There is no disputing that the contracting industry, whatever discipline it represents, is a highly competitive one. However, what separates the wheat from the chaff – the truly capable from the self-proclaimed capable – is employee commitment, competence and loyalty. Having such a team strive for a common goal will affect a company’s overall performance, flexibility and innovation. Charter Contracting Company, LLC, knows that it has the right team to address any challenge.
Founded by company President Bob Delhome in 1997, Charter Contracting Company was originally named Charter Environmental Incorporated, an environmental contracting company headquartered in Boston Massachusetts.
From a staff of one, Bob has grown the company to a staff of 150. The company has also expanded its services to include environmental remediation on both land and water, heavy civil construction, impacted soil management and site development including brownfields, historic restoration and urban infill. Its services extend into the commercial and industrial fields as well as for all levels of government.
While Charter has executed projects in nearly thirty states and overseas, its strategic focus is in the Northeastern United States. There the Charter brand “is fairly well known,” says Director of Program Services Tim Cady. “We were able to leverage some of our partnerships with other larger companies, as a small business, to be able to get into both regional and national contracts.” This, in turn, garnered the company additional exposure and access to different project types.
Charter Contracting’s core business spans the Federal, Commercial, and State/Local markets, a strategy which has proven effective against a shifting economic landscape. “The way the economy has flowed over the last twenty years, it’s worked out very well for us,” Tim affirms. “When we were very strong in the government [sector], commercial customers had their downturns and vice versa.” When government contracts dwindled, “then we were fortunate to be able to parlay that into a much stronger commercial portfolio.”
Many customers have been committed to Charter Contracting since its inception. A main driver of the company’s number of repeat customers is an overall project approach focused on providing creative solutions to complex project site challenges, as well as an unwavering commitment to the safe completion of projects in a manner that customers have come to expect.
“A lot of the work that we do is not necessarily public bid,” adds Tim. “We get ourselves prequalified to do work for larger customers, and that invites us to the table. Then we submit proposals from there. Basically, we earn our keep going through.”
The company is Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) certified by the state and is a successful graduate of the 8(a) business development program, a category created by the U.S. Small Business Administration to assist small disadvantaged businesses in retaining a competitive edge in the marketplace. This presented an opportunity, about ten to twelve years ago, for Charter Contracting to gain environmental remediation experience. As the company gained experience within the nine year 8(a) program, “we were in a very good position, as a small business, to continue working for some of those key customers,” says Tim. “One of those was the [United States Army] Corps of Engineers in New England.”
Charter’s exposure to the SBA small business program has proved beneficial especially for large complex federal projects that involve small business participation from other specialized firms “to fulfill our subcontracting requirements,” Tim notes. “Many of our government contracts require subcontracting plans, and we’re able to fulfill the multiple diverse categories through the use of small businesses.”
Charter Contracting has long been affiliated with organizations like the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), the Environmental Business Council (EBC) – New England branch and the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME).
This year, Charter Contracting was awarded two top prizes out of thirteen categories from AGC’s Build America National Awards for two of its projects in Massachusetts. One of these was in the Federal and Heavy Renovation category (Muddy River project) and the other in Environmental Enhancement (Sutton Brook project).
The EBC is a regional organization that has an awards program as well as awareness and educational programs. It also reports on industry trends and provides a forum for key government officials to discuss project opportunities and insights into various initiatives being implemented. All of this aids Charter Contracting to, “better plan and prepare for the future ourselves,” says Tim.
He also explains that rather than waiting for a bid or proposal to be presented, “we’re able to plan down the road what we want to do and how we want to approach things. It allows us time to establish teams [and] allows us the time, in some cases, to acquire personnel with specialties that we know we want to eventually pursue.”
SAME has regional posts around the nation which gives Charter Contracting access and exposure either through sponsoring or attending events. It provides an opportunity to, “network with other [people].”
Charter Contracting does not believe in complacency when it comes to its clients. It works with and for them to see every project to a quality completion and takes a proactive approach to address each project’s unique challenging demands.
For government and commercial projects, “we have longstanding relationships with key contracting officials [and] key project officials,” adds Tim. “We work with them very closely to understand what they are looking for and to make sure we deliver what they are looking for in a project.”
