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Book of Giants 2021

May 3, 2021
As the nation emerges from the pandemic our Giants have embraced new technology and invested in their people while continuing to deliver essential services for their clients.

This time last year the nation's shut-down was in full effect. Airlines were grounded, restaurants and stadiums were closed, and the steep and sudden dip in the economy—the COVID Recession—was ongoing, with more than 30 million Americans out of work. But even at that point, we were already asking some of the nation's top mechanical contractors what the "new normal" might look like.

A year has gone by and that picture has come into much sharper focus. For our Giants the pandemic has been a time both of challenges and of opportunity. By investing in their technology and committing to best practices, the nation's large MEP contractors have delivered for their clients while keeping their workers safe.

Murphy Company — Moving Forward; No Looking Back

The St. Louis-headquartered mechanical contractor has weathered the COVID storm and sets its sights on growing success through determination and a commitment to safety and keeping its crafts employed.

ST. LOUIS—When I spoke with Patrick J. Murphy Jr., president and CEO, Murphy Company—an annual Book of Giants nominee—it had been almost a year to the day that everything basically “shutdown” due to COVID-19, essentially crippling the U.S. economy and striking fear into every business—small and large—across the nation. It wasn’t long thereafter that the construction trades were deemed essential, keeping the pipeline of workers, working. But there came a point along the way where Murphy Company took the bull by the horns and forged its own destiny, pandemic or not.

Not applying for any PPP money, company leadership knew that it could only rely on its team’s grit, determination and commitment to safety to battle through the pandemic. During the panic in March of 2020, Murphy Company quickly developed a succinct strategy to guide itself successfully through the pandemic by “keeping its crafts employed and working safely.” 

According to Murphy, “We had conviction that this was our strongest path to retain our talented craft and salaried team and to offer valuable solutions to our highly demanding customer base in critical industries. Some cities were shutting down all businesses, including all construction. We pivoted hard and proactively had meaningful discussions with our political leaders at all levels of government along with open dialogue with the management of our labor partners, and of course our customers. We assured all of our partners that our talented team could ‘figure out how to work safely and keep the wheels of construction moving forward.’”

Within its Colorado and Missouri offices, the approach was aligned to “keep our crafts working,” says Murphy. The management team was always present in the office along with many members of the salaried team. On May 26, 2020, the salaried team returned to the office after working remotely for two months.

“We provided a healthy and safe office environment and rallied behind ‘Better Together.’ Safety is always our highest priority—we own that mindset. It is our culture,” says Murphy. “Our salaried team’s mission is to fully support our crafts and our customers. Our crafts are doing amazing activities to support the customers while providing for their families.”

Murphy Company’s teams were very creative in the way they managed installations and placed even more emphasis on fabrication. “I feel that self- performing contractors were better suited to deal with the pandemic when compared to other industries,” says Murphy.

The company also created portable hand-washing stations to assist all crafts and keep jobsites open. “We work in an industry that is always changing. We are used to ever-changing conditions and have to adapt quickly. We cannot always find the perfect answer, but sitting, waiting or hiding until someone presents a 100% solution is not an option for successful contractors. Rather, we figure it out, find a workable solution and adapt as we learn,” says Murphy.

The executive leadership team determined that it was not going to be hide from adversity. “Our talented crafts and project management can work safely together in challenging conditions on jobsites and facilities, and certainly our salaried staff can do the same in our healthy offices. We have a reputation of delivering a high level of service to both our internal and external customers,” says Murphy.

Murphy Company’s team supported the critical activities of health care, manufacturing, biopharmaceutical, industrial and commercial facilities. Activities included converting hospital patient floors to COVID floors, maintaining waste water treatment facilities, supporting the biopharmaceutical industry, and getting offices prepared for return to work with cleaner air and water, etc.

Another thing Murphy attributes to continued company success throughout this tough past year was joining a peer group. Seven CEOs of large mechanical contractors—which tallied more than $2 billion of combined revenue—would talk every Friday afternoon. “Being in the peer group during the pandemic was invaluable as it featured various levels of construction and it provided a fantastic sounding board of ideas, hearing other problems/solutions from around the country.”

Fast forward to 2021, and it’s all systems go. According to Murphy, “Vaccinations are leading the way out of the pandemic much quicker than most expected, yet, at this point, we need to move past 100% vaccination and we just need to go. It’s time for CEOs to act with courage and conviction and get their team back to their offices, in all lines of business in every city.” says Murphy. “We needed to figure this thing out on our own.”

