Minnesota Contractor Eclipses 300,000 Projects
Metropolitan Mechanical Contractors brought in more than $175 million in 2014
Since its foundation in 1963, Metropolitan Mechanical Contractors Inc. (MMC) has left its mark in the Midwest. The mechanical systems contractor offers large-scale and specialty mechanical construction project management, engineering and design-build services, mechanical system service, controls technology, off-site construction, 24/7 servicing, modular fabrication, and virtual building systems (VBS).
The Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based firm has completed more than 300,000 projects, ranging 10,000 square feet to more than 1 million square feet in size. Some of the larger projects include Target Field, the Xcel Energy Center, the Mall of America, the Guthrie Theater, the University of Minnesota, and the Sanford Fargo Medical Center.
Mark Anderson, president of MMC, started as a project manager for the company in 1984. He said the firm’s preconstruction ability is exceptional, partly due to the staff’s technical ability.
“We hire mostly mechanical engineers who understand the different systems and can offer the owner a wide variety of solutions to their problems. Our guys can give them pricing, budgets, and explain cycle costs for those solutions. We don’t have an estimating department, a selling department, or a project managing department, as our guys do all three. All of these things are part of preconstruction services for us. The same guy is doing projects and closing out projects, so there are no hands-off or old dropping-the-ball concerns. That’s fairly unique.”
MMC primarily operates in the Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, markets, but the contractor has also completed notable projects out of the state. MMC also opened another branch in Fargo, North Dakota, in mid-2015.
“We specialize in health care, data centers, and higher education — those are our top three markets,” said Kristin Schultes, vice president and CFO of MMC. “We like doing the more technical HVAC and plumbing work commonly found in hospitals and data centers or in difficult remodels.”
MMC boasts 500 employees, 150 vehicles, and, in 2014, exceeded $175 million in earnings.
“We have around 85 non-union employees,” Schultes noted. “The rest are union employees at job sites. One of my favorite things to do is visit the job sites and talk to the employees and see what they’re creating.”
Schultes, who has been with MMC since 2008, has a background in public accounting and worked on a number of construction accounts before joining MMC.
“We really have the best group of people working here,” she said. “It’s a family environment. People really care about what they’re doing. We have some of the most technically sound engineers in the industry. We’re building a legacy, and I like being a part of a company that’s working to create something special.”
According to Anderson, staffing numbers have remained consistent, and MMC has experienced steady growth since the recession. MMC offers its employees exciting work and a good benefits program, which are just two reasons why employees want to work for the company.
“We offer challenging projects that are fun to work on,” he said. “Our individual development program allows any employee to build his or her own career path. Each person has ownership over his or her development, which makes a big difference in individual motivation and loyalty to the company. This is yet another tool that helps attract, develop, and retain employees.”
Additionally, because the majority of employees work out of the office on various job sites, communication is extremely important. MMC holds weekly project manager meetings, monthly safety meetings, quarterly town hall meetings, and distributes multiple monthly newsletters.
“Our diverse, geographically dispersed workforce is not located in one facility, which makes us unique,” Schultes said. “We really focus on making all MMC employees feel like they’re part of one MMC. Everyone works for MMC, regardless of whether they’re working at a job site or in our headquarters. We have a social media and communications person who serves as the voice of the employees. This position helps maximize employee communication and kind of breaks down the wall between the office and field employees that naturally occurs.”
MMC utilizes social media, email, and direct communication to stay in touch with employees during projects.
Additionally, the contractor hosts various social activities, like a recent luncheon that celebrated the company’s remodeled lunch room. There are also periodic happy hours and other gatherings with various employees.
“MMC’s system for employees really revolves around accountability,” said Trevor McCulloch, vice president of service at MMC. “All of the guys here are essentially allowed to make decisions and run projects as they see fit, and we expect them to make those decisions so we don’t hide decision-making processes behind closed doors, loopholes, documentation, and other stuff. These guys are really in charge of making their own decisions and being masters of their own destinies.”
McCulloch, who was hired as a project manager six years ago, said MMC tries hard to hire self-motivated people who can fit into the work environment and be successful on their own.
“We have a lot of experienced technicians who really help a project manager flourish because they have the resources available to figure out how to do what they need to do. That is really attractive to people,” he said. “It’s a very good culture here. It’s very self-motivating. Though, it doesn’t work for everybody. You have to be a self-starter, and you’re expected to be a person who’s able to go out and get the job done well at the lowest possible total cost for the customer.
