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When making rounds at PEBCOR (dba Big-D Metalworks) in Dallas, a question that might get different answers at other companies receives the same, exuberant reply. What do you enjoy most about working here? “The people.” 

This might be because the projects are challenging and, as several employees point out, no two days are the same. Maybe it’s because Big-D insists on corporate fiscal responsibility and trains team members on personal financial management. Perhaps it’s due to ongoing leadership training, with Leadership Training Pods available to everyone from the superintendent level and above. It could also be the calculated divestiture of all major shares in favor of creating an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), allowing for all teammates to build a growing retirement fund with their own daily work efforts. (Nearly 50% of Big-D’s ESOP is owned by craft personnel and over 60% is owned by minority and women team members.) 

Or it could be an overall attitude encompassed by, as President Curtis Witter puts it, a refusal to even use that word: employee. “We prefer teammates,” he says. 

THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

Phillip Hoppman, chairman and CEO, agrees that the unique company environment is key to success. “It’s not a family business, but it’s like family,” he says. “We treat each other respectfully, we get together outside of work, we enjoy each other’s company. There are times that we sweat and cry and swear—like a band of brothers. We’re protective of one another because when things get tough, we know things are going to get better much more quickly if we work together.”

One of the primary reasons for this camaraderie is that “everybody here owns a piece of the pie,” Hoppman says. From the company values to project team structures to mentorship philosophy, Big-D Metalworks operates on the basis of an overarching theme—Own the company, own the process, own your future—top to bottom.

Hoppman’s son, Kevin Hoppman, sales and estimating, joined the team in 2009. Although he started his post-graduate career as a pro golfer, he came to Big-D during a tumultuous moment for the American economy—when jobs were slim. His steady rise through the ranks is a prime example of what Big-D’s culture can accomplish, and Hoppman has now earned the opportunity to assume leadership of the entire sales and estimating department.  

The catalyst that turned Kevin Hoppman’s start-up position into a lifelong career was greater than an ESOP. “It’s a definite perk, a reward—but you reap the benefits of being in an ESOP when you get to retirement,” he says. “It has to be more than waiting for that pot of gold at the end of the road to get you out of bed in the morning ready to go to work. And that impetus for me is being part of a team that’s working toward the same goal.” Kevin Hoppman describes other drivers, too, such as a feeling of “getting” to go to work instead of “having” to go to work—an inseparable passion easily identifiable in the trades. 

Curt Witter had a similar experience decades ago when he first started at the company. “This is year 40 of my summer job,” he says. After graduating high school, he picked up odd jobs until he landed at Big-D, where his brother Bruce happened to be in partnership with Phillip Hoppman. This opportunity was a good fit, as Witter’s father had worked both in construction and as a tool and die maker, ensuring that Witter inherited a familiarity with the trades. In fact, one of Witter’s strengths is that he has personally worked his way up the ranks, filling many roles—digging post holes, fabricating products, measuring and designing jobs, as well as managing projects, etc. Further, his passion for the work doesn’t stay at Big-D when he clocks out for the day.

“I enjoy our craft so much that I set up a small workshop at my home to build small personal projects in my spare time,” he says. 

With staff so connected to the work, it would be impossible for those at Big-D Metalworks to imagine treating workforce members like another cog in the machine. 

INSPIRATION AND PERSPIRATION

Good teamwork is not a linear composition. Nor does it evolve in two-dimensions. It wouldn’t be trite, then, to say that those in the trades work so well in a group because true collaboration harmonizes in the form of a three-dimensional building, with the ability to offer assistance from all sides. 

Just such a configuration exists at Big-D Metalworks, where they have turned complicated business concerns into multifaceted solutions. For instance, instead of working on what Witter has termed the “bleeding edge” of technology, Big-D focuses its budget on the “cutting edge,” fine tuning the power of the small business budget and keeping it ahead of the curve. 

As an example, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the company was more prepared than some of its counterparts because it had already implemented technology, such as Zoom and Bluebeam, for office staff to work remotely. Big-D has been using that technology to interface more efficiently with clients at many project sites across the United States. 

Still another initiative that appears seamless is succession planning. At Big-D Metalworks, everyone from the superintendent level and above works to develop leadership skills. This indicates that anyone on staff is eligible for future leadership positions. Succession planning isn’t a chore or a struggle because it—and its close companion, mentorship—are a constant.

“Working to inspire others to do more for themselves—that’s re-engineering yourself to lead others rather than being mechanical and doing your job every day,” Witter says. 

“It’s very powerful,” Servando “JR” Molina, project manager, says of the leadership training course. His thirst to pursue leadership training has resulted in his selection—alongside Kevin Hoppman—as one of the next top executives at Big-D. One of their primary focuses will be to continue the training and mentoring that served them so well in order to staff future growth. 

Each of those in the executive tier—Witter, Molina, Kevin Hoppman and Jim Ciancio, vice president and sales manager—credit Phillip Hoppman as their own mentor, an inspiration to their personal development, to the company and to the industry at large. It was, after all, Phillip Hoppman who first founded Big-D Metalworks in 1981 with two of his friends after they had each worked at other companies and believed being an independent owner would be ideal. It is also Phillip Hoppman who served as chairman of his local ABC chapter in 1999, chaired the ABC Free Enterprise Alliance for five years, fulfilled a three-year term on the ABC Executive Committee, including as chair-elect in 2015 and currently serves as chairman of the Construction Legal Rights Foundation. 

