Metropolitan Contracting Co., a privately owned and operated general contracting firm in San Antonio, was born in the aftermath of the Texas real estate crash in the mid-1980s.
Metropolitan’s co-founders, Tim Swan and Steve Schuetze, met earlier in the ’80s while working for different local companies in the development/contracting industry. Opportunity grew out of economic crisis for the two men.
Since then, Metropolitan has ridden a wave of success with the construction and renovation of more than 3,000 private sector projects nationwide – hotels and conference centers, industrial parks, medical office buildings, restaurants and retail outlets.
Locally, Metropolitan’s award-winning work can be found at the Pearl Brewery, constructing the Boiler House, Cured, and the Pearl Stable; the retail outlet Alon Town Centre, Mission Trail Medical Plaza and Westin Riverwalk Hotel.
“The company enjoyed almost uninterrupted growth for nearly 25 years, virtually since the beginning in 1986 through 2008,” said Swan.
“Every year was a little bit bigger than the year before, with nominal exceptions. This is incredibly unusual in the construction business. We didn’t know any better. Fortunately, we were incredibly smart,” Swan chuckled.
Swan said he and Schuetze decided at the outset that their new venture would handle only private projects. Both wanted to operate at a level of excellence. Pursuing public projects, they felt, would result in compromising standards.
Metropolitan developed a reputation over time for shepherding clients through the construction process from start to finish with “as little heartburn as possible,” Swan said.
Now, a local workforce of 50, Metropolitan’s principals decided to offer ownership participation to its employees. Last fall, employees were offered the opportunity to acquire 1,000 shares each, out of 600,000 total. Swan did not disclose the share price.
Swan and other top company officials make a conscious effort to maintain a friendly, open environment, one where employees feel invested in the firm via frequent communication and by discouraging gossip and other cliquish behavior.
Swan, Schuetze and COO Jane Feigenbaum have discussed the idea of giving employees a stake in the company over several years. They spent much time on a specific way to present the offering to employees and scenarios on how it could all play out.
Employees who showed an interest were asked to sign confidentially agreements, and were provided with six years of financial and legal data. Thirteen employees took advantage of the offer, the least experienced being someone who has been on the job only since early December.
Swan said he’s not sure if this will be a one-time offering.
“We may never have this chance again. It may happen again next year, don’t know. Somewhere in the future, we may have it or not, we just don’t know right now,” he said.
“We have carpenters who have been with us 25, maybe 30 years. We didn’t want a job title, position or experience have anything to do with the offer,” Feigenbaum said.
Project manager John Franklin and superintendent Jim Bliss each has been with Metropolitan for seven years. Assistant project manager Jennifer Lee has been with the firm for one year. They each bought a stake. Franklin said he feels more invested in Metropolitan and it shows in his attitude and work-related activities.
“Even those who didn’t buy-in, they know they had a chance, but we all have a better sense and feel for the company,” he said.
Feigenbaum said this is just one of many ways of helping “satellite” employees such as Bliss – those not always in the main office – to feel connected.
“I’ve always felt that the company has been inclusive. By allowing the buy-in, the company (officials) put their money where their mouth is,” Bliss said.
Nobody is treated differently, no matter if you bought in or not. Just the fact they made this offer, it makes you feel important.”
“It’s neat to have this kind of opportunity at such a young age,” Lee said. “Being fresh to the company, I’ve worked with family businesses. Here, we are family but it’s not tiered like that.”
Metropolitan officials said they encourage company inclusiveness by other means.
“The open door policy they have here has really helped,” Bliss said. “There’s a great sense of teamwork. You can go to Jane, Steve or Tim about any issue. It’s more family oriented that way. It starts at the top.”
Franklin said a lot of hardworking people work at Metropolitan and it translates throughout the entire company.
“They all enjoy working with each other,” he said.
Lee said hiring managers look for candidate compatible with their employees, rather than concentrate only on the applicant’s skill set or experience.
“(The company) can train (newcomers) to do what they need to do, but all of our attitudes go together,” she said.
Feigenbaum said communicating regularly with employees is important.
“Weekly staff meetings with the project management team, then we have monthly meetings with those same teams and the superintendents,” he said. “We really try to make employees feel that their input is valued.”
This attitude translates to how Metropolitan works with clients.
“We work for developers. A developer always has a budget. He knows how much he’s spent on the land, what he’s going to get in rent, what leases space for, and he factors in construction,” Schuetze said. “We always begin from that construction budget number, and we always keep him informed on where he is in relation to that number. It’s his target.”
*Featured/top image: A sign displaying another project by Metropolitan Contracting Company on the Rand Building in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.