Founder and CEO Robert Dinkel established Sycamore Engineering in 1960, in his home state of Terre Haute, Indiana. This remains the company’s corporate headquarters with another office in Marshall, Illinois. It began as a manufacturer of electrical and mechanical control panels and has retained its original name although the focus has changed…
The company’s engineering department, called Dinkel Associates, still specializes in mechanical and electrical design, however, “most of our work is construction, not engineering,” President and CEO Tom Dinkel explains.
It is no secret that family owned businesses instill a sense of identity and connectedness not only among family members controlling the business but employees as well. A company’s internal culture and its associated values are maintained throughout, leading to satisfaction and a striving for the common interest. This translates into better employee retention; a commitment to what sets a business apart from the rest; a family gravity that focuses on success and, perhaps more importantly, honesty, integrity and trust.
This culture and set of values inherent in successful companies are passed down through the generations of family leaders who take up the reins and move a business forward. Tom Dinkel and his children Sara Smith and Tyler Dinkel of Sycamore Engineering know this all too well. They promote a culture of commitment, quality and family values every day with exceptionally diversified experience in their industry.
Sara Smith is Vice President of engineering and electrical, and Tyler Dinkel is Senior Project Manager. President and CEO Tom Dinkel is also a professional engineer and shares that, “we’ve always had a plan for sustaining this company. We’re currently doing that. We’re restructuring, and there are a lot of details to take a company to each generation.”
Sycamore Engineering has grown to more than two hundred staff and expanded its services to include sheet metal fabrication; mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering and field service; pipe fabrication; telecommunications and a low voltage DC power department (Dinkel Telekom). These services are spread across the commercial, industrial, institutional, medical and municipal sectors.
Of the employees, Sara Smith states, “we treat all of our employees just as if they’re family to us … We don’t have a lot of turnover within our office staff. Most of the time, people come and work here, and they stay; they stay until they retire.”
Tom relates that Sycamore Engineering provides its staff many opportunities for greater learning and advancement through seminars, continuing education and training. He suggests that the benefit package offered, “is one of the best retention advantages.” It is important to the customer who wants and needs to know that a company has a reliable, consistent team for any project. Tom himself has been with the firm for fifty years, and others have been with the company thirty-five years or more. “We have a lot of longevity, and that reflects a lot of good to our customer base,” he adds.
Sycamore Engineering’s established partnerships with contractors, suppliers and government agencies are and will continue to be the mainstay of its success. Sara notes that “in this day and age, lots of companies are looking at what is the least expensive way I can get this project accomplished.”
In the variety of services Sycamore Engineering has, it offers “a lot of expertise,” she says. “We combine all of that into one company. Therefore, we’re probably not going to be the least expensive option that’s out there. Having those relationships with companies, contractors and businesses allows us to sell our expertise and allows them to get a better value on their project as opposed to just going with the bottom dollar.”
Sycamore Engineering’s unionized field employees are from several union affiliations the company has. “Most of them are local people. Very rarely would we have someone from a long distance away come through,” says Tom.
The company’s diversity in available services and the sectors it serves has enabled it to maintain a competitive advantage, and “it’s probably sustained us,” continues Tom. “In the construction industry, my philosophy has always been that the more tools you have in your belt, the more successful you can be during slow times. We’ve continued adding those tools throughout the decades that we’ve been around.” Even faced with a recession, the company managed to fulfill its project demands because, “we’ve had a division or two that can be busy while the others are not.”
Sycamore is fully engaged in the latest innovations that not only streamline its project activities but make employee workloads more exacting and efficient. Most recently, the service division has implemented a web-based work order system. The company also uses computer-aided design (CAD) and building information modeling (BIM) but has not been involved with LEED certification as there are very few building projects in its community that demand the LEED certification.
“There has not been a need for us to do that,” relates Sara. She explains that, a few years ago, there was a big push for LEED certification, which was embraced, but now it’s not being implemented, because building to LEED certification costs twice as much, and “it’s just not sustainable at this point.”
“I think in the larger communities such as Indianapolis and such, there are a lot more focused projects on LEED but not so much here,” says Tom. The company favors design-build over other options such as design-bid-build because Sycamore Engineering does design work with its engineering department. Design-build is really, “one of our tools in our belt,” he says.
This process is advantageous to the company and its customers since, “we can build and design a project less expensively than having an architectural firm provide a set of drawings. We price it and do it that traditional way … That’s industry-wide, and we feel that is correct. We would prefer to do it that way whenever we can,” although it does engage in bid projects that are plan-inspect as well.
As for safety, he says that its EMR safety rating provided by the state has, “been excellent for the last several decades. That, to me, is the most important focus we need – to stay safe and to have a good safety record, which we do,” adding that the company is compliant with anything the OSHA is regulating.
The Sycamore Engineering name has become synonymous with quality construction. Quality checks are performed daily by the various department heads, who are “responsible for ensuring that all of the work that was done on a particular project is according to specifications.” Tom notes that “there are a lot of checks and balances within our industry when you’re working on a job designed by someone else … We do the same on anything that we design.”
As for the future of Sycamore Engineering, the firm will proceed as Robert Dinkel had intended: guided by his successors. “I’ve made a point to ensure that we still think the same way with our third generation … We pride ourselves on being problem-solution oriented.”
To that, Sara adds, “we instill a culture of honesty, integrity, trust, faith in God and the support of family.” It just can’t get much better than that.