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Burns & McDonnell Rises to the Top

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Burns & McDonnell experienced dramatic growth in Texas and Louisiana in 2013. The full-service engineering and construction firm saw its regional revenue jump nearly fourfold to $252.3 million from 2012—marking the largest increase on ENR Texas & Louisiana's ranking of design firms. The company moved up to second place on this year's list from 15th the year before. Strong growth and the start of several huge projects in electrical transmission and distribution and in the oil and gas sector—as well as more demand for design-build project delivery—fueled the firm's regional boom. Leadership in service, ownership and project diversity also helped Burns & McDonnell become ENR Texas & Louisiana's 2014 Design Firm of the Year.

Photo courtesy of Burns & McDonnell
Growth track: The firm recently completed a 40,000-sq-ft expansion and renovation of its Houston headquarters.
Photo courtesy of Burns & McDonnell
Placement: Cranes maneuver a 200-ft-long tower into position at a jobsite for Burns & McDonnell client CVR Energy.
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Performance, Expansion

Burns & McDonnell credits some of its huge revenue jump to timing on construction projects, says Leslie Duke, senior vice president in Houston. "The nature of our business is to design and then to build, and we try to have a nice rolling effect," she points out. "We have an interesting dynamic where we were in design on a lot of large projects that hit, and the timing just resulted in larger revenue growth."

This expansion has also been a culmination of several years of strong regional performance, leading to a 40% staffing increase in 2013.

"We started off with just a field office in Dallas-Fort Worth, about 22 people, at the end of 2009, and the employee count now is 136," says Scott Clark, the company's general manager there.

In the Houston office, which recently expanded its space, the company has more than doubled its staff since 2008, Duke notes. The expansion project is among the largest in the firm's history and includes occupying six floors of the 1700 West Loop Plaza building. There will be room for up to 550 employees, which the firm could reach later this year or by early 2015, with an additional 40,000 sq ft. "Our architects actually designed the interior space, and we were the construction manager on the build-out," says Duke.

Diversification

What truly characterized 2013 for Burns & McDonnell was market diversity, Clark says. The firm took the top spot in several breakout rankings, including lists of top firms in Texas as well as those in regional power, manufacturing, MEP engineering and structural engineering. It ranked No. 4 in the petroleum sector.

"In 2009, when we first started here, we had one client in the area. We've got 50 or 60 clients right now," Clark adds. "We're also doing a lot of work nationally from the Dallas-Fort Worth office, such as for Harvard University, so we have really diversified our practice."

Burns & McDonnell focuses on seven different business lines from that location, such as onsite energy and power, transportation, electrical transmission and distribution, and environmental studies and permitting, Clark says.

"We only build what we design, so we do a lot of EPC and design-build work. Onsite energy and power and probably transmission and distribution are probably our two hottest, fastest-growing markets right now," Clark says. "We've got a lot of great projects in those two spaces." In Houston, Burns & McDonnell recently added an environmental practice.

"We feel good about the market, so the future is bright," Duke says. "I think there are some things on the horizon for Burns & McDonnell regionally that we haven't yet gotten to. We're pretty disciplined about launching new business units and making sure that we do them right."

Ownership and Safety

The firm's 100% ownership by employees is a key factor in its success.

"The way that we serve our clients is different because it's our company, and we have a vested interest in how we perform and how projects perform, and it's personal," Duke explains. "We do a lot of repeat business with clients who enjoy the service we provide and the quality of our work, and it comes from ownership."

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