MMC Contractors is an employee-owned, union-staffed mechanical contracting firm with a national presence and big ambitions.
MMC performs construction, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR), plumbing, prefabrication, preconstruction and virtual design and construction (VDC) duties. A service division also ensures that plumbing, heating, and cooling systems in buildings erected by MMC craftsmen remain in peak operating condition.
While MMC has taken on projects for clients in the energy, industrial, pharmaceutical, mission-critical, and commercial sectors, the company excels at “building mega-scale hospitals across the country,” says President Chris Hutchings.
These mega-projects include the University of Oklahoma Medical Center in Oklahoma City. MMC performed HVAC, plumbing, mechanical preconstruction, fabrication, building information modeling (BIM), and construction work for this assignment, which entailed 421,679 square feet of new construction.
Another recent project involved a 686,921-square-foot Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital and Pearl Tourville Women’s Pavilion at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, South Carolina. For this job, MMC provided BIM, prefabrication, preconstruction, and construction services.
“We do a lot of work on children’s hospitals. It’s very near and dear to our hearts. Something we’re very proud of,” reports Hutchings. Most of the labor at such jobs is done directly by MMC employees. “We self-perform the majority of our work, but we do have partners within different regions that we use,” for some jobs.
Headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, MMC has branches in Des Moines, Iowa, Las Vegas, Nashville, Omaha, Nebraska, Somerset, New Jersey and Swedesboro, New Jersey. The company remains eager to expand if it finds opportunities in a new location, says Hutchings.
It is likely there will be such opportunities, as things are booming at MMC. “Construction’s good right now. There’s a lot of work out there. We’re trying to take advantage of that while staying diligent with our focus on eliminating risk,” states the company president.
Removing risk means “making sure you’re working for the right clients; you’re building the right projects; you have the right owners for these projects. You’ve got to make sure the contract terms are good; make sure you have a good estimate, and make sure you have the right team to do the job when you put them in the field,” he explains.
MMC Contractors was founded in Kansas City in 1932 by Claude Sanders. He was taking a chance, given the Great Depression was at its height, and economic conditions were bleak. However, over the decades, MMC endured and grew. In 1999, the Sanders’ family introduced an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), an initiative that allows workers to acquire company stock, becoming partial owners.
“Our ESOP is purely set up as a retirement benefit, and it’s been very lucrative, especially over the last few years. It’s been a lot of fun to watch our stock grow as we are successful, and everyone gets to share in that,” reports Hutchings.
The company is now completely employee-owned – a major attraction for anyone considering working at MMC. “To be an employee-owner gives you that true ownership feel. We’re all out for the same end game, and that’s the increase of our share price,” says Hutchings, adding that the ESOP “really helps in the camaraderie and helps in decision making as well as we’re very picky [about] who we hire and who we bring into our organization.”
New hires are required to meet a number of prerequisites. In addition to having experience and expertise, “there has to be a culture fit. They have to fit our culture. We’re a very large company, but we still have the family feel. Everybody knows everybody else’s name. We try to keep it like that. We spend a lot of time dedicated to making sure our culture stays as consistent as possible as we grow,” says Hutchings.
A good work ethic and integrity – the ability to be trusted to handle a job by themselves – are also important qualifiers, he adds.
Safety is another essential component of MMC’s corporate culture. The firm puts many resources into keeping its workers safe and avoiding accidents in the first place. “Our safety program is driven by our safety committee, which is a rotating group of field craftsmen elected by their peers. They set policies and procedures that take us to the next level of safety. We meet on a monthly basis and look at everything that we’re working on, every issue we have. We’re looking at ways to eliminate risk in the field for our guys, looking at different ladders, different tools. We’re looking at anything regardless of cost,” states Hutchings.
“How can we make [workers] safer? We give them the tools to do that, but the most important thing is empowerment. We have to empower the people in the field to make good decisions and do things right. All of them want to go home safe, and if we can give them all the tools and equipment and ability to do that they will make the decision to come home safe.”
MMC currently has about 1,400 employees, up from roughly one thousand last year at this time. Most frontline workers come from unions representing pipefitters, plumbers, millwrights, and laborers. Personnel numbers fluctuate, depending on project size and workload.
Utilizing unionized workers means anyone coming on board is guaranteed to be well-trained and qualified, with all the proper certifications in place. This is not to say MMC is complacent when it comes to training, however. It is vital, for example, for modern construction companies to be technology-savvy, says Hutchings.
“We have to train constantly to make sure we stay on the cutting edge of the new technology that’s coming out,” he explains. This technology can include robotics, digital laser scanning, three-dimensional (3D) digital modeling, remote monitoring, GPS systems, machine telematics, and more.
“All of our foremen and general foremen have iPads that have all the drawings, all the specifications, all the submittals on them, as well as the building model. They’ve got a 3D version of the project on their iPad with them at all times,” states Hutchings.
In addition to building things, MMC has a community-oriented spirit. The firm officially supports two big charities – Ronald McDonald House, which provides families with a child in hospital with a place to stay, and the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides aid to injured veterans. On top of this, the company also supports lesser-known charities and community groups.
“We spend a lot of time volunteering for smaller organizations that are local to wherever we are working. We want to make an impact on the areas where we’re building these projects or that we live in. We have a very strong community service team that identifies opportunities for our people to be part of. We’ve set a culture in which every single person in the organization volunteers their time. It’s giving back to the communities where we live and work. It’s ingrained in our culture and something everyone loves doing,” explains Hutchings.
MMC faces a huge challenge in the form of a massive labor shortage. The lack of skilled workers is an issue impacting construction, manufacturing, and industrial companies nationwide. “There are big mega-jobs that are being delayed by the owners because they know there’s not enough skilled craftsmen to do the job. Our growth is limited, based on the fact we don’t have enough people to build everything. Baby boomers are still retiring. I’m still losing senior project managers and executives in the organization because they’re ready to retire,” admits Hutchings.
He says there is a significant lack of construction workers in their forties, noting that people in the forty-something generation typically didn’t go into construction or any skilled trade for that matter. To address this issue, MMC focuses on training younger workers to ensure a consistent supply of talent for decades to come.
The basic idea is to “give the younger talent the opportunity to grow faster. We’re growing them on steroids right now. We need them to step up quicker than they would typically step up in a company,” says Hutchings.
Part of this involves creating an environment where young workers understand it is permissible to speak up if they have concerns or feel they did not do a job properly. MMC wants to establish a culture where younger workers understand that they can learn from their mistakes.
Far-seeing policies such as this and the longevity of the company make Hutchings optimistic about the future of the firm. “My goal is to increase our market share. There are avenues of work that are going to become available over the next five years. We have to be ready for that. We have to be ready for the next thing. What that is, I don’t know. But I think the biggest thing is to stay on the cutting edge of technology and make sure we are growing our people. We want to be the employer of choice. I’d like to get to a point where we have zero turnover. Having zero turnover for an entire year, that would be a wonderful thing because [it means] we’ve got great people and they’re all happy,” he states.