The last time you introduced your children to the stars at the Robinson Nature Center’s NatureSphere, hopped on a MARC train from the Dorsey Rail Station or cheered the Orioles at Camden Yards, you probably weren’t thinking about KCI Technologies Inc. Yet KCI helped make each of those experiences a success.
KCI’s focus is on engineering, contracting and consulting activities that the average consumer may not think about, but which are critical elements in infrastructure and building design, planning and construction. Headquartered in Sparks, KCI, which originally stood for Kidde Consultants Inc., reported revenues exceeding $146 million in 2012, up from $117 million in 2011. It has more than 1,000 employee-owners operating out of 26 offices in 14 states, 505 of them in Maryland.
KCI is one of the largest engineering firms in Maryland and is growing. In 2012 it acquired Triplett-King and Associates, a $6.5 million South Carolina-based company, and Houston-based ESPA Corporation, a $5.5 million company.
According to Senior Vice President, Site & Facilities Discipline Manager Charles (Chuck) Phillips, RPLS, the company is expanding, and he expects his 20-person Fulton office to increase by 10% to 20% in the coming year.
Since 2009, the company has been organized into six “discipline” areas. In addition to Phillips’ Site & Facilities, these are Environmental, Resource Management, Telecom/Utilities, Transportation and Communications Infrastructure.
According to Phillips, his Sites & Facilities and Telecom/Utilities are currently the company’s most rapidly growing areas. While involved in a broad range of projects, his personal favorites are those in which buildings are repurposed, such as the transformation to Johns Hopkins’ Bayview Campus from the old Baltimore City Hospitals — an ongoing, 17-year effort.
Career Path for Employees
Organizing around disciplines, which replaced regional divisions, means that senior officials have a stake in each office’s success and are aware of what’s going in multiple offices throughout the company. It means steadier workforce deployment, and as a result, a better career path for employees.
If mechanical engineering work is slow in one office, for instance, Phillips would be aware of work coming up connected to another office and would be able to supply staff to support it. Noted Phillips, employees can “grow [their] careers without leaving the company.”
Since 1988, KCI has been employee-owned.
What does being an employee-owned company mean? Phillips, who has been with KCI since 1985, explained. Being employee-owned gives employees a stake in the company’s success. All the profits on annual basis pass back to the employees.
In a field like engineering, in which turnover is common, experienced employees frequently move from company to company as projects end and begin. The employee ownership, combined with the company’s discipline-oriented organizational structure, helps with staff retention, since employees gain more from the profit-sharing the longer they are with the company.
Tradition of Chamber Involvement
Involvement in chambers of commerce is a company tradition, and KCI President Nathan Beil and CEO Terry Neimeyer are currently on the Maryland and U.S. chambers of commerce boards, respectively. Through the Fulton office, the company is active in the Howard County Chamber of Commerce.
Phillips noted that the engineering business is relationship-driven, and the company finds in the chamber other companies who believe in supporting the community and the business community. “It’s helped with visibility in the business community.”
Pam Klahr, Howard County Chamber executive director, confirmed Phillips’, and the company’s, commitment. “The entire executive leadership team from KCI understands the importance of working with their chamber. Chuck Phillips is coming on our board this year.
“Chuck is KCI’s representative on the GovConnects Advisory Board [the chamber’s newest initiative for businesses associated with government contracting]. He is fully engaged and participates with ideas for the direction the group should be taking. Chuck is also serving on the Cyber Conference Committee and has assisted us in attracting some major ‘players’ as speakers for the event. He knows the importance of getting small businesses connected with prime contractors,” Klahr stated.
Phillips sees additional benefits in his firm’s chamber involvement. “At KCI, we pride ourselves on having a learning culture, on staff training and education. [We have] an entrepreneurial culture,” he noted.
The firm’s Emerging Leaders program is part of that culture. It identifies staff members who have demonstrated specific abilities that suggest future leadership potential. These employees are offered additional management training opportunities.
Phillips sees the Howard County Chamber’s Young Professionals Network as part of that training. He noted that it’s a way for [younger] staff to make connections and to be exposed to business development activities while working with other young professionals. “We like that a lot,” he explained.
Phillips’ involvement in the community doesn’t end with his work on the Howard County Chamber. He is on the board of Project PLASE (People Lacking Ample Shelter and Employment), a 38-year-old program based in Baltimore’s North Charles neighborhood that is converting a closed Catholic school in St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish into transitional housing for the homeless. KCI is deeply involved in the project, providing construction management, mechanical/electrical/fire protection engineering, civil engineering, surveying and environmental assessments.
A resident of the Glenwood section of Howard County, he’s married with two grown children and two grandchildren. When he’s not working, you might find him restoring classic cars or enjoying his saltwater fish hobby — an interest that is also reflected in his service on the board of directors of the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
He, and KCI, are Maryland-based, but are involved in efforts that impact and improve their community, their state and their nation.