expanded its office locations throughout the eastern United States (Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington D.C., Virginia and Florida). It has also set up shop in Ohio, Illinois and Michigan.
Currently, the company has 1,000 employees, and the unique relationship it has fashioned with these committed associates helps differentiate the organization from similar competitors. Explains Giles: “GPI is an employee-owned firm, where everyone holds a piece of the business. Just one of many elements that separate us from other engineering firms is that we are an ESOP [Employee Stock Ownership Plan] company. As such, we have a list of strategic objectives. The first three, in order, include employee satisfaction, quality product and client satisfaction. The rest involve financial strength, goal-oriented management and continued growth.”
Giles concedes that it may appear odd that employee satisfaction is ranked above client satisfaction. But the prioritization is highly purposeful, he explains. “Our viewpoint is that if our employees are satisfied, then they will be able to deliver a product of the highest quality. Client satisfaction automatically falls into place. So everything is strategically connected.”
And the approach works. It has contributed to company growth as much as GPI’s focus on new and innovative technology, which has placed the company at the engineering vanguard. “We lead the country in coating systems, and we’re one of the top firms when it comes to surveying and mapping through aerial photography integrated with 3D technology and GIS,” says Giles. “In all areas, we like to stay ahead of the curve.”
Looking forward, GPI intends to stay that course. The company recently entered into a strategic alliance with a robotics firm. “We envision that it will enable us to use robotic technology to perform inspections in several areas, particularly in transportation and nuclear power,” comments Giles. “Specifically, it will enable robotic inspections of bridge structures and nuclear power plants, which will remove the human element from very complex projects and structures. Further, robotics deployment will not only be more effective but it will also reduce cost to clients for inspection services. So, we’re quite excited about this new direction.”
But that’s only one growth initiative. Another involves the federal government. “Of our current $158 million revenue, very little comes from federal government projects. Most of it comes from our work with local and state governments, city transportation agencies and private sector developers,” indicates Giles. “So, one of our new initiatives involves gaining more work in the federal arena. Our underwater engineering services arm has already done a lot of work with federal agencies, and we’re trying to build upon that.”
In the meantime, GPI nurtures the long-standing relationships it established through dedicated employees and successful completion of complex, high profile projects (there isn’t an East River bridge in New York City the company hasn’t touched). The company’s commitment to quality, service, innovation and technology keeps customers coming back.