Steady as They Grow: How Top-Performing Construction Companies Approach Business Growth

Business growth is never an accident. As five ABC Top Performer companies make clear, it results from a combination of tangibles and intangibles—including a proactive mindset, a commitment to health and safety and a cautious appetite for risk.
By Erika Walter
February 14, 2024

Complacency isn’t a word you’ll find in the vocabulary of construction companies that are focused on growth. To thrive in an ever-changing, uncompromising marketplace, companies must continually grow, develop and improve their business strategies, goals and plans.

To find out what that means in 2024, we asked a group of Associated Builders and Contractors 2024 Top Performer member companies—which build the nation’s most enduring, innovative, high-quality construction projects, ranked by work hours—how they pursue and nurture business growth. Their perspectives reflect a diverse array of both construction segments—including procurement, electrical, industrial services, concrete, HVAC and plumbing—and locations, such as Maryland, Colorado, Ohio, California and Texas.

As it turns out, the success and vitality of construction companies nationwide depends on a mindset, strategic plan and goals that are the opposite of complacency. In our interviews, that boiled down to seven key takeaways:


“We need to clearly understand our capabilities and the opportunities the market is making available and then aggressively seek out and win those projects,” says Dan Freese, CEO of United Group Services Inc., headquartered in Cincinnati. “We find opportunities that meet our existing skill sets and competencies.”

According to Freese, constantly challenging itself is part of the 40-year-old industrial-services contractor’s DNA, making growth opportunities easy to identify. “That’s how we best understand what the future holds” he says, “so we can position ourselves to win the opportunities.”

Darlene East, president and CEO of Holes Incorporated, a specialty concrete contractor founded in 1972 and headquartered in Houston, agrees. Her company’s approach is to seek opportunities that complement its current portfolio of services.

“Our executive-team leaders are on the forefront of client communications, consistently working with our clients to identify jobsite challenges and concrete-removal needs,” East says. “Our extensive involvement with industry associations, like ABC, also allows us to have more candid conversations with industry leaders and gain valuable feedback that we can implement in our business practices.”

Cultivating trust with customers is essential to identifying growth opportunities, says Brent Greiner, president of Greiner Electric, a commercial electrical contractor based in Littleton, Colorado. The 27-year-old business has intentionally diversified its portfolio based on customer needs. “We want to make sure we have the foundation to handle our growth,” Greiner says.

Foundation and capabilities go hand in hand, according to San Diego–based Alpha Mechanical LLC, a mechanical and plumbing specialty contractor founded more than 20 years ago by Ukrainian immigrant Boris Barshak. More than 80% of the company’s customers are repeat clients. “Alpha approaches growth based on our resources first and foremost,” says President Renee Moore. “We ask how we can service our clients efficiently and effectively with the limitation we all face in business.

“Those limits can include a skilled workforce, talented management, equipment availability and financial strength,” Moore says. “Once those are answered, we strategically approach growth opportunities.”

Indeed, growth requires a thorough review of your strategic plan and market analysis—and targeting of new niches, says Robert “Buddy” Henley, president of Henley Construction Co. Inc. The 60-year-old commercial contractor, located in Gaithersburg, Maryland, relies on business partners, subcontractors and clients in identifying growth opportunities.

“We listen to what they need,” Henley says. “When there is potential to do work with a good team, the stars can align.”

Darlene and Kelly stand in front of a sign that reads The Holes Company


Health and safety are a core value for ABC Top Performer companies, deeply integrated into their decision-making process because it’s the right thing do to. But it’s also directly tied to growth. “In order to grow your business, you have to have a great safety record,” says Brent Dugan, Greiner’s safety director. “Our safety program is key, and Greiner has a strong reputation as a safe contractor to work for, and we have grown our workforce through that reputation.”

East describes safety as a teamwide commitment at Holes. “Each decision we make as a company, individual leader or team member is based on health and safety,” East says. “Although we are a small company, we make large investments in safety. Our field personnel are trained to be competent in safety and possess 30-hour OSHA and basic-plus certifications, plus they receive excavation training and silica training—just to name a few.”