And figure it out they did, as the company, already working on its 2022 fiscal year, is seeing a 15 percent growth. Pretty impressive considering that part of Murphy Company’s business is servicing the commercial markets, which were some of the hardest hit in the plumbing, HVAC and mechanical trades—due to many companies not returning to their offices yet. Ironically, the company saw a slight dip in small-to-medium healthcare work.

Murphy Company’s “figure-it-out” attitude, courage, competency and its “Better Together” commitment led to one of its most successful years in its 114-year history. Moving into the future, the company has built the strongest backlog in its history, added additional talented people to the team and found new market opportunities.

Recently, the newly-proposed American Jobs Plan adopted by the current administration offers a glimmer of hope for America’s infrastructure, but according to Murphy, “You can’t pay attention to it; it’s all conjecture at this point. We’ll have to see it to believe it.”

In the future, Microsoft Teams certainly will be used in many applications throughout the business; Microsoft Teams has allowed the company to better communicate with both larger and smaller groups in a timely and efficient manner. “And while we can effectively work remotely when it is necessary, it is not sustainable to our culture and our customers expect more from us,” says Murphy.

Personally, Murphy looks forward to the day without COVID trepidation. “I look forward to ‘maskless’ face-to-face events with our employees and their families, especially employee family picnics, years of service awards and the impromptu happy hour,” says Murphy.

John W. Danforth Company — Continued Long-Term Success

Danforth came through 2020, and the unpredictability that accompanied it, strong and as focused as ever.

TONAWNADA, NY — As we bid farewell to 2020, and all of the uncertainty that came with it, all eyes are on 2021 and beyond as companies hope to get back to some sense of normalcy. An example of its proactiveness, John W. Danforth Company, Tonawanda, N.Y.—a top Book of Giants mainstay—is expanding its focus on data.

“We view data as a vital product that helps drive success. As we start 2021, we are giving greater attention to developing, implementing and managing the overall process of data collection and analysis, bringing together various internal teams in that process. We want to ensure that Danforth’s overall data strategy and architecture deliver accurate, transparent and up-to-date information for decision-making, and that we are getting peak return on investment from our data collection and analysis initiatives,” says, Patrick W. McParlane, President and COO, John W. Danforth Company.

Optimistic for 2021 and what lies lies ahead, according to McParlane, “Several markets we serve actually accelerated their needs during the onset of the pandemic, both in construction and service, so we started the year with a strong backlog of work. Many of the other vertical markets we serve are showing signs of coming back.”

The pandemic created new dynamics for businesses to re-open and operate safely. Even in an area like commercial operations, where businesses may be taking a new look at when and how they bring workers back into their office, says McParlane, there are new considerations for how that might look. “So, we have noticed in many cases our clients have adjusted to the new normal with a clearer understanding of their financial situation and business needs. We believe there is a lot of pent-up demand for construction and service due to the dynamics of last year, and we will all start to see the results now and through the remainder of 2021,” says McParlane.

Operationally, Danforth has embraced the importance of providing communication and guidance to every area of the company. Virtual communication has largely become the norm for the employees in the office and out in the field, and remote work and meetings have become more relevant in daily operations. These include, but are not limited to, team updates, client meetings, project kickoffs, bid meetings and project descoping. This will never replace the dynamics of in-person interaction and collaboration, but the ability to work effectively in real-time, even remotely, helped the company remain productive without missing a beat.

Evolution of Technology & Processes

Continuous improvement has always been one of the mantras at Danforth. In keeping with that, the company is always striving to identify and embrace efficiencies and better processes that ultimately help deliver projects for clients that meet their operational and budgetary needs while meeting and exceeding their expectations. “That is the standard to which we hold ourselves. Our industry is dynamic, so, in order to deliver industry-leading experiences, our belief is that you have to remain lean and agile to react to business demands. We’ve always operated that way and we continue to do so,” says McParlane.

Virtual Design & Construction (VDC) Services continues to be an area of difference for Danforth. The VDC process has evolved over the last 30 years with the continuous improvements in software and technology.

