Haskell International Operations President Luis Jimenez, left, and Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer John-Paul Saenz, look on as Chairman, CEO and President Jim O’Leary cuts the ribbon at the company’s new Mexico City office.

December 14, 2023

Building Across Borders: Latin America Presence Marks 25 Years

Learn how Haskell's customer-centric approach led it to Mexico, introduced it to new clients and gave rise to significant international expansion.

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A regular Monday morning meeting of Haskell Project Managers was about to break up when Director of Construction Tim Good threw out an opportunity: PepsiCo, a long-time and highly valued client, had approached Haskell about building a new snack food plant in Southeastern Mexico.

He followed with a question: Did anyone speak Spanish?

It was 1997, and John-Paul Saenz, a young Project Manager (PM), somewhat sheepishly raised his hand.

“He asked, ‘JP, what do you got?’” Saenz recalled. “I responded, ‘Well, you know, I do speak Spanish, I'm bilingual.’ My parents are Colombian, and I grew up speaking Spanish.”

Over the past 25 years, the end of that meeting has proven a significant milestone. The young, Spanish-speaking PM would be tapped to lead Haskell’s first international project, and that one project would grow into a workforce of more than 150 strong and hundreds of projects throughout Latin America.

Saenz is now Haskell’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, but he vividly recalled leading a three-person team to Orizaba, Veracruz, Mexico, to drive the design and construction of a 330,000-square-foot greenfield facility for Sabritas, Frito Lay’s Mexican subsidiary, that encompassed three production lines and wastewater treatment. It represented Haskell’s biggest project to date.

Then-Project Manager John-Paul Saenz, left, Foreman Eusebio Arriaga, center, and Project Superintendent Bobby Sims are pictured in Orizaba, Veracruz, Haskell’s first project in Mexico. Today, Saenz is Haskell’s Chief Operating Officer, and Arriaga is an experienced and highly respected superintendent. Sims, who was Arriaga’s mentor, retired after a long career with the company.

He, Project Superintendent Bobby Sims and Foreman Eusebio Arriaga operated as the owner’s agent and developed a procurement strategy to identify local contractors that could do the work. Haskell performed the conceptual design at its Jacksonville, Florida, headquarters, then hired local designers for finishes. In the meantime, the company became incorporated in Mexico.

“The project ran close to two years, and it went very really well,” Saenz said. “It turned out to be the largest manufacturing facility that Frito Lay had in Latin America. So, it was THE plant for Frito Lay, and the new standard for Frito Lay in Latin America.”

International Expansion

As the project neared completion, calls began coming – literally ringing the telephone in the jobsite trailer – from other American companies operating in Mexico. During his monthly return to Jacksonville, Saenz reported on prospects such as FlightSafety International and Procter & Gamble.

The decision was made: Haskell would establish a permanent office and become a truly international contractor. The company took space in Mexico City’s Santa Fe business district and renovated it to mirror the Jacksonville headquarters, right down to the artwork from Founder Preston Haskell III’s collection.

“I think back then it was important, because it was the first international office, to keep that connection,” Saenz said. “It was important as we grew that the team members there felt they were treated no differently than the team here in Jacksonville.”

Initially, becoming established and performing on projects required resources and support from the U.S., but the long-term plan was to make the operation predominantly local.

“We were a suitcase contractor for a little while because we had to rely on bringing designers from the U.S. and a lot of people flying back and forth, but we all knew it wouldn't last,” he said. “To grow the business, you had to have a local team. We said early on that the goal was we to make ourselves look like a Mexican contractor. We're going to have Mexican nationals leading our work here.

“When you look today, that's exactly what we've accomplished. What we said and what we did aligned, and that's why we have been successful. I think if we'd done it any other way, we would have suffered the same fate as a lot of our U.S. competitors. They were operating as suitcase contractors, and they're no longer there.”

At first, Haskell’s local workforce was construction-centric, but, as a pioneer of design-build delivery, it subsequently began developing more native architecture engineering resources. Demand grew as U.S. companies doing business in Latin America sought the security of working with an American AEC leader with robust resources and capabilities there.

Growth in Scale and Scope

Now in its 25th year in Latin America, Haskell’s Latin American team of multidisciplinary professionals collaborate with colleagues across the U.S. and in its Asia-Pacific Design Centers. The company has worked in nearly every Mexican state and expanded throughout the region, delivering projects in Ecuador, Nicaragua and Guatemala and establishing a second LATAM office in Bogota, Colombia.

“We were following our clients,” he said. “Most of them were security buyers. They hired us because they felt comfortable having a U.S. company they knew delivering their projects in a foreign country.”

Saenz returned from the Mexico City office for good in 2006. Luis Jimenez, now Haskell’s International Operations President, has led not only the region’s growth in size, but also in scope.

Haskell’s deep relationship with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began with a Temple project in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, that led to another in Colombia and to a worldwide partnership. Similarly, Haskell undertook its first engineer procure construct (EPC) project installing manufacturing systems in Mexicali, Baja California, and has just completed its first data center project there.

“We identified an opportunity to serve clients who required a high degree of sophistication and specialization in their facilities, whether it be manufacturing plans, institutional projects or EPC projects,” Jimenez said. “These projects demand a high level of knowledge and experience from our team to seamlessly integrate process systems, packaging, material handling and construction.

“Our operation in Mexico has been a pioneer with many of the clients, delivery methods and project types that we undertake as an organization.”

At Haskell, we take our clients’ goals as our own. We innovate constantly to ensure that we deliver world-class solutions with the best possible effectiveness, efficiency and performance. Contact us to discuss your facilities needs.

Promoting and expanding diversity and inclusion is a strategic pillar of Haskell’s long-term vision and is foundational to creating a team member experience of significance, success and satisfaction. Haskell Together is our intentional and consistent initiative to promote open dialogue and bring about positive change.

Haskell delivers $2± billion annually in Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) and Consulting solutions to assure certainty of outcome for complex capital projects worldwide. Haskell is a global, fully integrated, single-source design-build and EPC firm with over 2,200 highly specialized, in-house design, construction and administrative professionals across industrial and commercial markets. With 20+ office locations around the globe, Haskell is a trusted partner for global and emerging clients.

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