With certainty and innovation, Haskell ensures client success
The pioneering AEC practice has stood firm amid turmoil and thoughtfully moved to continue to serve, lead and adapt.
Walk the halls of Haskell’s Jacksonville, Florida, headquarters and you’ll see all the signs of a thriving design and construction company, as drafting tables and plan sets juxtapose with hardhats and transit levels.
To know Haskell is to know the spirit of innovation and the assurance of certainty that lie beneath. To know Haskell is to understand unrivaled client care and unparalleled high quality. But to really know Haskell is to know how deeply its people, or “team members” as its more than 1,600 employees are known, care for their customers, for their colleagues and for their communities.
From its first commercial construction contract, Haskell has been breaking new ground in the Architectural, Engineering and Construction (AEC) world to create the greatest possible value for project owners. Design-build project delivery didn’t exist as a discipline in 1967, when The Preston H. Haskell Company contracted to build a 53,160-square-foot manufacturing plant for Covington Industries. Haskell’s newly formed team broke the mold, however, by producing the entire project, from concept to commissioning.
The idea was simple and elegant. A design-build contractor could act as a single point of contact – and a single party accountable to the project owner – providing clients certainty of outcome in budget, schedule and performance. Preston Haskell was an early proponent and became a leading evangelist for the design-build delivery method, which now accounts for more than 40 percent of all construction spending in the United States.
In the more than five decades since, Haskell has shortened its name but grown in myriad ways.
Driven by its innovative spirit and a relentless pursuit of optimal customer service, Haskell continued to lead the industry in adopting new project delivery methods. Its unique Permanent Craft Employee (PCE) program staffed crews that pioneered tilt-wall construction for greater efficiency. Its leadership team leveraged organic growth and acquisition to assemble the process, packaging and material handling expertise to put Haskell on the cutting edge of the turnkey Engineer Procure Construct (EPC) method of delivering solutions for manufacturing customers. And today, through Dysruptek, its innovation-focused venture capital arm, Haskell is scouting, piloting and investing in emerging technologies that stretch the status quo to provide clients with the greatest possible competitive advantage.
“The foundation of Haskell is fantastic,” said Haskell President and CEO Jim O’Leary. “You’re talking about a place where you have high-quality top people in our industry; a place where you have one of the best reputations in the industry; a place where you have operational excellence and systems and everything in place to do well; a place where you have a broad customer base that is happy with what you’re doing. So, it’s all there; it’s all been there. It’s a foundation we can continue to build on.”
Build, O’Leary and his team have done. Haskell has increased its workforce and its revenue by nearly 20 percent since August 2018 when he became just the third CEO in the company’s history. More importantly, though, it has further laid a foundation for the future.
Culture of Inclusion
O’Leary expanded the company’s top management, leveraging what had been the three-person Office of the Chief Executive to the eight-member Executive Leadership Team. Those eight leaders then thoughtfully created a strategic plan they called Haskell 2025 that is a set of goals, some operational and some aspirational, and a set of dynamic key initiatives designed to best serve clients and provide each of their 1,600 employee-owners with the best job of their lives.
O’Leary has tough acts to follow in the CEO’s chair.
Founder Preston Haskell III was a visionary who pioneered numerous aspects of the building industry, drove the creation of the Design-Build Institute of America and built his own company into a national design-build leader.
Steve Halverson replaced Haskell as chief executive in 2000 and, over the next 18 years, drove organizational efficiency and valuation, led the company through the existential crisis of the Great Recession, broadened the scope of service offerings through acquisition, extended stock ownership to employees and championed an unmatched dedication to safety. Haskell’s revenues doubled, and its book value grew many times over.
Now, two decades into the 21st Century, O’Leary and his team are trimming the sails to ensure that Haskell remains out in front of the industry, front and center in a changing business landscape and top of mind to a changing workforce.
O’Leary describes instilling a culture of inclusion as his top priority. It’s the reason he broadened senior leadership, and it’s the reason that the group then expanded the company’s operational leadership team to more than 180 people at the director level or above.
“Probably the largest accomplishment and the one that I’m most proud of so far is building culture and ingraining our values, creating an environment of collaboration and transparent communication,” he said. “Obviously this is a long process. Everything you learn and read says it’s a five- to seven-year process, and I get all that.