“Newer technology gives us, as the contractor, the ability to create fully coordinated 3D models in a much more efficient manner than in years past. Being able to troubleshoot and identify clashes with other trades or architectural and structural elements ahead of time allows us to fully implement our preconstruction procedures and maximize shop prefabrication and field installation. We are able to get ahead of certain processes, provide accurate information and details to our field teams, streamline processes and workflows, and get materials to the field more quickly,” says McParlane.

This comes with the added advantage of getting on the jobsite sooner and claiming space for pipe and duct installation prior to the disruption of other trades. “We know that the more we utilize our VDC services, the more we can then utilize our shop fabrication production. This helps drive productivity while providing a safer and more controlled environment for our team,” continues McParlane.

Moving forward, the thing that excites McParlane most about the future is his team. “Our people are Danforth’s greatest asset and the reason for our success. When you look at what happened throughout 2020, it was an unimaginable scenario. Yet, we came through that unpredictability as strong and as focused as ever,” says McParlane.

That simply doesn’t happen without an exceptional team, from top-to-bottom and across every area of the company. Processes and procedures are irrelevant without the proper team to execute. “We are 100% employee-owned company and as an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) organization, we all have skin in the game. That strengthens our collective resolve to meet every challenge, whether it’s a project or whether it’s a once-in-a-lifetime scenario that challenges the global marketplace. We believe in the power of our people, and, in turn, our employees believe in Danforth. That’s a recipe for continued long-term success, which is exciting,” says McParlane. [John W. Danforth was named CONTRACTOR's Contractor of the Year in January of 2021.]

J.C. Cannistraro LLC — Prioritization of Health and Sustainability

Proactive and sustainable measures put Boston-area mechanical contractor on the road to recovery and long-term success.

WATERTOWN, MASS.— Many parts of the country fared better than others at the beginning of the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns. Boston wasn’t without its initial hardships, with a city-wide mandate to shut down commercial projects created uncertainty and trepidation for many businesses. As time passed, and the trades were deemed essential, companies like J.C. Cannistraro rose from the COVID darkness, and what could have been.

Motivated by the seriousness of the situation, J.C. Cannistraro’s people came together during the pandemic like never before. Human resources, Safety, Operations, IT—all groups worked together to rally around our two collective goals: to protect the health of its people, and to preserve the long-term stability of the company. “We saw young managers rise to the occasion and collaboration across the board. Coincidentally, over the past few years we have invested in improvements to our IT infrastructure, so we were able to move smoothly to remote work,” says David Cannistraro, CEO, J.C. Cannistraro.

The short-term looks bright for the New England company. “Although short-term commodity pricing has increased, we have not yet seen an impact to our projects. Right now, we have a very strong pipeline of lab, healthcare and R&D projects in the local market. Boston and Cambridge, in particular, have a solid backlog of this type of work, and we will be staying busy,” says Cannistraro.

Before the pandemic, J.C. Cannistraro permitted just a few employees to work from home under certain circumstances. Now, the company has embraced the “hybrid” approach as the company standard wherever possible. It remains important to support the field and shop personnel with a strong in-person company culture, and that will not change. “But we embrace the flexibility and efficiency that remote work can bring,” says Cannistraro.

J.C. Cannistraro learned that it could survive and operate without seeing people in person, “but we became acutely aware of the positive impact that in-person interaction has on our lives and on our work. Moving forward, we are grateful for flexibility. There are certain instances when a big, in-person meeting simply isn’t the best approach, or when the option to ‘call-in’ will make it possible for certain people to ‘be in the room.’ This makes space for prioritizing the in-person interactions that are well worth it, and that we are very happy to see return,” says Cannistraro.

According to Cannistraro, the company has embraced many technologies over the years, and it has found that there are really two questions that determine interest in these investments: Does it increase efficiency on the jobsite? And, does it improve the health, safety and welfare of our workers? “If so, we’re interested,” says Cannistraro.

One reliable construction method for Cannistraro, especially during COVID, is prefabrication. “Prefab has always been a key aspect of our construction strategy. Three years ago, we opened a 150,000 square foot fabrication facility in Boston, a few miles from all our major projects and with every one of our trades under one roof. This shop (The FID) allowed us to decrease crew sizes in the field, while keeping up the demands of project schedules in a controlled and safe environment,” says Cannistraro.

Moving forward, the company is really excited to see, well, people again. More importantly, “we are excited to see the prioritization of health and sustainability that this pandemic has necessitated. Replacing fossil-fuel driven equipment and systems with electric. Making healthy building improvements to more and more facilities that we work on. Covid or not, improving indoor-air quality in our schools and in our offices is a win for everyone,” says Cannistaro.