“It’s also a very family oriented company,” added McCulloch. “Even though we’re very large, we’re a very close knit group of people, and everybody’s really proud to work at MMC. It’s a place where you can walk around and say ‘Hey, I worked in that building,’ or ‘MMC helped build that building.’ We are very prideful of the work we do.”
TRAINING HELPS RECRUITMENT
MMC has worked to develop its Assistant Project Manager (APM) Academy over the last five years, according to Anderson. The six- to eight-week in-house training program formally equips junior projects managers with technical expertise and industry best practices through a combination of classroom instruction and job shadowing.
“We try to hire three to four new people every year and teach them how to do the business,” Anderson said. “We set up a series of classes every other weekday and they design plumbing and HVAC projects with the help of our design department. We teach them how to estimate, go through a proposal process as if they were going to sell the project, and how to make a presentation.”
The curriculum also touches on virtual building systems, mechanical engineering, and general project management.
“We’re constantly looking to bring in new people, because we’re growing,” Anderson said. “I much prefer to home-grow than hire people away from another company; it’s easier for us to teach them the MMC way. The only way to really do that was to have someone in the classroom training them because, otherwise, everybody gets busy and too wrapped up in their projects, and the new people get neglected. So, we decided we needed to have a more formal program. And, it’s a good selling and recruiting point for people coming into the company. They appreciate that there’s a formal program in place to help them develop and grow into their jobs.”
While the industry faces a general labor shortage, it’s not really an issue for MMC, noted McCulloch. “As a larger company, we’re able to hone homegrown talent. As a part of that, we’re recruiting at trade schools and universities, and we’re bringing those people in at entry-level positions and feeding them up through our system, turning them into successful employees.”
DIRECT SERVICE FOR CUSTOMERS
While service is a fairly small part of MMC’s overall business — about 20 percent — it’s still one of the larger players in town, according to McCulloch. “If you look at our service revenues on a purely service company basis, we’re at about $18 million. In the grand scheme of things, the service department here is leaps and bounds larger than a lot of companies’ entire operations.”
One of the reasons MMC is successful in its service offerings is because it has the resources to ensure it sends the correct people to the right jobs, McCulloch noted. The company also has a unique program for its customers called 24/7 Service Direct™, where it assigns a technician to a customer for direct contact.
“We expect our technicians to make themselves directly available to the customers, and we encourage our customers to directly call their technicians,” McCulloch explained. “When they set up an account here, we assign the account to two to five people, depending on the size and needs of the business. Those guys are essentially primary technicians on the account, and they’re always going to be the first line of defense when anything happens in the building. So, a customer is always going to get a guy who understands the facility, its needs, and the piece of equipment that might be broken. It has been a very successful model for us, and I think customers appreciate that they don’t have to call into dispatch to discuss the schedule. If a customer calls a technician and says he really needs a tech to come out and look at something, he makes the call and schedules it.”
Currently, MMC’s service department includes about 55 employees, 30 of them are service technicians.
“Everybody can say they have the best people and the most highly trained technicians, but those statements ring true at MMC,” McCulloch said. “We invest in our employees and make sure they stay that way, and we invest in our customers to make sure they have the best skill sets on their accounts.”
CHANGING WITH THE TIMES
According to Schultes, the biggest change MMC has faced started right before the Great Recession’s housing crisis. “Our biggest challenge has been trying to navigate a new normal in our workload. The only thing worse than not enough work is too much work, and it’s difficult to predict projects that are going to accelerate, slow down, or be delayed. It’s really important for our workforce to have stability. As a leader, that’s one thing I’m very focused on in terms of trying to do the best we absolutely can to predict and plan for the changes in the workload.”
The unemployment rate in Minnesota is one of the lowest in the nation, and there has been growth in the market. However, having a stable workload becomes extremely important in order to retain existing employees because it is difficult to find quality, skilled labor. “On the field side, it’s our reputation and our stable work that attracts employees,” said Schultes.
The company has changed dramatically over the years, said Anderson, eventually adding more complicated projects, which facilitated growth. “Today, we have many more processes in place to accomplish all of our projects and keep customers happy. We have become a more efficient company with more training and development designed to help people grow quicker than they used to be able to grow.”
Though MMC’s reputation attracts new talent and customers, its biggest hurdle is the tremendous amount of competition, Schultes noted.
“We’re also experiencing rising material and labor costs, and we’re continually striving to lower our cost structure to be as competitive as possible while maintaining our values of integrity and quality,” she said. “But, I would say we care more. This is our passion, and we’re committed to excellence. I think we’re creative problem solvers. We deliver what we say we’re going to do. In this business, there’s first cost and total cost. We feel we provide the best overall total cost nationwide.”
Publication date: 2/29/2016