A People-First Mentality Leads to Generations of Success
Great Southwestern Construction
Electrical construction service provider Great Southwestern Construction (GSWC) has locations across the United States but is based primarily in Colorado. The company began operations in 1977 as a sole proprietor looking to get into the general construction sector. Company President Brandon Lark recalls that, in the 1980s, there were opportunities to get involved with the United States government’s building of waterways and canal systems throughout Arizona. The young firm jumped at the prospect and succeeded by way of providing communications and power relay infrastructure needs required for the projects.
After that, the company moved into electric power transmission and distribution where it has stayed since the 1990s. In 2000, the year that Lark started with the company, it was sold to the MYR Group and has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of it ever since. MYR is a national electrical contractor specializing in transmission and distribution for commercial and industrial projects.
GSWC is the only non-union contract under the MYR umbrella and does “all types of work in the transmission distribution space like working with investor-owned utilities and private developers all across the U.S.,” according to Lark. Today, it handles nine locations across the country, and it continues to experience incredible growth, with more than 600 employees at present.
Throughout its history, GSWC has built its identity from having a people-first culture in relation to both its workforce and clients. To Lark, the idea of having a people-first culture means “ensuring that everyone understands that we care about people who work for us, [and that] anyone in contact with us is valued and winds up with a positive experience.”
GSWC believes in hiring the best employees, investing in them through a generous benefits package, providing a reasonable work-life balance, apprenticeship programs, and treating everyone like a family. This can be a bit challenging considering that the company’s workforce is six hundred strong, but this principle never strays from the forefront of its focus.
Lark observes that it is “really easy in the industry to feel like a commodity,” in that customers can often be treated more like a process to be solved than a person, but GSWC differentiates itself by always looking for ways to improve the customer experience, as it dives into unique issues and discovers how they can be handled. Every step is taken so that communication with the client is top-notch, open, transparent, and going beyond any previous experiences.
Lark says that the main things separating GSWC from its competition are the lengths it is willing to go to provide varied project delivery systems from cost-plus contracts to labor-only work to engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC), which is the transmission and distribution version of design-build. It also makes sure that every client or person in contact with the organization has a unique experience and feels as though they are valued.
There has been a push for employees to continue occupational development and develop their careers, and the company is behind them every step of the way in this endeavor. This drive has resulted in workforce opportunities that include three apprenticeship programs – two in transmission and distribution, one in substation – allowing them to become journeyman-level tradesmen through the organization. The program involves seven thousand hours of hands-on field training plus academic classroom portions and is recognized by the Department of Labor. Lark and GSWC management want to treat employees like the valuable assets they are, helping to train and improve skill sets.
The company has been expanding over the past several years across the United States, concentrating on market saturation in certain areas to prime for further growth. Most recently, in late 2019, the company opened a new office building and training facility in Alvarado, Texas. This growth has also been achieved by pushing additional project delivery methods.
Lark explains that the market is changing with a lot more investor-owned utilities popping up and developers going to the EPC model more and more. Being a part of the MYR Group has given GSWC the opportunity to apply the EPC model more frequently, as it allows the company to support multiple large projects with no issues relating to costs. All the way, it has emphasized project management skills to ensure that its team can handle projects and communicate, allowing it to expand in a controlled manner without taking on more than can be controlled by the workforce.
Lark sees the company’s success as “being determined by the strength of our partnerships.” As the company gets to know clients and their needs, it requires national and international vendors and subcontractors to learn along with it and improve how it delivers those projects back to clients. Vendors and subcontractors are acknowledged as key partners in delivering projects to clients successfully, and there is an expectation that these partners will uphold the company’s values throughout the construction phase to represent GSWC as well as GSWC represents them.
Over the last few years, the largest difficulty for the company has been finding qualified trade workers or people who are excited to get into the trade and determined to excel at it. GSWC has met this challenge by recruiting workers into the industry from high school and by ensuring that it offers quality educational opportunities, such as the apprenticeship programs.
Going forward, GSWC has a “very strong focus on continuing to develop our EPC delivery method,” Lark says. The organization is currently working on a couple of projects with a client in Iowa, as well as a large utility client elsewhere in the South, both of which are large service areas for the company. It will continue to meet its long-term clients’ needs despite any fluctuations that might occur.
Lark emphasizes that GSWC is a “very values-driven [and] service-focused organization.” Its values of “safety, respect, responsiveness, creativity, integrity, initiative and teamwork” are established on an employee’s first day via an extensive integration process. This gives them a solid foundation from which to deliver projects and successfully do the work, using these values as a guide every step of the way.
GSWC is most interested in helping its clients and partner organizations in solving problems. “We’re not just a construction company,” Lark concludes. “We’re here to identify issues and ensure needs are met along the way.” Achieving this is what it has been doing for five decades, and its future within the construction industry seems assured thanks to the values it instills.