Behind some of the most iconic and immediately recognizable structures ever built is John W. McDougall Company Inc., one of the world’s best-known industrial and architectural metal contractors. The successful enterprise – now in its third generation of family ownership – still serves clients with the same professionalism, expertise, and high-quality service more than eighty years after it was founded.
The John W. McDougall Company is one of the top aluminum composite material (ACM) companies in North America and among the most respected brands in new construction and retrofit works. It was also ranked by Engineering News and Record as the top sheet metal contractor in the country by revenue in 2018. The company, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, carries on in the proud tradition of founder John W. McDougall, who created the business bearing his name in 1938.
Alec McDougall started with the company in 1988 and took over day-to-day operations in 2001, after learning many aspects of the industry. He initially worked in the field as an installer, then in the shop on the production end, and in accounting and purchasing, learning the business from the ground up and dedicating time and energy to project management and sales and business development. Today, as chief executive officer, McDougall continues to introduce changes to improve the business, including investing in the latest technology as the company embraces LEAN manufacturing.
The LEAN principle of doing more with less embraces optimizing processes while eliminating waste, resulting in cutting costs while delivering top-quality products to clients. To facilitate this, the company recently purchased several new machines manufactured by German industrial machine maker Trumpf.
The one-piece Trumpf 1040 Laser is a state-of-the-art cutting machine that can process up to one-inch thick mild steel, ¾-inch thick stainless, and ¾-inch thick aluminum. Trumpf’s TruBend Center Series 5030 is a semi-automatic panel bender.
Overhauling its architectural division, developing the production side of the business under LEAN principles, and investing in highly-advanced Trumpf equipment gives the John W. McDougall Company the capacity to meet the increasing demand for perforated metal panels in architecture. The business also merged multiple locations into one location with over 100,000 square feet of production floor space and an additional 23,000 square feet of office. “That enabled us to pick up efficiencies, all under one roof, and have room to grow,” says McDougall.
The company is always upgrading equipment with a focus on computer-numerical control (CNC) machines and other computer-operated equipment. “We took the mentality that we wanted to be best-in-class,” comments McDougall. “The best-in-class at hiring people, the best-in-class in how we present the company, and how we manage projects. We keep taking on a lot of challenges.” The company’s considerable investment in equipment and technology enables it to complete enormous, often complex projects.
The John W. McDougall Company’s capabilities are wide-ranging and are covered by three divisions: industrial metals, architectural metals, and the newly-created processing division. These divisions do everything from custom sheet metal fabrication and installation – including aluminum composite materials, phenolic panels, high-pressure laminate panels, stainless steel, and aluminum plate – to bending, cutting, rolling, leveling, perforating, and more.
John W. McDougall takes on unique projects, including structures, massive skylights, and corporate branding signage, and the company’s achievements throughout the years are nothing less than remarkable. These include producing tons of ductwork on the Manhattan Project for the United States Atomic Energy Commission during WWII, supplying products for Nashville’s Life and Casualty Tower in 1954 – the tallest structure in the south at the time – and fabricating the famous Spaceship Earth for Disney in 1982.
One of the company’s most iconic projects is Epcot’s distinctive geodesic dome, which serves as the icon for the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. The unique futuristic structure still attracts visitors’ decades after its opening in October 1982. Along with the sphere, John W. McDougall also worked with aluminum composite material on the monorail and the Contemporary Resort at the theme park.
In 2004, the company unveiled another landmark project, the FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. The downtown venue serves as a multi-purpose arena and is home to the Memphis Grizzlies basketball team. John W. McDougall installed 98,000 square feet of Alucobond materials to create the building’s façade.
Among its other outstanding projects are the University of Alaska Museum of the North – which was entirely fabricated at the company’s facility in Nashville before installation on the Fairbanks campus – and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the first LEED-certified convention center in North America.
“That was probably our most successful job, a big project there right on the riverfront,” says McDougall of the immense, 1,500,000 square foot structure in downtown Pittsburgh. “We are very proud of that.”
At present, the company is working on several large projects, including international airports – like LaGuardia and Salt Lake City – through its sister company and a number of downtown Nashville high-rise buildings.
In today’s marketplace, branding is everything, and few companies realize this better than John W. McDougall. It has taken on many corporate identity programs with a wide price range – from about $100,000 up to large marquee and airports at $25 million – some measuring a staggering 20,000 to 30,000 square feet. The company’s work also includes automotive dealerships across the U.S. and data centers for Internet giants Amazon and Google.
“These are perforated projects and very customized to meet demands of the architect, contractor, and owner,” comments McDougall. “Anything is custom, and we are able to provide everything needed. And our equipment makes it easier and more efficient to support those programs. We are really excited about perforated. We are seeing that going up on a lot of parking garages now to be more appealing visually, instead of just a big concrete parking garage.”
The company’s many decades of experience allows it to advise clients on the material choices best suited for their particular project.
“We look at the application and the capabilities of the different products and what customers are trying to achieve,” says McDougall, “then we will pull from our menu of products and pick the best product – the most efficient, best cost, energy-efficient, whatever they are trying to accomplish – and deal that into their project. We also do plate work with our Genesis system – and we are very proud of that — and insulated metal panels, single-skin metal panels, concrete panels, terracotta panels, phenolic panels, custom metal panels from polished stainless steel, and zinc panels.”
John W. McDougall works across the U.S. and with a sister company on projects in the Caribbean, the Bahamas, and Puerto Rico, giving it a staff of about two hundred – over 550 employees when including its affiliated companies. It self-performs about sixty-five percent of its work, including fabrication and installation, and it works with trusted installers and partners in various markets.
As field installers, production workers, detailers, project managers, field superintendents, and other workers are in demand, the company supports local colleges with career fairs, Middle Tennessee State University with its construction management program, and has head-hunters across America looking for specific roles.
“We are doing everything we can to stay out in front of these types of workers,” states McDougall. “We are going to continue to broaden our opportunities, invest in our people, and address business challenges – we are always open to new challenges and new opportunities, with an emphasis on technology and people. You’re only as good as your people.”