“But like during the COVID-19 crisis, we keep communicating with our people. This is just about us being open and honest and straightforward. We share. We share what we know when we know it. And that’s the way this organization is going to be.”
Beneath the umbrella of Haskell’s cultural evolution have been several operational changes.
Sophistication of Business Practices
While it’s been at the forefront of the AEC world for decades, Haskell’s steadily growing sales were primarily a product of the high quality of its work and customer experience. The fact that 80 percent of its revenue came from returning clients was a double-edged sword: The return business indicated high praise for workmanship but questionable marks for salesmanship.
“We were big into architecture, engineering and construction, but not big into marketing and business development,” said Executive Vice President and COO John-Paul Saenz. “We were a seller-doer operation, so clients knew us because of the work we designed or built for them. It was those individuals who led the design and construction functions who were the sales force. When the sales force was busy executing, they weren’t busy selling.”
When, starting in 2016, Haskell began to approach Marketing and Business Development as a discipline rather than an avocation, results followed. The Consumer Packaged Goods Delivery Group piloted an investment in a disciplined and coordinated Marketing and Business Development program. The added resources and discipline combined with a maturing integrated service offering and strong market conditions produced profound growth.
This disciplined approach to Marketing and Business Development has extended throughout the enterprise, resulting in growing sales and revenue, as well as an expansion and diversification among its clients.
“We recognize that we have a ton going for us,” CPG Group President Mike Woods said. “We have a great culture. We have a great product. We have a great reputation. “We absolutely should be putting our foot on the gas and growing this thing and seizing those opportunities.”
To accommodate the additional workload, Haskell also has focused on building an infrastructure to support its core design and construction functions. It created a fully functioning estimating department equipped with a robust database system and invested in preconstruction services, which aid overall planning, coordination and control of a project from inception to completion.
“We’ve strengthened our design and our construction teams, but we’ve also built infrastructure around them,” I&T President Pete Kinsley said. “That is honestly just elevating the quality of the work that we produce. It’s really creating greater certainty of outcome and lets us deliver excellence to our customers.”
Haskell has proven itself second to none in the industry in leveraging technology on the job site. A case in point: Joining with NV2A Group to construct the iconic Norwegian Cruise Line Miami terminal, Haskell pushed design and construction tech to the limits. Rather than being built from traditional project documents, “The Pearl of Miami” was constructed entirely from one of the most sophisticated digital models ever created. Prefabrication of 100,000 square feet of glass curtainwall took place from the model rather than from measurements, cutting six months to a year from the project. Frequent measurement with robots and laser scanning and regular assimilation of data into the model kept competing tolerances in balance and informed construction work in real time.
With the mission of leading the industry through disruptive innovation, Dysruptek, Haskell’s venture-capital entity, has identified and amplified both emerging technology and intellectual capital. Through Dysruptek, Haskell became a strategic investor in BLOX, a pioneer in the development of modular construction solutions and the nascent Design Manufacture Construct (DMC) delivery model, a move that exemplified Haskell’s innovative past, its aspirational future and its drive toward ever-safer and more efficient construction sites.
“Our industry has been woefully behind in the use of technology,” O’Leary said. “You can walk on a job site today, and if you’d walked on it 20 years ago, it’s run about the same. There’s something wrong with that. We have to be cutting-edge. We have to be thought leaders. We have to be leaders in the best use of technology and how we apply it in our industry.”
The New World
So, take all that Haskell has been and all that it has become …
… its storied past and its rock-solid balance sheet;
… its purposeful nurturing of an inclusive and transparent culture;
… its disciplined approach to meeting client needs through an in-house, integrated service offering;
… its aggressive implementation of the most advanced technology.
Take all of that and bring it to a pause, as did the global coronavirus pandemic. No one could have known what to expect, but as Haskell’s leaders balanced client needs, business interests and the welfare of their 1,600-plus team members, they become convinced that the course they set was true.
“It’s been a tremendous stress test of the business, and I would say that Haskell has weathered it extremely well in about all aspects,” O’Leary said. “I think that goes back to the foundation that we’ve built over a long period of time, whether that’s setting our vision and investing in our people and engagement and building morale and collaboration, all the things that we’re doing on the people side, to making sure we’re diverse and we’re in the right markets and making sure that we’re investing in technology and innovation. All the pieces, I believe, held the business together very strong.”
