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C-Suite Corner: BE&K Building Group's Mac Carpenter

C-Suite Corner: BE&K Building Group's Mac Carpenter


by ROB McMANAMY | Jan 12, 2016

What's old may be new again, but the present has never been better for BE&K Building Group, which last summer emerged from the shadow of former parent KBR to reclaim its own storied identity. In July, the Greenville SC-based design-build firm was acquired by international contractor Pernix Group Inc., Lombard IL, and a very familiar industry brand was reborn.

This month, BuiltWorlds had the chance to chat with BE&K Building Group President Mac Carpenter, who has had a long and successful tenure since joining the firm more than a quarter century ago. Carpenter now oversees an award-winning contractor with a successful history of delivering large facilities for the manufacturing, life sciences, research & development, food & beverage, commercial, mixed-use, and institutional markets. What follows is our Q&A...

BuiltWorlds (BW): You have personally been in the industry for more than three decades now and with BE&K Building Group for most of that time. What would you say the biggest difference is in our industry today compared to when you first joined it in 1985?

After 30 years, Carpenter sees even better days ahead.

After 30 years, Carpenter sees even better days ahead.

Mac Carpenter (MC): The advancement of technology has impacted our industry in almost every way imaginable and now drives everything. Owners, meanwhile, are far more sophisticated and savvy in their construction knowledge today. As a result, contracts are more complex, often shifting additional risk to the contractor. Companies are leaner — we do far more today, with less people, and with a much higher degree of safety. Business moves at lightning speed now.

The bar continues to be raised in all aspects of our industry, leading to ever-higher expectations. With degrees in construction science management, our college recruits (project engineers) are hitting the field with more knowledge than ever before. Of course, like anything, there are downsides to the tech revolution. Technology can actually inhibit healthy personal and face-to-face communication. So we have to make a special effort to ensure the personal side of our business remains a top priority. That’s where relationships are built.

BW: Your website proclaims that you are now "BE&K Building Group" again. What does that name mean to you, and what do you think it means to your customers? 

MC:  We were honored to join the Pernix Group of companies in 2015. What that means for our team is tremendous excitement and opportunity — the chance to return to our roots, and to expand our presence and global footprint. Some of our best years in this industry were from 2004 to 2011, when we were previously BE&K Building Group. A company’s name is huge, so this past year, we had the opportunity to reclaim this incredible brand. But what’s even more critical to our business is our people. Throughout our company’s transitions, they have always been the constant. More than 40% of our people have been with us for more than 10 years. Now, with our transition back to BE&K Building Group, we even have former key team members returning to the company. I feel all of this is a real testament to our company and its brand. So our future is really bright.

BW: Despite the name change, the firm never really went away, though. On the contrary, you actually thrived. To what do you attribute your success over the last 10 years? How did you steer safely through the recession?

MC:  Again, I would say the biggest factor driving our success over the last five to 10 years has been our people. During the recession, we actually fared well during those years. A key factor was our backlog. We were well-positioned with three “mega-projects” that kept our revenues flowing and our people engaged. One of those projects was the high-profile Boeing South Carolina 787 expansion. As a result of this project in Charleston and other work, we developed highly specialized in-house expertise providing design-build services for aerospace manufacturing plants. We have since done similar work for other core aerospace clients such as Gulfstream Aerospace, Honda Aircraft, and Triumph Aerostructures. The aerospace industry is continuing to boom and it’s exciting to see what the future has in store.

Safe site: Millions of hours of incident-free work at massive Boeing 787 plant in Charleston earned industry accolades.

Safe site: Millions of hours of incident-free work at massive Boeing 787 plant in Charleston earned industry accolades.

BW: As you mentioned, design-build, single-source project delivery is a key offering. How much of your work is design-build now and when did it become your preferred method?

MC:  We actually do more design-build work today than ever before. We have focused on providing such services since our inception in the late 1960s. In fact, our company history includes being a founding member of the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) in the mid-1990s. Similarly, our new chairman, Grant McCullagh, was also one of DBIA's original presidents. What really differentiates BE&K Building Group now, though, is our approach to design-build.  

Through the years, rather than providing in-house architectural services, we have instead opted to combine forces with some of the world’s best A/E firms. We believe this approach provides a greater resource for design services and enables us to hand-select from a much larger pool of design expertise. As a result, we are able to provide best-in-class design services tailored to each specific project.

Design-build is definitely our preferred method of delivery within the advanced manufacturing sector where speed to market is often critical. Its single-source contract minimizes risk for the client and provides greater project control, delivering quality work on time and within budget. It also best fits our company culture. It aligns with our entrepreneurial spirt, and even the way we are structured. 

Field coordination takes place today long before our teams ever hit the field, in big BIM room environments and over the web through digital interfaces
— Mac Carpenter, BE&K BG

BW: Design-build, of course, requires close collaboration. How has technology enabled that over the years and how do you see tech evolving in the future on BE&K Building Group job sites?

MC:  When I look back upon my 30+ years career and consider all of the technological advances that have taken place in our industry, I’m simply amazed. From blueprints on paper and vellum, to 2D CAD, and now 3D intelligent Revit models. Communication and collaboration also take place today at the blink of an eye. When I was starting out, everything was transported via “snail mail,” and Fax machines were the wave of the future. Today, our superintendents are in the field, tablets in hand, instantly accessing the most current design information available. In fact, field coordination takes place today long before our teams ever hit the field, in big BIM room environments and over the web through digital interfaces. 

BW: You recently logged some incredible safety numbers. What would you say is behind them?

This Thursday, the firm is co-sponsoring BW's first safety event.

This Thursday, the firm is co-sponsoring BW's first safety event.

MC:  You're referring to more than a decade of successful work for Boeing at its North Charleston (SC) campus, while providing more than nine million work hours without a single lost-time incident. South Carolina OSHA says less than 5% of all projects reach one million work hours without a lost workday, let alone nine million hours. This is a real testament to our focus on safety — that of our employees, subcontractors, and anyone else with whom we work or interact. It drives who we are as a company and how we execute our work. Part of that process involves expecting the same degree of commitment from our subcontractor leadership and their workforces. Every one of our projects has a team and process in place to make sure the entire workforce is proactively managing safety performance toward our goal of ZERO Incidents and ZERO Injuries. We know that goal is achievable because we have seen the difference our attitude and efforts have made over the years. 

BW: You were a wrestler in college. Is there something about that sport, or the mentality and discipline that it teaches, that has been particularly helpful to your career?

MC:  I was privileged to be able to enjoy and be successful in the sport of wrestling into my collegiate career. For me, the sport of wrestling was a huge influence because it is both an individual and a team sport that teaches many practical life lessons. Each match is an individual competition, one on one. When I was on the mat, my success or failure lay solely on my shoulders and the results were a product of how hard I had worked and my state of mental toughness. That taught me the life lesson that I am ultimately responsible for myself, my individual performance and my personal success.

But wrestling is also a team sport, where the sum of the parts contributes to the success of the whole. I’m not sure if there is a better sport to illustrate the value of our individual contribution to the success of our combined team. Wrestling gave me the value of perspective. It helped me to understand that if I was to succeed in my career, and more importantly, in life… that it was up to me. But it also gave me the understanding that if I was to be ultimately successful in life — which means being a part of something bigger than myself — that I would need others, including the value that each brings and what we can learn from one another along the way. After all, it’s through the combination of all the best talents of a team of individuals that we achieve the greatest possibilities.

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