Approaching 12,000 Completed Projects

The Albert M. Higley Co.

Over the many decades the company has been in business, The Albert M. Higley Co. has fostered countless long-term, strong relationships with not only clients, but carefully selected local subcontractors, suppliers, and regulatory agencies, and has established an unparalleled record for high performance, on-time, and on-budget project completion for its customers.

In business since 1925, this well-known and highly respected privately held construction company has successfully completed in excess of $7 billion in projects, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Formed just a few years before the Great Depression, company founder Albert M. Higley Sr. – a civil engineering graduate of the Case School of Applied Science – chiseled a foundation for the business bearing his name, with the company specializing in industrial, commercial, and institutional construction, and successfully being awarded over 100 contracts in its first four years in business. In the decades since, the company has not only grown its services and clientele, but also learned to handle both the good times and the bad through superior management, precisely calculated and measured growth and investment, and years of experience.

It is no small irony, then, that the company considers the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008 – which saw numerous construction companies collapse in its wake – to be not a negative, but a positive opportunity.

“Most people here believe that the GFC was one of the best things that ever happened to us,” says company President, Gareth D. Vaughan. “Unlike some of our competitors, we saw it coming; in our business, there was quite a lag. We were still working on projects, but we could see about a year before that it was coming. We refuse to compromise on our values. We are still around, and we feel good about what we did – no mass layoffs, and balancing a conservative approach with forward thinking.”

A civil engineer by profession, Mr. Vaughan came on board with the company in 2001, and became President of The Albert M. Higley Co. in 2010. Initially hired to run the company’s Columbus office, he ran every aspect of the business, giving him a firm grasp of the company, its goals, and its clientele. “My focus was to contribute in the best way I could to the company. Eventually that created the opportunity for me to lead a company that views the construction industry as I do. We are a mission-driven company that leaves our clients with far more value added than the bricks and mortar that form their buildings.”

For a company that has taken on countless successful projects over the decades – for clients such as Kenyon College, Cleveland State Hospital, Curtis Wright Airport, Jones Day, and Cleveland Graphite Bronze Co. – The Albert M. Higley Co. is acclaimed for many well-known legacy quality buildings. The Thompson Auto Museum, portions of Cleveland’s Justice Center and Sea World of Ohio, the Eaton Corporation World Headquarters, the Southwest General Hospital, additions to the Perry Nuclear Power Plant, private and public schools and universities, all the way to the world-renowned Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the company is rapidly approaching 12,000 successfully completed projects.

Investing in Itself

With numerous successfully completed projects under its belt, The Albert M. Higley Co. is proud of its past, but remains committed to investing in the company and focusing on the future. This includes not only sustainable construction practices, but also the adoption of digital and graphic technologies such as building information modeling. Through carefully planned and significant investments in not only technology and systems but in personnel, safety, project controls, subcontractor pre-qualification, and electronic data exchange, the business assures quality from start to finish.

At The Albert M. Higley Co., success means: maintaining and building the company so it can be handed over to the next generation of leadership. “We don’t get too excited about what the economy is doing today or tomorrow,” says Mr. Vaughan. “If we make a lot of money, nobody’s running out and buying vacation homes; just the same way we don’t sell everything we have when it’s not looking so good. You need to have that discipline – you have to keep in mind the place you want to get to, and the ups and downs you are going to have along the way.”

Rather than take on every project that comes its way, the company remains very selective of for whom it works. As a result of choosing its pursuits selectively, The Albert M. Higley Co. has maintained its commitment to working with clients who share the same vision. At the same time, the company put into place employee engagement, leadership, and smart processes and procedures. “We knew that once the economy turned around, we would be in much better shape than our competitors, and it worked out for us.”

For more than 16 months, the company has completed all of its work without a single loss time accident. In June, the firm won recognition as one of the Top Workplaces in Northeast Ohio by the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper. The company is proud to say it has clients with whom it has worked for more than 50 years in addition to professional and banking relationships going back in excess of 60 years. “We have some subcontractors we have worked with for decades,” says the company’s President. “A big part of our present success is found in our history, and drawing from the past.”

