Hensel Phelps Construction – Plains Region

Hensel Phelps Plains Region picHensel Phelps counts on repeat clients and a flexible approach to grow its business.

By Tim O’Connor

Loyalty and longevity are difficult to come across in the construction industry, but those traits are the foundation of Hensel Phelps, one of the nation’s top 20 general contractors, according to the Engineering News-Record.

Take Alan Bliesmer, vice president and regional director for Hensel Phelps’ Plains Region office.  Bliesmer started with the company shortly after graduating college 27 years ago. Since then, he’s worked in five of the company’s regional offices, including two terms in the Plains Region. In that time, Bliesmer has watched Hensel Phelps open four new regional offices to better support its customers and grow its annual revenue from $500 million to $3.5 billion. “What I’ve seen is a very steady, planned growth based around client relationships,” he says.

That steady growth has brought Hensel Phelp’s total workforce to about 3,000 employees total – 1,000 of which are craftsmen. The Plains Region office alone has 210 salaried and 135 craft workers.

Every one of those workers has a stake in the company’s overall success. “One thing that does set us apart is we’re 100 percent employee owned,” Bliesmer notes. “All of the employees in our company are owners of the company. We have a vested interest in performing well and providing longevity back to the company we own.”

The amount of ownership employees have invested in the company is tied to their tenure and position level, which encourages them to stick with Hensel Phelps. Having consistency in its workforce allows the company to take a long-term view when it comes to building client relationships, Bliesmer adds. 

The ability to build lasting relationships fits into Hensel Phelps’ strategy of offering complete service. The company not only can see a project through from design to completion, but it also can manage facilities once the construction is finished. “We really provide services from cradle to grave,” Bliesmer says. Hensel Phelps Plains Region box

As a general contractor, Hensel Phelps is charged with overseeing the overall construction of a project, but the company also can self-perform the concrete, masonry and rough and finish carpentry.

The company even participates in development work. “We like to partner with developers,” Bliesmer says. “We’re not looking to go be a developer, but we have a development group and we’re able to assist developers on moving a project forward.”

Regional Approach

Hensel Phelps was founded in 1937 in Greeley, Colo., which remains its headquarters and the location of its Plains Region office. The Plains Region, where Bliesmer is based, covers Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and parts of Iowa and Missouri. The company has a total of eight regional offices.

Although it’s focused on its own projects, the Plains Region team helps support activity throughout the entire company. The group participates in monthly face-to-face board meetings with the other regions and shares experiences of like projects. If one region is understaffed, the Plains Region may even loan out personnel to ensure the job is completed on time.

Those intra-company communications extend to how Hensel Phelps builds relationships with its clients and subcontractors. A client that worked with Hensel Phelps in Florida but plans its next project for Colorado may work with a different team, but those teams share information on the experience so that they are better prepared to meet the property owner’s expectations.

“You got to listen and understand what their needs are, understand what their goals are and become a part of the solution to their goals,” Bliesmer says of clients. “They have changing needs, changing goals and changing demands, so you have to remain flexible when you’re working with clients.”

The flexible approach has worked for 80 years. About 70 percent of Hensel Phelp’s work comes from repeat clients. “At the end of the day, you have to perform for them,” Bliesmer says. “When you have 70 percent of your business as repeat clients that says a lot about how you are taking care of your clients.”

Tackling Tough Projects

Hensel Phelps is known within the construction industry for taking on difficult projects, such as NASA launch facilities and the decade-long $1.6 billion project to renovate the Pentagon following the Sept. 11 attack that damaged the U.S. Department of Defense headquarters. That ability has earned the company the respect of clients and subcontractors across the country.

“I think we have a very good reputation that’s really based around strong client relationships,” Bliesmer says. “The word we’ve used for years and years is ‘performance.’ What does that mean? It means we’re going to deliver the goods.”

Within the Plains Region, Hensel Phelps’ recent projects include the Colorado History Center, the Hyatt Regency Denver Convention Center Hotel, the hotel at Ameristar Casino Resort Spa in Black Hawk, Colo., and the Denver Justice Center.

Its latest project is the 50Fifty Syracuse Tower in south Denver. The 12-story project features a double-height lobby, eight stories of office space and four levels of parking – two above ground and two below grade. The project broke ground in September 2016 and is on track for completion in summer 2018.

The project, which is being developed by Corum Real Estate, came with several challenges that required the touch of a seasoned general contractor such as Hensel Phelps.

“No. 1, it had a very tight site that required some different analysis for accessing the work for vertical hoisting,” Bliesmer says. With only 1-acre of room to maneuver, Hensel Phelps had to work with neighboring property owners to coordinate the flow of work on the building and minimize the impact to surrounding businesses.

The design also calls for a unitized panel system for the building skin. Unlike most unitized panel systems, the building will feature more materials than just glass. The skin also will have granite and metal to create a more aesthetically pleasing look – a tricky combination Hensel Phelps has done for other projects in the past.

Embracing Collaboration

To accommodate the small space and speed up work, Hensel Phelps enlisted its subcontractors to manufacture the unitized panels off site at a facility in Denver. The panels then can be delivered to the project and adjoined together for faster installation.

Coordinating movement in and out of the site requires extensive planning to avoid congestion. Rather than dictating a schedule, Hensel Phelps engaged all of its subcontractors to understand their resources, capabilities and limitations so that it can develop a timeline that worked for everyone.

That trust comes with experience. Many of Hensel Phelps’ subcontractors are companies it has worked with before and has confidence in. Subcontractors must be able to manage the procurement and front-end delivery of materials in addition to installation.

“We need contractors that have the resources to accomplish the work,” Bliesmer says.

Quality work is an important component of capability. Instead of simply declaring specifications and expectations, Hensel Phelps prefers to get involved at the craftsmen level to ensure work is done correctly. The company’s project managers physically participate in installation to check processes. Once the first section of an installation is completed, Hensel Phelps halts the work to do an initial review of whether the work followed proper procedures. From there, it will either sign off on the work or have the subcontractor correct the installation.

“We drive our quality control program to the craft level,” Bliesmer says.

As Hensel Phelps marks its 80th year in business, the company will continue to follow the procedures and philosophies that have made it a 13-time winner of the Associated General Contractors Build America Awards for excellence in the construction industry.  “We take care of our customers first,” Bliesmer explains. “As we continue to grow, we take on new customers and new opportunities.”

Hensel Phelps also will continue to let clients dictate its future expansion. “It’s a continued growth path we’ve been on for years,” Bliesmer says. “We’re not just revenue-driven. It’s not just about opening another office. It’s about controlled growth.”

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