From the Ground Up

Build Group was founded at the start of the recession, where unfortunate timing resulted in a practical business strategy

The Marlow Condominiums project was the first Build completed using a tower crane. It was implemented on time, despite multiple changes to the project
The Marlow Condominiums project was the first Build completed using a tower crane. It was implemented on time, despite multiple changes to the project

With more than sixty years of construction experience and at the peak of the building boom, Ross Edwards and Eric Horn decided it was time to leave Webcor and start their own business. Build Group Inc. was founded in April 2007. Little did either of the partners know that the company’s foundation would be shaped by the economic downturn. “That time in our company’s history we termed ‘nuclear winter,’” says Edwards.

Build Group managed to survive by keeping a very lean staff and partnering with several companies. “We pursued all kinds of different avenues in our business hoping we could find some traction,” says Edwards, who serves as the company’s president and chief executive officer.

The company’s first two projects were in San Francisco—Mint Plaza, a public space remodel, and two Cable Car Kiosk ticketing stations. Build Group also sought troubled projects that needed assistance and took over management of an existing concrete operation, which ultimately led to the founding of its concrete company. A bit of trading was done as well; Build Group worked for a developer in exchange for office space. Although a challenging endeavor, it was during this “nuclear winter” that Build Group established three driving factors of the company: innovation, how to be frugal, and creativity.

The company has come a long way since its rocky start. Today it is one of the fastest growing general contracting and concrete subcontracting companies in the Bay Area. Since 2009, the company’s estimated revenue has grown from $3 million to $400 million. Despite rapid growth, the company wants to keep to its key strategy of a flat business model. “It allows us to change gears quickly and make decisions without multiple layers of reporting structures involved,” Edwards says. “However, as we have grown, we have had to start adding layers to our structure to be sure our company is doing things with good processes and consistency across the board.”

Edwards also attributes the company’s success to its metrics program, which measures each employee’s skills. “To bolster our ability to get maximum production, they are measured on submittals, issues, change orders, client meetings, master schedule, safety, procurement, and cost reports,” Edwards says.

The 2010 acquisition of Fine Line Group also drove Build Group’s rapid growth. The new division opened the door for retail, hospitality, and restaurants. Although Edwards doesn’t focus on this division of the company, he leaves it in the hands of one of the other partners, Scott Brauninger. Eventually, four other partners, including Brauninger, joined the company, meaning that, combined, the team has nearly 200 years of construction experience—another key reason the company stayed afloat during those difficult years.

“The leading principle driving our company is to get smart, driven people engaged in dealing with our clients’ projects,” Edwards says. “We aggressively pursue optimum solutions for structure, skin, and MEP systems, and pride ourselves on being the owner’s advocate to point out areas where decisions can be made that save the owner money.”

Build Group is known for keeping projects on a tight budget, but there are obstacles the company encounters when there isn’t enough pre-conceptual support. “Often times we are partially engaged, but between the architect and the owner they are ‘hoping’ there will not be a budget problem on the job, and many times the budget won’t allow the fancy things they want,” Edwards says.

Today, Build Group is a leader in the Bay Area construction industry, and its growth shows no sign of stopping. In 2012, the company sealed a $30 million deal with Dean Givas’s Oyster Development Corp. on The Marlow condominiums. Build Group is currently in the middle of building another project with the same company and a third one is scheduled to start at the end of this 2014. “To make the project work takes long hard hours of work, but in the end something tangible has been created,” Edwards says. “People can work in our spaces, live in our spaces, eat, or shop, and that is very gratifying.”