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Engineering Lightning Growth

Youthful Hargrove Engineers (founded 1995) has become one of the fastest growing engineering firms in the country. Quick with new regional offices, nimble in industry mix, their portfolio includes some of Alabama’s biggest industrial recruitments.

Ralph Hargrove, founder and CEO of Hargrove Engineers + Constructors, at the site in Mobile of the Kress department store, which Hargrove is redesigning as the new home for Alabama Media Group.

Ralph Hargrove, founder and CEO of Hargrove Engineers + Constructors, at the site in Mobile of the Kress department store, which Hargrove is redesigning as the new home for Alabama Media Group.

Photo by Matthew Coughlin

As one of the nation’s fastest growing design engineering firms, Mobile-based Hargrove Engineers + Constructors is focused on more than just designing and building physical structures. The company pursues diversification and organic growth by building relationships.

“The key to our success is relationships,” says Vicki Studstill, vice president of relationship building and marketing. “We rarely, if ever, do just one project for a client. Our business is built on developing and growing those relationships, so we can do more for our clients the next time there is an opportunity.”

“Being as flexible as possible and keeping the best talent, you can support clients day in and day out,” says founder Ralph Hargrove. “Growing client relationships — geographically and sustainably — has enabled our team to keep a quick tempo and respond in a timely manner to client requests. It’s not about having the most/largest roster of talent but having the best roster of capabilities.”

Hargrove recently was ranked number 115 on the 2014 Engineering News-Record’s list of top 500 Design Firms, up 20 more spots from last year’s ranking of 135 and up 60 spots from 2012.  The national list, produced annually, ranks firms on design revenue.

Hargrove also was named to the Inc. 500 and Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies in the U.S., each year from 2007 through 2011 and again in 2013, and also is recognized as the largest privately held engineering, procurement and construction management firm in the state.

“We’re with the client from start to finish,” says Micki Kohn, vice president of construction management and project controls at Hargrove. “We don’t pigeon hole ourselves into only handling projects of a certain size or type.”

Meeting at the Decatur office, one of Hargrove’s three Alabama locations, are team members (from left) Vicki Studstill, Perkins Fendley, Ralph Hargrove, Phil Hamilton and Jim Backes.

Hargrove is a full-service engineering firm and is dedicated to answering the needs of its clients, whether that is through project design, management, process management or operations improvement, Kohn says.

According to Kohn, the company earned approximately $120 million in revenue in 2013.

“We want to support our clients long term,” Kohn says.

Hargrove commits to projects of any size — including those under $100,000. “Our sweet spot is in the $10 million to $100 million range, though,” she says. “We just try to stay flexible and responsive and pride ourselves on team speed in terms of requests and delivery.”

In 2013, Hargrove secured a bid from Birmingham-based Hoar Program Management to assist with Package B of the $600 million Airbus final assembly line in Mobile. Hargrove’s role in the high profile project should be completed sometime in 2015, says Kohn.

Hargrove also managed the construction of the two companion steel mills built in Calvert for ThyssenKrupp and now separately owned by Outokumpu Oyj and a joint venture of ArcelorMittal and Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal. The $5 billion project began in 2008 and the facilities opened in 2010.

Hargrove founded the employee-owned engineering company in 1995 with a vision of creating a firm that could provide the “right people, in the right place, at the right time.”

Since then, the company has grown from a small technical services firm to a large, multidisciplinary firm with 950 employees and 10 locations throughout the country, including three in Alabama. 

Being employee owned helps the firm work as a team, says Hargrove. “Together we identify client needs and respond, dealing with ambiguity, adjusting and responding. The team is built stronger by pulling together.”

“It’s a very unique culture,” Studstill says. “We consider everyone teammates, not employees, and we’re all invested in the success of the company. That permeates throughout all divisions.”

The company provides specialized engineering, project and construction management, and technical services to the pulp and paper, chemical, pharmaceutical, refining, power, oil and gas, government and infrastructure industries.

The diverse industries served by Hargrove allow the company to remain stable through the ups and downs of each industry, says Studstill.

“We pride ourselves on our client relationships. We’re still doing work with client number one,” Kohn adds. Since about 90 percent of the company’s business comes from repeat work with existing clients, several of Hargrove’s additional office locations were built to better serve such customers.

“Work with our existing clients leads us to do projects all over the country,” says Studstill. “We try very hard to support our clients and their operations in various areas. We find that doing business locally is the best, and sometimes opening an office in the area is the best way to serve our clients in the manner they want.”

Hargrove Engineers + Constructors headquarters on Royal Street in downtown Mobile. 

Hargrove currently has operations in Mobile, Decatur, Birmingham in its home state, as well as Atlanta, Savannah, Baton Rouge, Memphis, Philadelphia, Pascagoula, and, most recently, Houston.

“Hargrove does a good job of putting people in the right place,” says Greg Blankenship, operations leader in the Decatur office. “We opened the (Decatur) office to better serve clients and industries in this area. I think that vision and mentality really brings customers to us. We’re willing to do whatever our clients need.”

“Hargrove’s roots are in Mobile, Alabama,” says the company founder. “We have 10 offices and our newest office is in Houston. We watch the industry trends to identify new markets in which to compete, and we welcome opportunities to support our clients with their international needs.”

Hargrove operates as one firm, across all locations, Blankenship says. “Again, it’s very team oriented. We have an internal support system that allows us access to expertise all over the country,” Blankenship says. “It allows us to better serve our clients, because we know if a client needs something we can deliver without needing to spend too much time retraining individuals on that skillset. If we’ve got someone in Savannah with that particular expertise, we can bring them in on the project and let them do what they do best.”

The company uses a virtual teaming system that allows teammates all over the country to share resources and subject matter experts, which in turn helps add to the firm’s ability to grow, says Roy Duncun, operations leader in the Mobile office.

“Service and relationships are absolutely imperative to what we do,” Kohn says.

Going forward, Hargrove sees a lot of opportunity along the Gulf Coast, particularly in the Baton Rouge and Houston areas.

“We’re pursuing a few projects in the $200 to $300 million range, and several that are in the $80 to $100 million range,” Kohn says. The company also is searching for engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) opportunities where it can partner with construction contractors to provide a total project to clients.

“Right now we’re seeing activity in almost all industries,” Duncan says. “Our core culture defines that what we build best are relationships. We approach every project as an opportunity to expand, extend and support our current relationships and build new ones.”

And those relationships matter, helping the Mobile firm stand out from its competitors. “Clients have noticed our commitment to their success in long-term opportunities,” says Hargrove. “We have established strong relationships with industry leaders who look for long-term working relationships rather than individual projects.”

Alysha Schertz is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Mobile.

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