Posted 4/28/2014 12:00 am
Updated 4 months ago
For 67 years, Baldwin & Shell Construction Co. of Little Rock turned down jobs outside of Arkansas.
That self-imposed policy changed last year when the construction company did some renovation work in Nashville, Tenn., on a natural gas fueling station for Trillium CNG of Chicago. That change ushered in a new era for the company, founded in 1946.
In January, Baldwin & Shell announced that Scott Copas, who had been with the company since 1977, was its new president and CEO, replacing the longtime head of the firm, Bob Shell. Shell, 83, remains at the company as chairman.
The news came on the heels of Nabholz Construction Corp. of Conway, another of the state’s largest commercial contractors, announcing that it also had a new CEO, Greg Williams, who replaced Bill Hannah on Jan. 1. Hannah also remains at Nabholz as chairman of the board.
At Baldwin & Shell, Copas plans to grow the company by renewing some services and for the first time courting construction jobs outside the borders of Arkansas.
“There’s only a limited amount of construction work in the state of Arkansas,” Copas said in his office at the company’s headquarters last week. “Now we’ll follow our clients wherever they want us to go.”
Copas, 61, hopes the expansion outside Arkansas and the focus on other lines of service will boost the company’s revenue.
Baldwin & Shell’s revenue in 2013 was $88.8 million, down 10.1 percent from the previous year and 58 percent off from 2010 when the company’s revenue reached a high-water mark of $211.1 million.
Copas blamed the 2013 drop in revenue on the scrapping of a $45 million school project the company had planned to do in Jacksonville. In addition, he said, the North Little Rock School District’s $223 million capital improvement program, which Baldwin & Shell is working on along with other contractors, was delayed nearly a year.
Still, its revenue was strong enough to place the company at No. 4 on Arkansas Business’ list of the largest commercial contractors in Arkansas based on revenue.
Copas said that the company’s revenue is expected to increase 30 to 35 percent in 2014 over 2013’s numbers.
“You’re starting to see private money come back into the economy for the development of retail,” he said. “And that was a large part of our business at one time.”
During the Great Recession, school-related projects propped up revenue for Baldwin & Shell while the private industry “just basically died for five years,” Copas said.
But now those private jobs are starting to bloom.
Copas said that he expects the company’s baseline annual revenue to be in the $175 million to $200 million range.
Baldwin & Shell’s philosophy of only doing Arkansas projects dates back to the company’s founders, Copas said. “They felt like we needed to stay within a reasonable distance so we could react to a problem,” he said.
But with the Internet, cellphones and other ways to communicate or travel quickly, “that’s not a problem for us,” he said.
Baldwin & Shell is hoping to land a construction project in Memphis for a manufacturing company. But the deal wasn’t final as of last week and Copas declined to discuss it.
“We’re moving forward and creating all kinds of opportunities for not only our employees but the clients that are going out of state,” he said.
Shell told Arkansas Business last week that the company is “tippy-toeing” into markets close to cities where Baldwin & Shell has its other offices: Jonesboro and Rogers. Tennessee, Oklahoma and Missouri are the target states for growth, he said. Copas also said he plans to expand the services Baldwin & Shell offers.
“We used to be very strong in industrial work” in the late 1970s, he said. But that work slipped away over the years.
Baldwin & Shell also wants to handle the concrete and steel work on the projects, which has traditionally been done by subcontractors.
“A lot of the things we did 30 years ago,” Copas said. “We’re going back and training our people to provide those services. … You have better control of the projects if we’re the ones performing the work.”
Baldwin & Shell’s construction services division also will be expected to generate revenue, he said. That area handles a lot of finish-out projects for retailers, restaurants and other businesses.
Baldwin & Shell spent 2013 on a strategic plan for the company.
“It included a lot of things,” Copas said. “How do we keep and solicit the best employees? How do we redesign our marketing strategies for new clients and existing clients?”
“Building better office environments,” says one of the company’s new ads, and under the company’s name: “Building Relationships.”
“Our ads are simple, fresh and to the point,” Copas said.
The ad campaign was created by Group Five West Inc. of Little Rock, a full service marketing and advertising firm.
He said the marketing push is designed to keep Baldwin & Shell’s name before the public, so when a company is looking for a contractor, “our name is always being considered,” Copas said. “If we can get a chance to get to the table, we’re normally quite successful.”
Road to CEO
Copas joined the company in July 1977 as an estimator, calculating the price of projects before a bid is submitted. Within a few years, he was promoted to senior project manager.
In 1983, he became a vice president and a principal in charge of projects. That was the same year that Shell, who had been with the company since 1950, became the company’s president.
Copas continued to receive promotions and in 2012 was named executive vice president and chief operating officer.
His management philosophy is to let his department heads handle the work and not micromanage them.
“I look for highly qualified, highly educated creative people to step up to the plate and manage the operations of the company,” Copas said. “And I think it’s my job to take the vision of the board and the vision of the partners to the next level and find the real talent in the company and put them in the appropriate positions.”
In 2012, Shell “knew that we needed to transition the responsibilities for running the company over to me,” Copas said.
The move was a natural fit for Copas, who had been handling a lot of the management responsibilities for several years anyway.
“We had a three-year transition period, but we did not formally announce it to anybody,” he said. “So it really wasn’t a huge change in 2014 for me to take over as CEO.”