SKA Consulting offers a full range of engineering services to customers throughout the United States and, occasionally, beyond. The company has developed a reputation for solving complex problems.
The company’s services are broad but fit into three primary categories. The structural engineering division offers a complete structural solution from initial design and consultation services through construction and beyond. This is the oldest division of SKA and has seen significant success. It was recognized as the top structural engineering firm in the Piedmont area by the Triad Business Journal in 2018. The mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) division is focused on providing high-quality services in those areas as well as fire protection engineering. Finally, the building solutions division incorporates building envelope, forensics, corrosion mitigation and assessment, and a variety of other specialized services.
In 1957, the company’s founder John Sutton first began building the business by taking on structural engineering jobs in Greensboro, North Carolina. Within a year, he brought on Robert Kennerly as a partner, and the company was officially established as Sutton Kennerly and Associates.
“Mr. Kennerly and Mr. Sutton set out to do things differently than other firms,” says company President Stephen Robinson. “They wanted to have the highest possible standards and to maintain those standards in the construction industry.” Together, they began to build a successful engineering firm with that vision at its core.
The company worked entirely on structural engineering until the eighties, when its leadership began expanding the scope of services. From a structural engineering firm, the company quickly grew to include mechanical, electrical, and plumbing services, roofing and other construction services. It also developed a diagnostic team for structural investigation, which was fairly innovative for the time. In 2012, leadership rebranded the company with a new name: SKA Consulting Engineers.
“Even though we have a lot of different disciplines within the same company, I think everyone shares the same goals for the future,” says Senior Project Engineer Stephen Moorefield. “To continue what we’ve done best in the past which is our attention to detail, and to continue adapting to the changing market.”
Indeed, after sixty-two years in business, SKA has grown significantly. Today, the company employs nearly one hundred people at six offices throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. It primarily serves the Southeastern United States but has worked on projects across the country, in Mexico, the Caribbean, and as far away as Japan. SKA has come a long way and changed a great deal, but at eighty-seven years old, co-founder Robert Kennerly Sr. still visits the Greensboro office every week to help with projects.
SKA’s success results from the values that have been driving the company and its employees since the very beginning. “Even as we’ve changed and rebranded and gone in new directions,” says Robinson, “we’ve worked very hard to maintain a sense of high quality in our work, integrity in our relationships, and to constantly be innovating to better serve our clients.” Quality, integrity, and innovation are the pillars upon which the company was built, and every member of the staff operates with them in mind.
This approach has helped to foster a culture of teamwork and dedication throughout the company, and it has worked diligently to maintain a family atmosphere as it has expanded into its six locations. Often, when a company extends its footprint, each new site will operate more or less independently, but SKA has a different strategy.
“We’ve moved away from having geographic locations in isolation to having service lines,” says Executive Vice President Aaron Bopp. “So, our structural groups all operate as one big team no matter where they are. Our mechanical, electrical, plumbing group and our envelope groups do the same. We call on each other as needed because we’re in this together.”
“We have a lot of expertise we can draw on even when one of our departments isn’t involved in a project,” says Moorefield. “When someone asks me a question, even if I don’t know the answer I’ll know exactly who to call that has experience with those types of systems. That experience sharing is a lot more free when it’s within your own company rather than with someone who might be a competitor.”
As a result, SKA has built a team of committed workers who share the leadership’s desire to do the best work for customers. The company offers flexible scheduling, competitive pay, and work that is technically challenging and exciting. It aims to provide employees with a desirable working environment, and its success in this endeavor is reflected in the long tenure of its workforce. “The average employee has been here for nearly twenty years, and the people who have been with the company for forty years or more are still excited to come to work every day.”
Employee retention has enabled SKA to mitigate the labor shortages that are currently affecting so many companies that depend on skilled trades. Finding enough qualified personnel to meet market demand is a limiting factor on the company’s growth, as is the case across the industry, but[SKA has been able to weather these challenges because it pursues employee prospects with the same tenacity as it does clients and projects.
Some of the newer and more innovative services offered by the company, such as building envelope services, are not taught in the vast majority of American engineering universities. This increases the difficulty in finding trained workers to fill positions and has been a significant hurdle. SKA’s approach to solving this problem has been to recruit students who are studying in the closest related fields to those areas of expertise and then invest in training them for the new skill set. SKA has had opportunities to lecture at universities such as NC A&T, UNC Charlotte, and NC State to help the advancement and education of engineering students.
“The days of simply putting an ad in the paper and going through the respondents are long gone,” says Robinson. “We pursue talent by getting our brand out there in front of potential candidates. There’s positioning involved, being present, demonstrating our expertise and the quality of our company.”
The company’s unrivalled commitment to and reverence for the field of engineering has made it a leader in the industry. Most competing firms have only included services like building envelope and forensic analysis within the last five or ten years; SKA has been offering those services for over thirty. These are now some of the fastest-growing segments in the industry, and it has already developed an expertise in these areas over decades of practical experience.
The real value that SKA brings to customers is its commitment to matching solutions to any given project. When it was hired to work on a huge expansion to the Greensboro Coliseum in the early nineties, Robert Kennerly demonstrated the company’s innovative engineering spirit with a bold move. The coliseum owners wanted to expand its capacity, but as new seats were added, they were moving up into the roof structure. This created blind spots where sight lines were blocked by trusses.
During a city council meeting, one of the council members in attendance made a comment that triggered Mr. Kennerly’s inventive spirit. Comparing the Greensboro Coliseum to the arena in the state’s largest city, ‘It’s okay,’ the meeting attendee said, ‘but it will never be as good as Charlotte.’
Mr. Kennerly wanted to bring the very best to every project, and so this comment weighed on his mind until he woke one morning with an idea. As part of the project, the company was given the task of building a special events center on the south side of the coliseum. It needed a fairly large roof structure, and he realized that SKA could remove the roof structure from the coliseum, repurpose it for the event center, and spend the budget earmarked for the event center’s roof on creating more space in the coliseum.
After consulting with a steel erector, who confirmed that it would be possible to move the enormous 350-foot trusses from one structure to the other, Kennerly convinced the architects, the client, and rest of the team. “So they did it,” says Bopp. “They cut the roof off the coliseum, moved it down to the event center, reused the trusses, created a brand new truss system for the coliseum roof that was above the seats. They ended up with a larger event center, better seating in the coliseum, and all under budget.”
The secret to SKA’s success started with its founders and has remained at the heart of the company’s approach to every job and every relationship. It is a commitment to providing the highest standard of quality in every aspect of its work. “It’s that constant refinement and desire to provide the best solution,” says Bopp. “Mr. Kennerly’s motivation to solve problems in the most cost-effective way has really been ingrained in this company.”