Winner of two 2022 National Excellence Awards from Associated Builders & Contractors and listed by them as a top performer, CSM Group shows what can happen when you bring together an exceptional combination of people, processes, and experience.
Founded in 1983, CSM Group exudes an impressive wealth of construction and project management experience from its headquarters in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Licensed to work in 32 states, CSM Group is expanding with the opening of a satellite office in Austin, Texas.
The company’s experience includes both ground-up construction and restoration of historically significant buildings. CSM Group is also a proponent of the tricky art of constructing a seamless extension to an existing structure, while enabling full functioning to continue without interruption. Complete plant relocations, too, are a special skill.
Health care, food and beverage, industrial manufacturing, life sciences, technology, energy and renewables, education, and commercial property clients have all benefited from the expertise provided by CSM Group’s staff of nearly 200 professionals.
Over 38 years this adds up to more than 1,500 projects across the United States and Canada.
SPARK Business Works, a sister company of the CSM Group brand, is helping clients across the nation by offering affordable and practical software solutions that increase productivity and result in a return on investment. Areas of expertise include, among others, customized business solutions, mobile applications, and dashboards.
In January of 2022, SPARK Business Works acquired Convergent1, a Houston, Texas-based marketing agency that specializes in providing full-service digital marketing services for high-growth companies in construction, oil and gas, manufacturing, and professional services. This strategic acquisition provides opportunity to SPARK Business Works to integrate their service offerings with existing clients who need help with digital marketing. The team also gains more momentum in Texas where they have existing clients and have seen growing demand driven by digitization in construction and the need for custom software capabilities in other industrial markets.
Meet the new CEO
Recently we spoke to the recently appointed CEO of the group, Stuart Mason, who snatched a moment from the demands of establishing a satellite office in Austin, TX, and Katrina Reed, Creative Services Manager at CSM Group.
Mason, who joined CSM Group this past August, succeeds founding CEO Steve East, leader of the company for 38 years, who will remain involved as chairman of the company. Mason brings to the company extensive experience in international construction markets, in many of the same areas where CSM Group has established a reputation for excellence.
Born in the U.K., Mason graduated as a civil engineer and is professionally qualified as both Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers (FICE) and Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (FRICS) and spent the first 10 years of his career working on large scale design-build commercial projects in central London before joining AECOM, an international design-engineer project management company.
For two decades, Mason travelled the world, specializing in complex industrial projects in the U.K. as well as in Europe, East Africa, Middle East, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and North America, a period in which he gained priceless experience in managing projects and client accounts in diverse cultures and challenging environments. “I was fortunate to be involved in iconic projects in my career, including one of the world’s largest malt whisky distilleries for Diageo in Roseisle, Scotland, Lego’s largest manufacturing facility in China, and overseeing the construction of hyperscale data centers across North America.”
Between 2016 and 2019, after AECOM acquired the URS corporation, Mason worked mainly in the U.S. and Mexico, helping the company win and support the execution of large multi-billion-dollar design-build projects, especially projects designed to house advanced industrial processes for Semi-Conductor, Food and Beverage, Aerospace and EV/Automotive.
“This was enabling me to bring my design and construction experience together in a fully integrated way for my clients,” he says. “In 2019, I joined Arcadis, another global, multinational firm to help them run their North American Industrial Infrastructure business of design and construction. My role was helping them integrate their service offerings, grow their market share, and enter new markets around semi-conductor and complex automotive facilities,” he explains.
“Then last year, Seth Deutsch, a member of CSM Group’s Advisory Board, invited me to come and look at this business. I saw right away what a fantastic opportunity it was, not only for myself, but for me to bring a lot of my almost 30-year professional experience to CSM Group to help them take the next evolutionary step forward,” he says.
“I’ve travelled the world and worked with a lot of very big companies, and one of the things that struck me about CSM Group was their people first philosophy, inclusivity, and relationships with customers – a culture with a strong client-centric approach, where relationships are built and maintained. It’s a guiding principle and value of this organization and I see it here top to bottom, where everyone is truly aligned with delivering strong customer outcomes by listening and getting to the core of what our customers need.”
Expansion in Austin
The next step is opening the Austin, TX office within the next few months, with a growth strategy of focusing on what Mason calls “critical markets,” serving emerging industries throughout the southwestern U.S.
“We’re a dominant player in the Midwest,” he says, “and we’ll bring in the guiding principles and values we’ve developed over 38 years, along with the technology experience we’ve gained around life sciences and complex technology manufacturing. There’s a lot of investment around these sectors now, not only in Austin, but in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio.”
