Produced by Tom Venturo
Established in 2003, WEST Builders Inc. is a customer-driven construction company that offers negotiated general contracting, design build and design assist services, and development management to commercial private real estate sectors. The company is highly organized and committed to providing exceptional customer service and solutions that elevate it above the level of being a hard-bid commodity. Success in this effort has afforded WEST Builders the opportunity to negotiate work with a large client base including developers such as Prometheus Real Estate Group, UC Berkeley, Tooley Company, LBA Realty, Veeva Systems and CBS.
Todd Whitlock, CEO of WEST Builders Inc., strongly believes that the company needs to perform beyond customer expectations. Through engineering expertise and effective communication with the client throughout a project, WEST Builders Inc. stands apart from the competition.
He states, “If we’re not moving heaven and earth for our customers then we’re just a commodity and would be forced to function in the bid environment. Why should an owner pick you if you’re just performing at a commodity level? You ought to be a hard bid.”
WEST Builders Inc. was first established when the three founders decided to branch off from their existing companies to create WEST Builders Inc. Having worked together since the early 1980s, they knew they each had a united desire to exclusively build projects within the private sector, as they had done in the early years of their careers.
In 2003, their vision became a reality and WEST Builders was established. The strong commitment to the company culture, which each founder demonstrated by working an entire year without compensation, was quickly rewarded as the company’s annual revenue reached $100 M within its first four years.
When the recession hit in 2008, the industry had no significant private sector commercial construction occurring in the market and many companies opted to begin bidding on public sector work, which was the only area with constant activity at the time. With WEST Builders Inc.’s focus on private sector work, they had to make a decision pertaining to the company’s future position in the industry.
Whitlock states that they decided to take a risk and stay true to the company values. He explains, “We thought that would change our culture and to be successful in hard bidding you have to exploit gaps in scope, but what we want to do in our delivery system is close gaps in scope and be incentivized to do that.”
As a result, the company downsized to survive and sustained itself on retained earnings from the first growth period coupled with numerous renovations to existing office buildings that were being repositioned by their customers. In this way, the company was able to preserve its core culture while maintaining a strong clientele base. Now, with the economy bouncing back and customers becoming active once again, WEST Builders has made a name for itself in the private sectors and is expecting to reach $100 M revenue again within the next year.
While many companies went out of business during the recession, Whitlock is pleased that WEST Builders stayed committed to the company’s founding initiatives and that this decision resulted in a positive outcome. Because of the decision to stay true to its values, the company came out on top with a larger platform, higher reputation and more exposure into the marketplace than it did prior to the recession.
“We don’t grow for growth’s sake; we grow because our customers like our product so we continue to have more and more repeat business with great customers. The growth is a bi-product of our success and our delivery system that we practice,” states Whitlock.
People Make the Difference
Part of what makes WEST Builders Inc. an outstanding company is the people that make up the team of engineers. The company typically hires engineers directly out of college who buy in to the attitude and desire to bring value to every project. WEST Builders is often involved very early on in projects and uses this opportunity to work closely with the client to plan accordingly and efficiently so that there is very minimal re-design required. Because of this, projects are consistently completed on time and in budget.
Whitlock stresses how crucial this open communication is and states, “It’s important to us that our engineers feel like they really make a difference every day and that they’re not involved in a daily adversarial struggle. Our success is dictated by how seamlessly we work with our customers towards the common goal.”
With 60 employees, WEST Builders Inc. focuses on mentoring its young engineers so they can get experience and participate in all aspects of a project from start to finish. Whitlock explains that this has proven to be much more successful and beneficial than generic training courses. President of WEST Builders Inc., Bill Hughes, maintains a hands-on approach with the young engineers, monitoring their work and overseeing the projects, to ensuring they are receiving the necessary knowledge to succeed.
When asked how the team ensures that each project will be completed on-time and within budget, Whitlock replies, “By making sure you have great people that understand and follow the delivery system we use - that’s probably the biggest thing, really training engineers to evaluate if sub contractors’ productivity is keeping us on schedule and to conduct man power studies to make sure each crew size is appropriate early on. We’re very proactive.”
In addition to its general contracting and design build services, the company also occasionally works as a developer and manages the permitting processes for various projects. For example, UC Berkeley has recently asked WEST Builders Inc. to build a student housing development for them. The five-floor project will include a 220 room student housing facility with a full garden and terrace in addition to a 30 foot cliff that gives the appearance that the building has been built into the side of a cliff.