Bob Smith: I think there were two major growth periods for us. One was in the early days when we’d begun to take a lot of projects for the Johns Hopkins Health System.
Johns Hopkins gave us a chance to do things in a big way, and there was a lot of growth. We did a lot of hiring, very close to Hopkins physically, and we were able to work on these world-class facilities, and do things that we probably couldn’t do at most other institutions.
It was both a time of growth and learning, and we were allowed to do things that were new, innovative and novel.
The other big growth period in our company was when we began a long“‘term contract with the National Institutes of Health. The NIH, again, allowed us to do new and innovative designs.
The utility system at NIH is one of the largest of its kind in the nation. The campus cooling capacity, for example, is measured in tons of cooling.
They have 60,000 tons of cooling, which is just unheard of. You rarely see something like that, except maybe at a campus like the University of Texas or in the Middle East. There just aren’t that many of these types of facilities out there.
At NIH we were able to design some very sophisticated laboratories. These laboratories were for developing new vaccines, for conducting some of the most advanced medical research. We were a part of several of those largest laboratories that were constructed at NIH.
Not only did that give us an opportunity to do things that no one else was doing, but it also gave us experience that we then took to other campuses that belonged to the Agriculture Department, Environmental Protection Agency, and other types of facilities, so it was good growth and learning opportunity.
We were able to then take that knowledge and apply it elsewhere.
With projects such as those, we are usually the primary designer and we will marry up with an architect. Architecture is probably the only major professional service that we don’t offer ourselves.
Some architects have specialties in different areas. Some are really good at healthcare, some are really good at labs, some are really good at utility buildings, so we’ll choose the one with that specialty, that key expertise, and partner with them, and we’ll produce the design documents and see them through construction.
Our responsibility continues all the way to the very end throughout the complete close“‘out period.
We’re also very proud of our young employees. We started something new in the last few years called Leadership Development Program, or LDP, where we grab the best and brightest of a certain age group and tenure and put them through an MBA“‘type program, something they would never get in their college program that really talks about real“‘life situations.
How to run this business, how to deal with ethical challenges, how to deal with technical and business challenges, and it’s something that we don’t see any other firms doing.
We’re so proud of it because we’re grooming our next leaders, and it has just turned out better than anybody ever expected. It’s something very new.
We’re going to be having the graduation for our first class coming up and we’re going to start a new class of these new young leaders. It“™s something that has gotten everybody here very excited.
Never before have we put so much time into teaching and mentoring the next group of leaders, and it appears that it is a very smart thing to do. Two of the LDP graduates were just promoted to be shareholders.
Bob Smith: The majority of international work has come through the State Department. They have a long-term program to build new diplomatic facilities throughout the world.
Facilities that are much more safer, more resilient to physical attacks, and much more modern in terms of IT, the whole communication aspect, backup power systems, and things of that nature. So, there is a multi“‘year program, and our aspect of that is the commissioning.
We don’t design any of those facilities. Most of them are designed domestically here, and many of the builders are U.S-based international builders in those host nations, and our job is to commission them.
It is interesting because we’re dealing with different languages, a lot of this work is done in the metric system, the subcontractors oftentimes have never had to deal with such a high end facility before, so there’s a lot of training that takes place.
We put these buildings through their paces and there are two aspects to that. One we call the pre-functional checklists test, making sure everything is in its place.
Then the second major step is the functional performance test where everything is turned on and off, and then demonstrated to operate correctly and efficiently. We test it to make sure it runs smoothly and meets all the intended set points and things like that.
So part of our job is to develop training programs, step“‘by“‘step procedures on how to turn on all the equipment, how to operate it safely and efficiently, how to do preventive maintenance, and how to operate it in an emergency mode or standby mode.
There’s a great deal of training of the local operating staff before the keys are handed over.
Bob Smith: Well, we believe that we have seen the corner turn in terms of work load. We went through a period where it was very discouraging. You know, we just didn’t see the kinds of projects that we had seen year after year after year.
We certainly kept our business practice solid, that wasn’t a problem, but in terms of being able to do the kind of work that we really get excited about, those projects weren’t there. They hadn’t been there for several years, but we’re seeing them now.
We’re starting to see large projects again and ones that we can really apply some neat ideas. They’re not just fix, repair, replace. It’s, Hey, what can we do to make this exceptional?
What can we do now to make this the best in its class in terms of an energy plant or a laboratory or a research facility or a hospital? On the economical side, we’re seeing owners of facilities now seeking and requesting those really original thoughts and the opportunity to apply neat ideas that we wanted to do for so long.
For the past few years, we haven’t been able to do it, because there was no financial means to do those things.