Thinking Big – A Decade of Growth
When Alfred Benesch & Associates, Consulting Engineers first opened on February 2, 1946, no one could have imagined how much bigger and better the firm would become 75 years later – except, perhaps, Mr. Benesch himself.
What began as one man and one service line (building design), blossomed into a booming business by his retirement in 1971. By then, the company had grown into a transportation-focused firm with 50 employees in its downtown Chicago office.
Mr. Benesch watched with pride as those who took over the company continued to grow what he started. “My successors, who have retained the firm’s name, are still carrying on in the old tradition, namely, quality of workmanship and integrity,” he said.
Those principles stood both the test of time and major expansion, when new leadership sought growth opportunities that took the company to new heights.
“Every leadership team over the years has progressed the company along the way, and when you’re being led by someone else, it’s natural to think, ‘well, maybe I’d do it a little bit differently,’” John Carrato, President and CEO from 2010-2020, remembers.
Before assuming the role of President & CEO, Carrato and former COO, Jack Kweder, noticed the company’s dependence on federal transportation dollars, and how the size of the company would fluctuate based on whether long-term federal capital plans were in place.
“Every time we grew and shrank, we lost quality people because the work wasn’t there. So, our foremost vision was to become less dependent on those federal transportation dollars,” John recalls. “It was clear that we needed to diversify – both geographically and service-wise.”
Before John and Jack’s leadership tenures, the firm had grown to establish offices in Lansing, MI, and Kenosha, WI, and executed its first merger with a Pottsville, PA-based firm, gaining water and wastewater services. After becoming CEO, Carrato led the charge in what became a decade of exponential growth for the company. It started with a strategic merger with HWS Consulting Group in Lincoln, NE, which marked the firm’s first significant growth spurt in more than 20 years.
“It was a huge milestone for us. We added offices in Nebraska, Colorado, Iowa, and Kansas, as well as geotechnical and hazardous waste services,” John says. “While we still weren’t considered a big firm, size-wise, we knew it was time to start thinking big.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Following the HWS merger, Benesch grew to about 370 employees. That’s when John and Jack turned their focus to building a robust corporate team and company structure to support and cultivate continued growth, including expansion of the company’s human resources, accounting and business development/marketing staff.
Over the course of the 2010-2020 decade, the company underwent a major restructuring to establish geographic regions and create new management hierarchies.
“Every member of the corporate management team played a role in growing the firm during that time,” John recalls. “In addition to Jack and me, Kevin Fitzpatrick, Greg Brennan, Mike Gorman, Jim Blanusha, Tina Horn and Laura McGovern—they each brought something different to the table and believed very deeply in the vision we shared.”
Benesch would go on to merge with or acquire nine additional firms during that period, bringing the firm’s geographic presence from four states to 40 offices in 19 states, and from 200 employees to 750. With such expansion came additional services as well, including landscape architecture, civil/site planning, transportation planning, and public rail projects. The firm’s ranking on Engineering News Record’s list of Top 500 Design Firms also jumped from #224 to #112.
Another by-product of “thinking big” was the establishment of a company-wide work transfer program – a game changer in helping to retain quality staff and keep them billable through the ups and downs of active project work. The program aimed not only to balance and share work as needed across divisions, but it proved to be an effective way to cross train and expose employees to a wide range of unique, complex projects they might not typically have a chance to be a part of. It also fosters collaboration and lends support across regions to satisfy strategic company objectives. And, with the rapid influx of offices and staff spread out across the country, this successful program supports Benesch’s culture of being one team.
Rooting his business in those three key principles, and sticking to them, was integral in Mr. Benesch’s eventual success. That commitment to quality, steadfast integrity and unfailing kindness separated him from his competition. Today, those foundational elements continue to define the company.
“During this journey to grow, a major concern was that our culture would start to slip away,” John says. “We came to learn that if we did it right, if we worked hard at it and were committed to it, we could maintain our culture and preserve that legacy that we were founded on.”
Amidst rapidly growing its people and places of business, Benesch’s core values continue to shine through employee-centric programs, groups and committees dedicated to social responsibility; staff appreciation; work-life balance; and equity, diversity, and inclusion.
“We’ve come really far, and I think we were able to stay true to who we are while growing our culture at the same time,” John said. “These different committees especially, each run by our employees, have worked diligently to make us a better company as we’ve grown.”