Engineering a growth spurt after revenue dip
Becht leverages staff expertise into larger client roster
The Becht Engineering family of companies says it is on track to grow 30 percent in 2012, to more than $40 billion in revenue.
Charles "Chuck" Becht IV oversees the unit that works on huge projects worldwide, from the Panama Canal to the Alaskan oil fields, and he got the company growing after the recession by seeking clients who are willing to pay for high-level expertise.
The 2012 surge is a turnaround from 2009 and 2010, when revenue dipped a combined 20 percent. Back then Becht was doing a certain amount of what he called "low barrier to entry" jobs that were vulnerable to price competition.
Growth resumed in 2011, and in 2013 "we are conservatively predicting 10 percent growth, but it could be 30 percent," he said.
One Becht specialty is turnarounds–orchestrating the shutdown of refineries and other industrial process plants for maintenance.
"A lot of money is spent on turnarounds, and when you are shut down, you may have $1 million a day of lost opportunity because you are not running the plant," said Becht, noting his company can help stem those losses. Earlier this year, the company planned and oversaw the turnaround of the central compressor plant on the North Slope of Alaska. Initial estimates projected a 50-day shutdown, but Becht helped get it done in 28 days, saving an estimated $75 million.
Troubleshooting is another specialty. When some cement-pouring equipment malfunctioned during the Panama Canal widening project, Becht was hired to study the situation and recommend corrective steps.
Heavy lifts by huge cranes is another sweet spot at Becht. The federal government is responding to some recent crane accidents by "putting more responsibilities on the owners of facilities: they can't just say, 'I hired this mechanical contractor and this crane company and they were supposed to do the right thing,'" Becht said. His company will come on board "to oversee and review what is being done, and identify if anything is being done wrong that might be a potential accident waiting to happen."
Often the company's work involves designing reliability into an operation, and Becht argued that investments in reliability hit the bottom line. "It's an upfront investment, but once you've got the facility functioning well, it pays itself back in spades."
When his father Charles Becht III founded the business in 1964, it primarily did engineering for buildings, often working with the architect. In 2006 that unit became Becht Engineering Building Technology, and the elder Becht is CEO of that company and runs it with his daughter Laurie Becht, vice president, and Robert Bryant, president. The unit that works on refineries and process plants, Becht Engineering Co. Inc., is headed by Chuck Becht IV, who works with his wife Mary Becht and their sons Charles Becht V and John Becht.
Another affiliate, Helidex Offshore, manufactures and installs aluminum helicopter-landing platforms on ships and offshore oil drilling rigs throughout the world, as well as at the Revel casino in Atlantic City. A laser scanning affiliate, Sonomatic, creates 3D images of the inside of an industrial facility so the engineers can design new interior equipment.
The company has about 200 employees and brings in other professionals on temporary assignments as needed. Becht has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and is an authority on pressure vessels, pipes and high-temperature design. Becht said the company attracts "technical experts who feel proud to be part of a pace-setting organization. We are experts in the equipment you find in refineries and chemical plants and nuclear power plants."
Becht said he recruits experts and affords them a fair degree of autonomy; these professionals "would not be working for me if I was a micromanager. I empower the people that work for me. I do not punish mistakes. We try to prevent, correct and learn from mistakes, but there are never harsh words nor punishment for mistakes."
Becht was named the 2012 New Jersey Family Business of the Year in the over $10 million revenue category by the Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurship at Fairleigh Dickinson University. James Barrood, executive director of Rothman, said the company was recognized in part because it has grown by recruiting highly qualified staff from outside the family. "The family empowers their employees to take responsibility and grow their respective areas of business. Their employees have returned that commitment and loyalty, as evidenced by unusually high employee retention rates."
Nick Martin, a commercial banker for PNC Bank who came to know the company through the Rothman award program, said Becht knows how to delegate, which helps him fill key positions at the company.
"He … gives them the opportunity to be entrepreneurs within the company—to grow and develop businesses in their expertise," said Martin. "He can quickly evaluate the work that needs to be done and make quick decisions. Then he has this laid-back style: he is not controlling and he can delegate, which enables him to find key people who can thrive when they are empowered."
E-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org