The elder Hoppman, however, only humbly turns the tables. “Everybody in this room leads by example,” he says of himself, Witter, Kevin Hoppman, Molina and Ciancio. “There isn’t anyone who isn’t willing to put forth the extra effort, to give someone a compliment or have a private conversation when it needs to occur.” 

Phillip Hoppman’s own inspiration to this day is his father, who “taught me how to be hungry,” he says. 

Phillip Hoppman’s father quit high school at age 16 to to help support the family because his own father (Hoppman’s grandfather) was ill with liver disease. Later in life, he was turned down for a promotion because he didn’t have a high school degree. Phillip Hoppman watched his father attend night school to earn both his high school diploma—and several subsequent promotions—while working each day to become better at his craft. This is a life lesson that Hoppman works to impart to each of his fellow owners at Big-D Metalworks. To him, that is the crux of mentorship.

“The word ownership transcends owning a part of the company as a participant in the ESOP. It also encompasses owning your own personal future and taking responsibility to develop your own talents. In addition, it includes owning your part of the project delivery process and delivering excellent customer service,” Phillip Hoppman says.

GOING FOR GOLD

Quality service is just as critical for the company as workforce satisfaction. Big D’s sales data reveals that 90% of sales are from repeat clients. This level of loyalty stems from a perfected project management process.

“Our problem solving is one of our biggest strengths,” Molina says. “We don’t just come to our customers with issues. We come to them with solutions.”
Over the years, problem-solving has driven Big-D’s leaders to change the way they collect measurements on customer satisfaction. Questing for more input, the survey process was shifted to a call-based interview with Ciancio contacting each client after completion of their project-amounting to 45 or 55 total surveys per year. The grading scale is from 1-4, with any number less than a “4” considered unacceptable. Further, a post-completion review is conducted after every project to improve the delivery process.  

The final question on each survey, “Can you think of anything Big-D could or should have done to make the project more successful?” is one that is asked daily in-house. 

“As far as I’m concerned, negative feedback is more important than positive feedback. You can’t fix something unless you know there’s something wrong,” Ciancio says. Over a 20-year period, Ciancio has never had a client say they would not welcome back the exact same project team. It’s a statistic that finds its roots in the company soil. 

“Constant improvement and excellent customer satisfaction can only occur if we take responsibility for our future,” Phillip Hoppman says.

IN THE SWIM OF THINGS

Sink or swim. Big D’s dedication to staying afloat together—and receiving ABC’s award for Contractor of the Year does indicate significant buoyancy—is something that lifts it above the rest. Any other time the company has received an award (they have 74 to be exact), each member of the team who worked on the project receives an award plaque to take home. One individual has so many awards on his wall, he complained that his home was running out of room. 

This record of achievement aside, this particular award has a resonance for the niche contractor. 

“If you look at the awards around the building, those are for specific projects,” Kevin Hoppman says. “This is recognition of the entire entity.”

And while words were passed around reverently: Proud. Flabbergasted. Shocked. Humbled.—Witter notes that the award is not only a feather in the cap of four decades of merit shop service, it’s another chance to motivate. “Hopefully this will encourage our team members to keep working to improve a little more each day,” he says.  

PEOPLE POWER

When the umbrella company, PEBCOR, was incepted in 1981, there were always plans to morph the company into a thriving business replete with craftspeople who might journey the country to combine engineering, fabrication and installation in intricate, functional designs. The company recently purchased some adjacent real estate and is working on plans to use it to continue expanding on its initial vision. 

First to volunteer for advocacy efforts, it’s no surprise that the company is also an early adopter of ABC’s STEP and AQC programs. 

Big-D’s industry and community involvement extends beyond ABC to other associations, such as the American Subcontractor Association, the National Ornamental and Miscellaneous Metals Association and National Association of Manufacturers. Community and industry volunteerism are a high priority for Big-D.

Now, spanning three acres, Big-D Metalworks has produced major projects that include the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco; McKinsey and Company in Atlanta; the Reliance Building in Chicago; and the Dallas Police Memorial in Texas.

Throughout the shifts and changes, from those early days to modern excellence, the consistent thread in Big-D’s timeline has been a dominant, workforce-first culture and an equal commitment to customer service. 

It’s no wonder that a saying at their headquarters is, “We continuously train our talented people. Oh yeah—and we also build staircases.”  

 

PRIDE OF PLACE 

Big-D Metalworks, while located in Dallas, services areas nationwide. Description, however verbose, cannot do justice to the intricacies of their craft nor the fruits of those labors. While all projects adorn the walls of Big-D Metalworks, these are a few of those that demonstrate the complexity of design available at this small category contractor.



Cockrell School of Engineering – Engineering Education and Research Center. Owner: University of Texas. General Contractor: Hensel Phelps Construction Company. Architect: Jacobs | Ennead Architects. Location: Austin, Texas.



Gardere Owner: Foley & Lardner LLP. General Contractor: Pacific Builders. Architect: Gensler. Location: Dallas



Clifford Chance. Owner: Clifford Chance LLP. General Contractor: Rand* Construction Corporation. Architect: Gensler Location: Washington, D.C.



McKinsey & Company. Owner: McKinsey & Company. General Contractor: HITT Contracting Inc. Architect: HOK. Location: Atlanta.

 

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