Editor's note: This is another in a series of Colorado company success stories as told by CEOs and business owners.
When I recently met with Gary Brierley, CEO of Brierley Associates, I was wondering how we would find enough material to fill a 90-minute interview. Two hours later, I was thoroughly engaged in a conversation about solving difficult client problems, delivering exceptional value to clients, and building a successful business with a national reputation for excellence.
You might think that this doesn't sound much different than other Colorado success stories companies... except we were talking about building tunnels. Brierley Associates provides design, analysis, and management consulting services for underground construction such as tunnels, mining, and quarry projects and excavation support.
Dr. Gary Brierley is passionate about building tunnels. He is even more animated about solving problems. His energy and enthusiasm are infectious. Over the last 12 years, he has surrounded himself with like-minded people who live to solve problems. Brierley was recently recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in Colorado growing 79 percent between 2009 and 2010 to $9.3 million in revenue with 2011 growth that is estimated to exceed another 50 percent in 2011.
How do you compete?
We exist to design and build things underground. It is a niche within a niche within a niche in the construction industry. It is highly specialized and has limited competition. If you look at the number of people who know what they are doing in the tunnel business, there may be less than 1000 in total in the United States. This business is perceived as high risk so that keeps the competition to a minimum.
We have great knowledge and expertise, but we are also very responsive. Two thirds of our work is repeat business - we strive to keep every client. We want clients to know how important the success of their project is to us. There's an old saying, ‘I don't care how much you know, until I know how much you care.'
We compete based on responsiveness and value. We do not compete on price - we offer a fair price but high value. You talk with a real person when you call - and within five minutes you can be talking with an engineer or a geologist. Our clients need an answer when they call with a question, issue, or a problem. We need to be there when they need us. We strive to add value to every interaction with every client and to establish a trusting relationship.
Has the path always been smooth?
We started in 1999 with the simple philosophy that if we did good work and worked hard, we would be successful. For the first ten years, we did exactly that. We did good work, built credibility, and earned a loyal following from clients. We enjoyed steady growth. Then two years ago, we hit an inflection point and began to grow rapidly. In 2009, we acquired Denver-based Lyman Henn, Inc. which was very complementary since it added significant business in Colorado. Brierley's business had been more nationwide so we had virtually no overlap in markets. This year we bought another company, Berti-Lindquist Consulting Engineers in San Francisco, which has greatly expanded our presence in the California market.
What are the keys to your future growth?
We do not have specific goals for growth - we tend to go with the flow. Our biggest problem is finding the right people - people who do tunnels but are also customer-focused and responsive. There are no degree programs in tunnel engineering. It takes about ten years of experience for someone to become a good tunnel engineer. You have to be in the field to see the actual ground conditions and to see how the earth reacts to what we do with it. The good news is that once a good engineer works on a tunneling project, they are usually hooked for life.
In your culture, no one says "No" to a customer?
We make decisions quickly. We are very knowledgeable about ground conditions and about underground construction. No one in our organization is authorized to say ‘NO.' They can say yes, they can say maybe, but if there is a potential ‘No' response, then we will discuss it. We want to be able to solve the most difficult problems and issues for great clients. We say we ‘do the right things for the right reasons for the right people.'
You also have very low turnover and great morale?
Engineers love to solve problems so they don't tend to watch the clock. We try to provide an environment where talented people can do their best work. We really have only one goal for our company: ‘when you get up in the morning, I want you to look forward to coming to work.'
This article demonstrates that there are great opportunities in every field if you fill a need, do it well, and provide a superior customer experience.