Safety is likewise a current and future investment for Henley Construction. “Our most important assets are our people,” Henley says. “We want to keep our team members safe and healthy, and that includes their mental health. We equip managers with the tools they need to accomplish this.”

Mental health and total human health are also directly tied to the growth of United Group Services. “We are focused on all aspects of what is best for the craft professional,” Freese says. “That focus has brought us to a concentration on total human health, not just safety. I am a big supporter of counseling and suicide-prevention programs, and we even offer this to our subs. Everyone should have the opportunity to understand how important mental health is.”

The office interior of Greiner Electric


Technology and innovation are integral to increasing safety, productivity and profitability in the industry—so much so that their correlation to growth is undeniable. Moore attributes the quality of Alpha Mechanical’s projects to her leadership team’s innovative mindset. “It takes out-of-box thinking to engineer creative solutions and employ cutting-edge technologies,” she says.

“While continuous improvements bring change, quality must remain constant, and I’m proud that Alpha Mechanical adheres to the highest standards of quality in everything we do,” Moore continues. “We were one of the first regional specialty contractors to embrace design-build as a delivery method.”

Henley adds: “Tech and innovation help Henley Construction recruit the next generation of talent, and we make investments in the newest technologies. Because of our membership with ABC, we have access to new, cutting-edge technology that puts us ahead of the competition and helps us find better ways to do things more efficiently.”

East credits Holes’ solid relationships with manufacturers and industry leaders to help the company stay in front of safety and equipment technologies. Along those lines, United Group Services grows with technology that enables improving accuracy and quality through preconstruction design and planning—such as lasers—by expanding its fabrication capabilities. “Tech and innovation allow us to understand our productivity, improve our estimates, predict project outcomes and avoid change orders,” Freese says.


Henley Construction continues to expand its commercial contracting services in the Mid-Atlantic region through strong partnerships and promising opportunities. Similarly, United Group Services performs work in 48 states, choosing trusted clients that have growth opportunities for the services it provides. “We don’t have geographical boundary limitations, so we can focus on great clients,” Freese says. “Where there is a need and a challenge, we will step into it. We do the job well, then seek other opportunities.”

In its 27 years, Greiner Electric has grown from one location in Denver to five locations across Colorado and Wyoming. Holes has also branched out since it was founded in 1972, opening offices in Texas and allowing the company to mobilize and meet greater market demand. “The challenge to growth, however, is maintaining the level of exceptional service that our clients expect,” East notes. “To provide superior service, we implement extensive personnel recruitment processes that ensure that the right person is hired for any Holes job, and that they will uphold our values, mission and vision.”

Other Top Performer companies make that connection as well. “Alpha has always serviced Southern California and will occasionally travel for the right client and the right project,” Moore says. “Bringing on the right talent opens the doors for growth geographically and in new markets.”


Does business growth just happen—or is it something that requires deliberate effort? When we asked these Top Performer companies if they are contemplating organic growth strategies, such as leveraging existing resources and hiring talent in specific areas, or inorganic growth strategies, such as acquisitions and joint ventures, the answer was a resounding “both.” “At Greiner Electric,” Greiner says, “it’s a nice mix, because we don’t try to be all things to all people.”

But the mix of organic and inorganic growth ebbs and flows. “Historically, we have grown organically,” East says. “However, in the past three years, we have implemented inorganic methods of growth—for example, the purchase of new office space outside of Houston. We are looking at additional inorganic growth strategies in the future.”

The all-of-the-above focus at United Group Services means exceeding clients’ needs and meeting internal expectations. “All options are on the table when it comes to fulfilling those objectives,” Freese says. “We spend time understanding which industries will have work in the near future, and we are currently looking at another acquisition and new markets right now.”