Quality Across All Sectors

The company focuses its efforts on six key ‘Centers of Excellence,’ representing the firm’s core competencies. These include education, general contracting, healthcare, offices / interiors, public / non-profit, and urban living. Within the six areas, the company takes on a range of public and private projects, including colleges and universities, industrial projects, carpentry services, medical office buildings, acute-care hospitals, retirement communities, new and renovated commercial office buildings, civic, community, and other spaces such as libraries and museums, market rate apartments, ecumenical institutions, condominiums, townhomes, low-income housing, and more.

With a staff of nearly 80 employees – many highly skilled engineers and construction management specialists – the company has made a concerted effort over the past two years to create a much more diverse workplace. “We’re trying to create a much broader thought base than as if everyone came out of engineering school,” says Mr. Vaughan of the business, which recently hired a Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Safety and Quality Assurance from outside the industry to bring in a different perspective.

A big believer in ongoing improvement, the company has made a number of positive, forward-looking changes over the past five years. These include technology – such as upgrading infrastructure, software, and services to provide the most efficient and effective services possible – and employee engagement. “We’ve gone from a model where, historically, most construction companies have been run from the top,” says Mr. Vaughan, “and we are now an organization where every person in the company is engaged somehow in the evolution of the company.” To complement the company’s operations, every department at The Albert M. Higley Co. has become an accountable business unit. “Historically, Operations was really the only business unit, and everything else served it; today, every department has a business unit leader and a budget, profit and loss responsibility, and a business plan. So it’s not Operations running everything else now; everyone is on the same level sitting at the leadership table as a representative from every aspect of the business.”

This model not only enables a much higher level of accountability, but also helps nurture the next generation of leaders, who can see that there are opportunities for them. “I think the bigger benefit is… the level of service that our clients receive, from our pre-construction services to admin and finance and project control groups,” says Mr. Vaughan. “These kind of bolt-on services that were once a necessary evil to do business are now actually an enhancement to the services we offer our clients, and to our bottom line.”

A Range of Service Offerings

From general contracting to education, healthcare to offices, and public / non-profit projects to urban living, The Albert M. Higley Co. has the experience necessary to provide a range of highly customizable, skilled services to meet the needs of each and every client. These include: pre-construction services, schedule development, cost estimating, constructability review, purchasing, construction site planning, building information modeling (BIM), construction services, subcontractor pre-qualification, sustainable / green building / LEED® administration, safety planning and management, quality control, customer service management, and more.

In recent years, the company has grown its estimating department into a full-service pre-construction group that provides planning and budgeting on projects. Additionally, the team provides BIM and scheduling services, and recently formed a customer service group to provide maintenance for current and new clients.

Taking on projects ranging in value from a few hundred thousand to $200 million, historically about 90 percent of the company’s current business is private, and many projects are LEED® Certified. The company does little advertising, instead gaining new customers through longevity, word-of-mouth, and responding to requests for proposal. “We spent time identifying people we would benefit working with, and 95 percent of our work is qualifications-based selection,” says Mr. Vaughan. “It is not usually based on price, and we don’t bid on a lot of work. We prefer to work for people who see value in us working for them.”

Looking Ahead

Maintaining the same commitment to quality set forth by company founder, Albert M. Higley Sr., the company employs customer satisfaction surveys for every single one of its projects. Sent out electronically every quarter, all projects have a handful of contacts, such as an architect, a board member, or someone representing the client, offering different touch points. These various operating groups are then required to follow up with the clients, and encourage them to complete the surveys. “Vice Presidents are accountable, one, for the response rate, and two, for the scores,” says Mr. Vaughan. “In most cases, this is tied to a portion of our profitability, so if they don’t perform, we don’t get our entire profit on the project.”

With a highly trained staff, almost 12,000 completed projects with a portfolio value of almost $7 billion, LEED® and ASHE accredited and certified professionals, a 4A2 Dun & Bradstreet rating and more, The Albert M. Higley Co. has a well-earned reputation for quality that extends back almost 90 years, but maintains its vision on the future.

“In the coming years, I would like to see us performing in excess of $300 million per year; we’re at about $175 million now,” comments Mr. Vaughan. “And I say that not because I’m concerned about the amount of revenue, but the leaders coming up are going to require us to get more business and to do more, so they can take on larger roles. This is a constrained market in Cleveland, and I think we’re going to need to be in some other places, at least on a per-project basis. I would like us to be seen as the most customer-centric construction company, certainly in Ohio, and maybe beyond.”

June 19, 2018, 8:12 AM EDT

A Proactive Approach to Resolving a Longstanding Debate

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