He says that Austin was chosen as a prime location because it has been labeled as one of five ‘supernova’ cities, along with Boise, ID; Jacksonville, FL; Nashville, TN, and Raleigh/Durham, SC – all centers of diversified economies and phenomenal “meteoric” growth.
Meanwhile, in Michigan
Mason happily lets us know that CSM Group has just been selected by the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency (KRESA) as construction manager of its new Career & Technical Education Center in Kalamazoo, as part of a private/public partnership with Southwest Michigan First.
“It will be a center to really help ‘K to 12’ students have an opportunity to learn about a variety of different careers and to provide job training. It will be a steppingstone in the community from school into the market,” he says.
“I have noticed the huge amount of pressure that is put on students to go to university, although not every student wants to go or has the capability. But this center will assist students coming from high school to move into a skilled-trade career path which is vital for our economy, and that’s what I personally like about it.”
He says that the architecture, which will use mass timber, is still being defined, “but I have seen the early renderings and outside it will look like a modern college campus. The magic will be on the inside, and the scope it will provide.
“There will be a lot of workshops and lab environments and students can immerse themselves in robotics and the automotive industry. There will be traditional teaching spaces, but the difference will be the hands-on industry experience which will help students make informed decisions about their futures.”
As this issue of Construction in Focus includes an article on the future of wood, we inquired if the use of mass timber in the KRESA project was a first for CSM Group. Reed says that CSM Group has considerable experience in mass timber facilities. She names the Girl Scouts’ Heart of Michigan building in Kalamazoo; the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Health & Wellness facility in Dowagiac, MI; as well as a current project using mass timber that CSM Group is managing for a client.
Into the national arena
On March 16, 2022, CSM Group was honored at the ABC (Associated Builders & Contractors) 32nd Annual National Convention held in San Antonio, TX, with two industry-leading awards. “That we received two awards this year is significant and speaks to the growth and maturity of the organization we’ve all been working on so hard,” Reed says.
The two Excellence in Construction® Awards are national industry awards, she says. They recognize general and specialty contractors for world-class, safe, and innovative construction projects, and honor every member of the team, including the contractor, owner, architect, and engineer.
CSM Group received the ABC National Excellence in Construction Eagle Award for the Greenleaf Trust Office Building renovation in Traverse City, MI. Built in 1904 to serve first as post office and later as city hall, the historic 16,926 square foot building has been brought back to life. It features tenant spaces, with Greenleaf Trust occupying the top floor, and has been equipped with new mechanical and electrical systems, and an elevator, stairs, and a second-floor balcony.
Of particular interest in the restoration project, which preserves the original stone façade, is the bipolar ionization system integrated within the air handling system to eliminate nearly all airborne impurities, including the virus that causes COVID-19. Meanwhile, the skylights, which had been covered for almost 60 years, are open, with interior transoms to disperse a maximum amount of light.
“Best of the Best”
CSM Group received this honor, says Stephanie Schmidt, National Chair of the ABC board of directors, “because work by the team at CSM Group exemplifies the best of the best in construction.”
The second award CSM Group received was the ABC National Safety Excellence Award for its exceptional safety record, training and education programs, and commitment to world-class safety.
Selected from among ABC members that achieved Diamond, Platinum, and Gold Status in ABC’s STEP Safety Management System in 2021, “CSM Group not only represents some of ABC’s top performers, but also demonstrates the difference it makes when implementing the foundations of, and daily conditions for, world class safety,” notes Schmidt.
The safety award, says Mason, “is a result of a different approach to safety that CSM Group has developed, looking into the behavioral science around safety, which gives it a unique perspective. CSM Group has been looking at what behaviors create safe and unsafe environments, and how we can use science to influence safer outcomes. We know there are some things people have no control over – their DNA or their life history – but influencing the environment can impact behavior. The company has been working at it for 15 years. There is no overnight solution, but the incremental performance we see has been world-class.”
Then, two weeks after the awards ceremony, CSM Group was identified on ABC’s Top Performers List, an annual list published by Construction Executive magazine. Michael Bellaman, president and CEO of ABC, congratulated CSM Group “for raising the bar in developing people, winning work, and delivering that work safely, ethically, and profitably.”
Concludes Mason, “A company’s success is based on safety, inclusivity, quality, culture, and leveraging advanced technology. It’s not about numbers, it’s about outcomes. I have always been a believer, as was Steve [East, CSM Group’s founder], that financial outcomes come out of those guiding principles. First, look after your customers, look after your colleagues, and create an environment where everyone can have mutual success.”