Henley hat-tips ABC’s networking opportunities for his company’s organic and inorganic growth strategies. “We utilize organic strategies by bringing on new team members who have skills and competencies required to fit the market need,” Henley says. “Our inorganic strategies include acquisitions of companies that complement our suite of services in a different geographic area.”

Alpha Mechanical’s steam heat exchanger portion of an HVAC system at a Veterans Affairs facility in Long Beach, California.


While the business of construction can be risky, East and her leadership team at Holes plan for and stay in front of those risks. “To avoid hiring pitfalls, we implement a hiring strategy to ensure that the prospective employee aligns with our values, and we then invest in new hires, providing them with the training, resources and mentorship needed to be successful,” East says. “To avoid planning pitfalls, our executive team meets monthly and evaluates current goals, adjusting as needed and creating future goals to ensure continued growth.”

Alpha Mechanical and Henley Construction both anticipate economic and business environment volatility and adapt to it, with Moore noting: “You must evolve to customer needs and market demands.”

Henley adds: “General contractors are experiencing a lot of risks in the sub community because of the tight market. GCs must be so vigilant in vetting their subs. Payment and schedule systems are key to mitigating risks, as are getting the work completed and paid as quickly as possible.”
United Group Services challenges itself on a consistent basis to seek what is best, even in the midst of risk. “Losing what got you here and change can create fear,” Freese says. “You must weight those fears against what is needed to improve for sustainable growth. You must step out of that comfort zone, but the fine line comes with not overstepping. It’s important to maintain the consistency while still growing.”

Greiner agrees that overstepping what you’re ready to do as a company can create risks, but that’s part of growth. “It’s easy to overstep and take on a project that could cost you,” Greiner says. “It’s important to be conservative and calculated in your growth.”

Representatives from five of ABC's Top Performer companies


The individual matters to top-performing contractors, which is why it’s no coincidence that their business cultures are centered around their people. “The United leadership team does the hard work of making it easy—easy for our clients to build their projects, easy for our students to learn their craft and easy for our employees to choose United,” Freese says. “We hire those who are aligned with our values, and we are a group of competitive professionals who refuse to fail each other and our clients. It is that belief that attracts top talent.”

Henley offers continual training at all levels, from teaching and training in Spanish to safety training, maintaining certifications and project-management academies, so its people can grow in their careers. “It helps us grow,” Henley says. “I want to be there to help people. Every individual is different, so no one-size-fits-all answer addresses everyone’s challenges.”

Moore is also adamant that Alpha Mechanical’s people are what sets the company apart. “We recruit, retain and promote the best field and support personnel for each position—from design to project closeout,” Moore says. “As ultimate professionals, in addition to fostering our personnel’s development, we are continually reviewing and optimizing our internal processes to assure both employee and customer satisfaction, as well as steady growth for our business.”

That mindset feeds directly into Alpha Mechanical’s organizational culture. “A firm’s culture is the expression of core values—a set of beliefs held by the individuals at the top of the organization, flowing through all levels of the corporate environment,” Moore says. “Culture is what happens in the Alpha Mechanical universe every day, a rich fabric woven of the threads of conversations, tasks, projects involving staff, clients and the professionals of various disciplines who support us.”

The culture and mindset of Holes’ employees is one of respect and dignity, allowing its team to take measured and carefully analyzed steps toward new endeavors and opportunities for growth. “Because of our culture, many of our employees have been a part of the organization for decades,” East says. “We leverage our senior employees in terms of mentorship, client relationships and industry knowledge. We actively recruit from local colleges and universities to build the pipeline of talent. We provide excellent benefits and career paths.”


“Between stimulus and response, there is a space,” legendary management and leadership author Stephen R. Covey once wrote. “In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.”

In other words, freedom of choice and growth operate in tandem. The freedom to make strategic decisions, to build a culture of trust, to navigate risks, to set boundaries and to upskill a workforce—it all creates limitless potential for a construction company to grow. When you look at it that way, who has time for complacency?

by Erika Walter

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