The company achieves this end by providing the right people with the right training and equipment and being flexible in the field. “Being below the ground surface or underwater, so much of what we do is unknown,” he says. What may appear to be clear on paper, can quickly change once a project commences, but the company is able to, “work with those changes very quickly and address those and work with the customer to understand what’s going on to keep things on budget and on schedule whenever possible.”
Bob concurs that relationships with clients are long-term relationships. One of the key things that separate Charter Contracting from capable and highly qualified competitors is, “much of the investment that we do in advance.” He explains that many of the company projects are legacy projects and very complicated with, “multiple stakeholders, and there’s a significant amount of visibility.”
Another key difference is, “committing very capable resources early in a process to engage with the key stakeholders early in terms of developing solutions that will not only address the complexities around the project but will also meet the many stakeholders’ expectations,” Bob adds, “what that allows us to do is really be a partner throughout the lifecycle of a project with our client … the earlier we get a seat at the table, the more value we’re able to deliver. Our trusted clients and partners really recognize and appreciate that.”
Steve Jobs was noted as saying that, “great things in business are never done by one person. They are done by a team of people.” Hiring and retaining the best people is critical in today’s economy. Investing in people is investing in the future.
“We have an ambitious but adaptable strategic plan looking forward,” says Tim. Charter Contracting seeks strong performers with the abilities and commitment to complete each project to the client’s satisfaction. “We’re always looking to round out the capabilities of our staff, and that flows into the different work areas that we pursue.”
The company acknowledges that much like the experience of many industries, there is a worker shortage. It has developed a strategy to target both the near and mid-term markets and align staffing to address predicted demand.
The company hires people with a range of experience. Its project engineer development program cultivates emerging professionals so that, “they get exposure to different facets of the business and are able to then build their careers in areas that match up their skill sets and also what they aspire to do within their careers,” says Bob. “It’s not a one-tactic approach. It has to be really multi-faceted, and that’s a key part of our approach moving forward.”
Last year, the company recruited entry level project engineers from six institutions, mostly from the northeast. This year, it recruited from twelve. “At the end of the day, our strategy is really built around our people … As a result, we’re constantly learning and evaluating and hopefully growing as well.”
Charter Contracting is committed to health and safety. “We prepare site-specific health and safety plans for all projects,” says Health and Safety Director Ed Price. “A critical part of that is the preparation of job safety analysis for the specific definable features of the project we’re looking to execute.” This is done at the pre-construction phase and is updated by our personnel when they are out in the field preparing for the project.
The company has a stage at which it reevaluates job safety, notes Ed. “We edit, [and] revise completely these job safety analysis as we see fit with varying site conditions.” In some instances, a project may be in a heavily populated region where the company may find unidentified live gas lines, for example. “That’s a critical piece to us performing our work safely as the job safety analysis process.”
“The industry, as a whole, has really challenged itself to raise the baseline of expectations,” Bob adds. “We’ve not just cultivated safety practices, but it’s really embedded in our DNA. Safety is at the top of our list of core values.” All employees throughout the company are empowered to identify and communicate potential safety hazards. It has been proven, “day after day, how important communication is.”
The nature of the projects with which Charter Contracting aligns itself, “tend to be incredibly challenging,” says Bob. One, in particular, was the recently completed Muddy River Flood Restoration Project in a historical, visible and heavily traveled area of Boston, Massachusetts.
This multi-faceted project had numerous stakeholders with often different expectations. These were addressed by, “early involvement in terms of pre-positioning,” Bob explains. “We really spent a lot of time understanding stakeholder expectations as well as the technical challenges of implementing the work. By the time the request for proposal was issued, we felt like we had really good visibility, not just on how to execute the work, but also how to engage a diverse set of stakeholders.”
Charter Contracting Company is on Inc 5000’s list of America’s fastest-growing companies. Robert notes that the contractors and firms with which it competes are all technically excellent and deserve recognition.
“What has made us unique is really ultimately been the organization and the people that make up the organization, whether in the field or in the office. It’s an incredibly committed, hard-working and passionate team of people who are always challenging themselves. And, at the same time, challenging the organization and challenging the leadership of this organization to continue to grow and evolve.”