Published on September 20th, 2017 | by UC&D Magazine0
Decade Of Growth
Like a Phoenix rising, Zwick Construction has blazed an impressive trail the past 10 years during it’s ‘second phase’ of existence.
Darin Zwick finds himself in a unique historical position as both a third- generation leader of Midvale-based Zwick Construction and a company founder, having brought the firm back to life in 2007 after a 12-year hibernation precipitated by ecclesiastical matters.
The success and longevity of family businesses is never guaranteed and varies wildly; according to Forbes, less than one-third (30%) survive after the second generation takes over, and a meager 14% make it to a third generation. So as Zwick celebrates the 10th anniversary of his firm’s ‘re-founding’, he is quick to give credence to the stellar reputation built by grandfather William (Bill) and father W. Craig when Zwick Construction operated as a general building contractor from 1969 to 1995 in Salt Lake.
“What my grandfather and father did…I give them a ton of credit for maintaining a reputation which was impeccable,” said Zwick. “The jobs we picked up in ’07 were because of what they did years before. To this day we run our business on those same core values of passion, integrity and teamwork.”
Holy Déjà Vu
Bill Zwick worked 14 years at Okland Construction and another eight years as a partner in Horne-Zwick Construction before starting Zwick Construction in 1969, bringing Craig on board as a key young executive. The firm found steady success during its first decade of existence, however in 1978, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) called Bill to serve for three years as President of the California Sacramento mission.
Craig acquired full ownership in the late 70’s and soldiered forth, establishing Zwick as a major player throughout the 80s with 400-plus employees competing for the biggest and most challenging projects in the Intermountain region against other Utah GC heavyweights. Ten years into his
tenure at the Zwick helm, Craig received the same three-year calling, albeit abroad as President of the Chile Santiago South mission from 1989-92.
“Back then we were self-performing much of the work,” he said. “Excavation, flying in our own steel, pouring concrete. We owned cranes, concrete pumps and had our own crews – it all came to a surprising halt for me. I never considered I’d be pulled out of what was a nice vertical curve of growth from ’78 to ’89…so it was a surprise to get a call to be a mission president. It forced us to evaluate our future; we downsized, but kept projects going. When (my father) left in ’78, it wasn’t opportune for our company, but it gave me an opportunity to stretch. That’s what I see in Darin – he’s had that same opportunity.”
Fulfilling a Dream
Upon returning to Utah in summer ’92, Craig fully expected to ramp the company back up and immediately start competing for new projects, but new requests to serve emerged.
The first was an invitation from Utah Governor Michael Leavitt, a close friend, to spend a four-year term as Executive Director of the Utah Department of Transportation and help lay the groundwork for UDOT’s $1.8 billion I-15 Reconstruction. Before he could finish that term, Craig received a new ecclesiastical calling in April ’95, this one from LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley to serve as a General Authority for the church
In this full-time capacity the past 22 years he has held numerous leadership positions spanning three continents, including his current role as Assistant Executive Director of the Missionary Department and Committee Chair of the Utah Hispanic Initiative. Having turned 70 in June, he is to be released as a General Authority in October.
For the younger Zwick (he turned 40 in March), his dream of one day running the family construction company – something he envisioned early in his youth – took a more circuitous, and perhaps educational, route. He enrolled in a Construction Management program at Brigham Young University in ’98 and worked part-time for Okland Construction during school. Upon graduating with a CM degree in 2001, Zwick told his father he was ready to resurrect Zwick Construction.
The elder Zwick (who has held the title of ‘Elder Zwick’ since ’95) counseled his son to first gain some hands-on experience.
Zwick worked two years in Okland’s Arizona office, then spent four years at Suffolk Construction in Los Angeles before returning to Utah in July ’07.
The company landed two projects right out of the gate and Zwick thought success was eminent. But when the recession started unfolding in ’08 – less than a year into the venture – he wondered what the future would hold, and whether or not he should have turned down a lucrative executive position with Suffolk’s corporate office in Boston.
“For a moment I thought I had made a terrible mistake,” he admitted. “I had hired these people, who I was now responsible for paying. For three years I didn’t take a salary. I remember going home one time and telling my wife (Courtney) ‘I’m not sure how I’m going to make payroll this week’. It was tough. We found ways to be lean in tough times, to go with less. I often go back and look at those years because the way we ran our business, frankly, isn’t any different, meaning we don’t get greedy, we don’t overspend, and we keep our overhead lean.”
“The beauty of that lesson,” added Craig, “is you don’t go beyond yourself. Those lessons are the underpinnings of the success of this third generation.” The firm was able to make solid progress during its first five-plus years with total revenues just north of $140 million, including $38.2 million in ’11 and $35.6 million in ’12, which Zwick said was watershed year in terms of profitability. That year saw the firm open an office in City of Industry, Calif. (moved to Irvine in 2015), and land a nice contract with Deseret Book to do TI build-outs on 30-plus stores in six western states. It also built the new Millcreek Fire Station, the first of eight new stations for Unified Fire Authority in various Salt Lake County cities.
Revenues shot up to $61.5 million in ’13 and have held steady, topping out at a record $73.2 million in ’16. Zwick opened a second Utah office in Cedar City in spring ’15 after landing a contract to build the LDS Cedar City Temple. Both satellite offices are currently thriving, adding to a revenue surge that should top $125 million in ’17 and lay the foundation for another banner year in ’18.
“We’re very optimistic about the next 18 months – all markets are up right now,” said Zwick. “We wanted to capitalize on our presence in Cedar City while building the temple and it’s played out really well. We have five projects from Bryce Canyon to St. George; we’re becoming a serious player in Southern Utah. In California we’ve been able to negotiate some large projects: $67 million in Long Beach, $30 million in Fullerton, and $24 million in Redondo Beach. We see fees coming back a little bit to where they should be, and owners are seeing the value of preconstruction services and are willing to pay for it, because they know the end result will save them money.”
Zwick is also excited to bring his father on board in a larger capacity, even if it’s on a part-time basis.
“I’ve got to work out his wage first,” Zwick chuckled. “He couldn’t be happier. He loves seeing the Zwick flag flying and takes a lot of pride in the name. Every week he walks a job site on his own. If it doesn’t look great, he’ll call me and tell me to tighten it up. We’ll get him involved with certain projects and certain people. He’s been a great sounding board from day one and we’re exciting he’s coming back.”