TDIndustries — Celebrating 75 Years of Servant Leadership

The company prides itself on being able to support the needs a building's entire life-cycle.

DALLAS, TX -- In April, TDIndustries, Inc. marked 75 years of excellence through servant leadership and trusted partnerships as a premier mechanical construction and facility services contractor. Founded as Texas Distributors in Dallas, TX in 1946 by Jack Lowe, Sr. the founder's son Jack Lowe, Jr. joined Valerie Sokolosky for a special segment podcast, "Doing it Right!" as a kick-off to TD's 75th anniversary.

"TDIndustries is celebrating 75 years, and I know without a doubt that dad would be so proud of the Partners who have helped make this brand feel like home," shares Jack Lowe, Jr., former TDIndustries CEO and Chairman of the Board. "Though our roots are planted here in Dallas, it's incredible to see how much we've grown to a vast portfolio of geographies – all thanks to our wonderful customers who have trusted us over the years to support them with critical building services."

For 75 years, TD's employee-owners have provided services that support a building's total life-cycle needs, from engineering and construction to service, maintenance and integrated facilities management; with safety and quality as company priorities. Serving various industries, including aviation, commercial/office buildings, education, entertainment/hospitality, government facilities, healthcare, life sciences, manufacturing, sports, data centers, multi-family and essential institutions, TD operates throughout the Southwest.

Projects include:  DFW Airport- Terminal A, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Houston Community College, Arizona State University-Block 12, Globe Life Field and Globe Life Park, Houston First, Texas Scottish Rite for Children Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center, Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute, Yuma Regional Medical Center Emergency. Cook Children's Medical Center, Insys Therapeutics, American Airline Center, Dickies Arena, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, AT&T Stadium, Baylor's McLane Stadium, ExxonMobil Campus, The McKenzie and more. To view a comprehensive list of TD projects, visit

With a motto of "At the Heart of Your Building", TD also works to be at the heart of its community. Charitable partnerships with United Way and Jack Lowe Sr. Elementary in Dallas, TX (named for TD's Founder) are two of several organizations that employees have been supporting for decades. In addition, TD geographies in other areas of Texas and Arizona support Meals on Wheels, American Heart Association, Arizona Child Crisis Center, Ronald McDonald House and Bike Build just to name a few.

TD has earned numerous industry awards, safety and culture awards, including recognition for 21 consecutive years as FORTUNE Magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For®." TD's foundation of servant leadership is supported by building and maintaining trusting partnerships, a fierce safety culture, the celebration of diversity and the passion for pursuing excellence. [TDIndustries was named CONTRACTOR's Contractor of the Year in 2020.]

University Mechanical Contractors — Investing in High-Tech

UMC is expanding its business model with a new high-tech offering.

SEATTLE/MUKILTEO, WA — UMC launches its new line of business: “Reality Capture + Equipment”. The Reality Capture team offers clients leading edge laser scanning services to perform quality assurance/quality control, construction verification, and deviation reporting. It allows documentation of large sites in a fraction of the time it would take utilizing traditional methods.

Leveraging their long history in model-based design and BIM management, UMC is using that knowledge to customize reality capture methods to the specific needs of the client. The result is trusted data and forward-thinking use cases for the models produced with these new tools.

Reality capture is a service that has a need in both the world of new construction and the existing built environment. Clients are increasingly looking for ways to visualize and document the physical assets of the real estate portfolio. By having virtual models of their portfolio, asset managers can understand what they have across multiple sites by treating their entire portfolio like a database that can be searched and analyzed.

“There is a void in expertise on how to efficiently utilize reality capture in the construction and real estate world,” said Steve Brooks, president. “UMC has chosen to dive in and become the technical and practical expert in applying the emerging technology of high-resolution scanning to the construction trades.”

UMC is an authorized dealer of Leica scanning and total station equipment. Having direct access to industry leading technology allows UMC to provide hardware and software solutions and ongoing consultation for clients looking to adopt this technology into their business.

Laser scanning and the associated equipment are becoming faster and more advanced daily. The speed and reliability UMC’s scanning teams provide, coupled with cloud-based analysis, rapidly decreases the cost to clients. Simply put, this technology allows projects of all sizes the benefits of speed, accuracy, detail, and quality.

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