In 2007 Moncrieff Construction Inc. in Lynden, which specializes in concrete construction, had 120 employees and $7 million in revenue. In 2008-‘09 the recession slammed them with a gut punch.
Sam Moncrieff, the owner, took a chance. While most businesses in his niche waved caution flags, he boldly charged ahead. “I saw that things weren’t happening here. I knew if we just stayed (only) here, we would wither,” he said.
Hence, during 2008, in the teeth of the recession, Moncrieff expanded by opening a satellite office in Tacoma. Moncrieff explained that he knew of other concrete contractors that had over-leveraged and thus would not survive the downturn. That meant opportunity might open up to the south, nearer the large population centers.
Through 2008-’11 Moncrieff Construction hung on, surviving by plowing retained earnings back in to the company. In 2012 Moncrieff opened another office in Everett. The economy in Whatcom County was “really suffering,” he said, and the Everett metropolis to the south held what little promise that was evident.
Months ticked by. Revenue began to increase. For 2013 Moncrieff Construction notched $18 million – growth of more than 2 ½ times while pushing through the recession years. In 2014 revenue dipped slightly to $14 million. Then last year the company surged more than 50 percent to a robust $22 million in revenue.
Compare 2007’s size of 120 employees and $7 million in billings to 2015 with a Whatcom Top 100 slate of 130 employees and $22 million.
Opening two remote offices for positioning in those markets unquestionably held the key to today’s success, Sam Moncrieff said. But more important to him were changes taking place within the company that provided the catalyst for remarkable resilience and growth.
Moncrieff Construction began to articulate and communicate company values. They started holding weekly meetings to disseminate important information throughout the company. Previously, they didn’t really have organized communication. “A couple of us would get together to look through finances and see where we could improve,” Moncrieff said, “but not much else.”
Today, meetings start with discussion of the company’s purpose. Employees describe which value they engaged with in the last week, or which value they saw another employee embody. Sam Moncrieff’s purpose, personally, is to provide healthy opportunities for people.
“What’s their strength? What do they enjoy?” he said. “Take a holistic view. Put them in a position where they truly find healthy opportunity, not just opportunity where they might burn out.”
In 2015, the company distributed over half a million dollars in saved costs among all employees. “Superintendents beat their budgets by that amount,” Moncrieff said.
He described how the new method of supervision works: “If I have a hundred sheets of plywood at $40 per sheet and you need them, I’m going to get them to you. Before, it was like, ‘This is my plywood and you’re not getting it because I won’t get it back, and I’ll have to buy plywood next time, which goes against my budget.’ They’d hoard, to make sure they were successful.”
Now the superintendents participate in each other’s budgets. “If I help you, I help me,” Moncrieff said, describing the evolution of the work culture and organizational behavior. “With two guys (working together) they can beat the budget by $75,000. If they kept to themselves, they might only beat it by $10,000 each.”
It took a year of communicating purpose and values before employees began to trust it, Moncrieff said. “All these guys are amazing for adopting and trusting that thinking.”
Quality and safety, which they’d always tried to work on, began to improve as employees acted intentionally in line with values, he said. Professionalism improved, and with it came better relationships with customers. “We had the concrete and we provided it in a professional way, so customers could pursue more projects.”
Some of the company’s current success also, paradoxically, results in turning away work. “If a job is worth under $1 million, generally it isn’t a good fit for us,” Moncrieff said. “It takes as much to manage that as a bigger one. (Flatwork, where a crew is in and out in a day, is an exception.)
“It’s hard to exclude work, but necessary. You can’t be everything to everybody.”