Mass. Building Firm Lays Foundation for Solid Reputation

Thu December 28, 2006 - Northeast Edition
CEG



There are busy sites. And then there are G&R sites.

Busy, yes. But carefully scheduled, tightly run and completely integrated, which often means that the crew will switch hard hats several times along the way.

“Our people are very good at what they do, and, they are cross trained; for example our carpenters can dig foundations, run a jackhammer and install finished millwork, so by the time the job’s done, there’s a sense of personal connection and ownership that goes pretty deep,” said Dennis Morel, field manager and partner. “We’re building a lot of pride as we go along.”

The pride of responsibility that the crew members share throughout the company stems from G&R handling municipal jobs of the type and size that are usually tackled by larger outfits. As Bob Morel, Dennis’s cousin and president of G&R, said, “We run lean and we multi-task, but we give our people the opportunity to learn and grow, and they work year round, through good and bad times, with rarely a layoff.”

“Working with us is not for everyone, but for those talented people with great work ethics we tend to attract, it’s an excellent choice,” Dennis added.

The Most Valuable Asset

Founded in 1962 by Gilbert and Roland Morel, G&R, was for many years a residential builder. The second generation cousins, Dennis and Bob Morel, took over management in 1991 and today G&R, based in Braintree, Mass., is a steadily growing company, bidding and getting a constant stream of public jobs, ranging from $6 million to $20 million. Some of the most recent projects include the Needham Public library, the North Attleboro police department headquarters and the Brooks School apartments in Weston — all in Massachusetts.

The two cousins split their responsibilities but not their philosophy. While Dennis is the field manager, out on job sites, working alongside his crews, Bob is focused on the business side, forecasting, pricing, contracting and handling bids.

“My uncle and my father passed on to us an asset that has more value in this industry than anything else you can think of — a solid reputation,” said Bob. “Dennis and I know that’s a great advantage, and we also realize that we have to protect it very carefully.”

Each week there’s a management meeting during which the foremen come in and discuss what they will need; they each get a job cost outline so that they know exactly what’s expected of them and they take it very personally.

“In a way, it’s their baby,” said Bob.

The ingrained sense of ownership makes it possible for G&R to give a one-year warranty on their work and to have its jobs rated by the Commonwealth with scores in the 80s and 90s, when the industry average is 75.

At Every Step

According to Dennis, the company-wide sense of pride is possible because they know exactly what cards they’re playing with, at every step.

“We control the quality and the cost of all the facets of the construction project, from digging the foundation, all the way to the finish carpentry, and we know the quality of the equipment we’re using,” said Dennis.

Describing themselves as “self-performers,” Bob explained that their philosophy of handling what’s commonly subcontracted results in a lot of day-to-day pressure.

“Many of my friends think we’re plain crazy,” he said.

It does, however, allow the company to be much faster and aggressive, manipulating the sequence of steps in a job to accommodate its schedule.

“We can dictate what, when, where … our masons can start when we want them to start; the carpenters can do their work when we want that to happen, we don’t depend on someone else,” said Dennis.

Bob believes that another key to their success in the highly competitive institutional construction business is their relationship style.

“We treat municipal customers with care, and they respond in the same way,” he said, laughing that both he and Dennis are afraid that a bad comment reaching the ears of their father and uncle would mean big trouble for them.

“They worked very hard for many years to build an impeccable reputation, and they’re not letting us forget that”

Both Dennis and Bob precisely plan each job. Accurately forecasting crew and equipment needs is a crucial step, they believe.

“As much as we all like and rely on our Cat equipment, this is actually where Milton CAT has proven themselves to be even more valuable to us,” Bob said, adding how their Milton CAT specialist plays an important role in helping them decide which machine would be the best to handle a particular job, as well as whether it makes better sense to buy, lease or rent.

“We run the job in our minds, compare the numbers, evaluate the alternatives, and think about it in terms of efficiency and economic sense, and we’re in it together.

“When we took over from my father and my uncle and decided to move from being home builders to doing public work, we saw that it was difficult to get site work done for a reasonable amount of money, so we decided to do it ourselves,” said Bob.

“I went to all the major equipment companies to inquire about machines, and Milton CAT took the time; the application specialist, Doug Mauch, came in to see us and he listened when we explained our plans; he helped us determine what we needed — actually he had more foresight than we did.

“He sent a backhoe on rental, and then, an excavator on rental, too; within six months, we had purchased both machines … that was nine years ago and we still have them,” said Bob.

Today, G&R owns an all-Caterpillar lineup of equipment, including two backhoe loaders, a 938 loader, a 330 excavator, a 320 excavator, a mini-excavator, a compactor, a skid steer, a D5 dozer and a Genie lift, all from Milton CAT.

Secret to G&R’s Success

Avoiding ego-driven decision making, according to Bob and Dennis.

“My father and my uncle always said to us, ’Don’t let your ego drive you,’ and the longer we are in this business and see the mistakes people can make when they overextend themselves, trying to outdo each other, the better we understand how wise that advice was,” said Bob, recalling many of his colleagues who quickly reached success but just as quickly crumbled, as they went beyond their capabilities.

Bigger is not always better, according to Bob, who stands by the belief that what matters is not just volume, but how a company handles it — thoughtfully, precisely, and remembering that while his company is building buildings, they’re also laying the foundation for something else — a solid reputation.