Just as the current business has adjusted to succeed in a new normal, Haskell’s goals and initiatives remain mainly on course, albeit with minor corrections or, in some cases, additions as the company aligns to be a trusted partner of communities, businesses and governments as they adjust to COVID-19.
Establishing the Design and Consulting Services (DCS) Delivery Group was already underway when the pandemic struck, and its benefits now are magnified. As a business unit separate from the large integrated delivery worlds of CPG and I&T, DCS is nimble and able to pursue smaller but profitable projects that allow Haskell to explore new markets and form new relationships.
Although initially, it comprises design assets with extensive experience in the healthcare, governmental, industrial and civil infrastructure, its flexible team of fee-for-service design experts offers the flexibility to serve the emerging needs of new and existing clients.
“It gives us a unique opportunity to grow,” said Frank Mangin, senior vice president of AE Services and leader of the DCS unit. “I look at us as being the headlights looking way down the road and saying, ‘Three years from now, we’re going to want to be doing this type of project.’ Well, now’s the time to start getting the experience and building relationships. We’re playing the long game in that respect.”
Expanded services and relationships will likely coincide with geographic expansion. Over the past two decades, Haskell’s International Delivery Group has established offices in Latin America and then in the Asia-Pacific Region with the initial intent of serving existing multinational clients. But as the company demonstrated its expertise, values and sense of community, it established relationships with native companies, too.
Having determined that design services were a strength abroad, Haskell has established design centers in Malaysia and the Philippines. Further, while APAC is dominated by large and well-established construction firms, Haskell has found that clients value its representation in shepherding projects.
“They’re saying they like what we bring to the table, the culture that we bring to the table, the understanding of the business that we bring to the table,” said Luis Jiménez, International Group president. “So, they are looking for us to provide owner representation services, and we are focusing on making sure that we have a trained group of project managers that can act on behalf of the customers.”
Jiménez’s group is well-positioned for many opportunities that have expanded since the pandemic’s onset. Haskell is already established as a worldwide provider of Engineer Procure Construct delivery, as well as Process, Packaging and Automation services, and demand is expected to increase as industries seek to minimize and distance workers.
Similarly, the combination of a strong presence in the both the APAC and Latin America regions and expertise in advanced design tools, such as 3D laser scanning, point clouds and modeling, make Haskell a natural partner as multinational corporations move to return the manufacture of key pieces of the supply chain to the West.
Regionalization is expected to play a larger role in business domestically, too, and as Haskell continues to grow organically and through acquisition, expanding into new markets has arisen as a possibility. In contrast to past acquisitions, which have broadened Haskell’s service offerings, O’Leary said future moves likely would focus on vastly expanding existing core strengths, such as Food & Beverage, Advanced Manufacturing and Automation, as well as bolstering its ability to serve the expanding life sciences market.
As has been the case since its founding, Haskell’s strategic moves, acquisitions and innovations are centered on better serving its customers, whether that means growing existing relationships or forming new ones.
“We can differentiate ourselves by being real partners around really digging in and understanding what their challenges in this new world are,” O’Leary said. “We want to approach it in our traditional manner of getting in and building a relationship, trying to understand what their needs are and responding to it.”
But Haskell’s leaders also have another constituency in mind as they chart the company’s cultural and operational future: The Haskell team members of the future. Every aspect of the company is viewed in light of the AEC industry’s intense competition for top talent.
In the aggregate, Saenz said he trusted that the company presented an attractive environment.
“There’s a lot of opportunity created by the way we’ve structured the company and what we’ve decided to focus on, whether it’s technology, whether it’s geographic diversity, market diversity and then the organization itself, being mindful of how large we are and how large we are going to continue to become,” he said. “We’ve made it to where it does create opportunities for a lot of people to take leadership positions.”
In a business environment roiled by change and presenting unprecedented uncertainty to a great many companies, to know Haskell is to know that the present is solid and the future gleams.
“Somebody asked me not long ago if I could sum up all of this that we’ve gone through and where we’re at today,” O’Leary said. “It just came to me right away and I said what it proved to me is that Haskell’s built to last, absolutely built to last.”