Alabama firm looms large along the Gulf Coast, and a lot of that’s due to a laser focus on service and always starting out at the top.
By Liisa Andreassen
Years ago, while working in the construction and engineering industries, Ralph Hargrove, president and CEO of Hargrove Engineers + Constructors (Hot Firm #7 for 2016) sensed the need for a responsive team to provide support for small projects and turnarounds. He had no idea that when he started the business in 1995 that the Mobile, Alabama-based firm would turn into what it is today – a 1,200-person juggernaut recognized as one of the nation’s best.
“Because our clients and those who work with us see the value of our ‘one team’ mindset, as we demonstrated a strong level of commitment to meet clients’ needs, we started to be asked to perform larger projects, including capital expansions. Soon, clients were asking us to assist their facilities outside of the Gulf Coast, and we began opening regional offices to serve these customers with local resources. Not only did Hargrove expand regionally, our client-base also evolved to include a wide variety of industries.”
Today, Hargrove has 11 offices and provides services outside of engineering such as commissioning and startup, controls and automation, and EPC project execution. In addition to being consistently recognized by Zweig Group as a Best Firm to Work For and a Hot Firm, the company has also been named #76 on ENR’s list of 500 Top Design Firms. Its controls and automation team was recognized as Integrator of the Year for 2016 by the Control System Integrators Association, and it has also been named to the Inc. 5000 list every year since 2008, with 115 percent growth over the last three years. Hargrove ranked 36 on the list among engineering firms.
A conversation with Ralph Hargrove.
The Zweig Letter: What are your key leadership strengths?
Ralph Hargrove: Understanding that Hargrove’s strength is its team. I’ve composed a team of winners – teammates who are driven to achieve project excellence and clients that recognize the value in building relationships that lead to success. Leaders understand the importance of hard work and quality, as well as their role in the community. At Hargrove, having a positive impact on the community is integral to our measure of success.
TZL: How would you describe your leadership style?
RH: My daughter once gave me a poster listing out “Peter’s Law,” a different take on Murphy’s Law. It is also known as “The Creed of the Persistent and Passionate Mind.” Some of the points include:
- If something can go wrong, fix it.
- When faced without a challenge, make one.
- Start at the top and work your way up.
- Do it by the book, but be the author.
This list of 19 witticisms hangs in all of our conference rooms, and I feel it closely represents my leadership style.
TZL: To date, what has been a top challenge and how did you deal with it? What was the outcome?
RH: Fluctuating economic conditions are a constant challenge across our industries. However, we focus on what we can control, whatever it may be, by delivering quality products and building relationships and looking out for the interests of our clients. Even in tough economic times, dedication to these efforts pays off.
TZL: Tell me about a recent project you are especially proud of and why.
RH: Because of Hargrove’s confidentiality agreements with clients, we cannot disclose our project information. However, with a strong pipeline of EPCM projects, 2017 is shaping up to be another year of record growth. Outside of client projects, I am particularly proud of and love sharing the far-reaching effects of Hargrove’s community service efforts. A recent example of this is the HAT (Hargrove Adaptive Toy) project that was started by one of our Instrumentation Engineers, Michelle Jones, PE, after she learned that many mobility limited children are unable to qualify for an insurance-provided electric wheelchair as they must prove their ability to independently control the chair before they can receive aid. She assembled a team from her Hargrove family to modify a toy car for the first recipient: a young girl she met on a field trip with her son. These adaptive toy cars will provide a convenient, accessible pathway for the recipient to develop the necessary skills to meet the insurance requirements. This has combined our teammates’ engineering and technical expertise with a perfect opportunity to give back. The first toy car was delivered in October, and the team plans to modify 10 cars per year going forward through a partnership with the University of South Alabama’s Capstone Engineering Program.
TZL: What do you feel sets your firm apart from others?
RH: Our dedication to the team. We’re proactive, not reactive and we have an unwavering drive to compete and win. This culture, along with the company’s dedication to community involvement (through the established Hargrove Foundation) and the betterment of the communities in which we live makes for a high morale.
TZL: Any news you care to share about Hargrove projects or anything else?
RH: To support our clients as they strive to shorten outages for increasing plant availability and production. Hargrove’s full-service startup and commissioning team works with owners and contractors to lead commissioning and startup activities. Our full-service controls and automation team has seen tremendous growth as clients recognize the benefit of using a systems-independent firm that can
vide a single solution for systems integration, process safety management, and IT control network and security support alongside detail engineering, construction management, life sciences, and panel fabrication.
TZL: Are you married? Children? Pets?
RH: My wife, Kimberly, is a mechanical engineer. We also have a recently married son and a daughter who has blessed me with two grandchildren.
TZL: What’s one thing most people at the firm don’t know about you?
RH: I’d love to be doing what they do.
TZL: Best vacation spot? Dream destination?
RH: One of my favorite vacations was my trip to the Isle of Skye, in Scotland, where I have family ties. While we were there, we visited the Dunveagan Castle, also known as Castle McLeod, which was really special since my late mother is a McLeod. One day I’d love to visit the Strait of Magellan/Patagonia, and the Outer Hebrides.
TZL: What’s the last book you read?
RH: Leadership by Lieutenant General Russel Honore, Army (ret.). General Honore spoke at our recent Hargrove Foundation Gala, and I found his discussion to be moving and inspiring. If you aren’t familiar with him, he is best known for serving as commander of Joint Task Force-Katrina.
TZL: What’s the best piece of work-related advice you’ve ever received?
RH: If you think it, do it. You know what to do.
TZL: When you’re not working, what types of activities do you enjoy?
RH: I’m enjoying the Gulf Coast – boating, running, and biking, spending time with my family, reading, and snow skiing.
TZL: Favorite lunch?
RH: I usually have a piece of locally-caught blackened grilled fish over a salad or seafood gumbo.