Many firms are satisfied to carve out a lucrative niche, but not WB Moore Company of Charlotte. While the company enjoys a certain cachet for its work on large corporate projects, they are actively seeking to broaden it.
WB Moore is recognized regionally, having built its reputation on work with big corporations such as Bank of America, Wachovia-Wells Fargo and Duke Energy, yet it conscientiously pursues smaller jobs as well.
“Serving a wide range of clients is the surest path to sustained growth prosperity,” WB Moore President Billy Graves says.
“We’re best known for specializing in the high-end corporate base,” Graves explains. “That’s the core of our business.”
The electrical contractor counts the new 30-story Bank of America office building, 18-story Ritz Carlton Hotel, and an important part of the Wachovia-Wells Fargo tower, now named for Duke Energy, among its current endeavors.
On the other hand, principal stockholder Graves doesn’t want WB Moore to be passed over by other companies with projects whose scope of work is smaller.
“We do smaller electric jobs,” Graves assures.
The company pursues projects in the healthcare, commercial, industrial, retail, parking, manufacturing and hotel sectors.
Graves takes pride in presiding over an electrical outfit that can handle a job from start to finish. That includes design and engineering on the front end, then guiding a client from drawings to building permits to reality. Finally, it entails acquiring a building inspection seal of approval at completion. And that’s not to mention staying within budget and on schedule.
“I would like to say we’re pretty unique,” Graves adds. “We’re one of the few firms that have a full in-house engineering team. For firms our size, I don’t know of anybody in this region that has both the field talent and the engineering services to go with it. We work to be a one-stop shop.”
Such accountability is working well for the company based on North Poplar Street, just outside Charlotte’s I-277 inner loop, within view of many of the buildings in Center City’s skyline that it either has worked on or is involved with right now.
The company has grown about 20 percent a year until the current recession. Still, Graves figures 2009 is about even with 2008, with under $100 million in revenues.
Graves had been with the Dallas-based WB Moore Company for five years when he moved his family to Charlotte in 1989. At the time, founder William Bruce Moore had built a company of approximately 1,800 employees in a dozen states. He wanted Graves to run a Charlotte expansion established to execute the electrical construction for the 60-story Bank of America Corporate Center.
Moore died while the tower was under construction and Graves negotiated with his widow, Susan Moore to finish work on the skyscraper, which was at that time Charlotte’s largest construction project. He also agreed to maintain the warranties on all the firm’s projects in the Charlotte region. In return, she granted Graves the assets and the company name. Mrs. Moore eventually closed or sold the other Moore offices.
Investing in Community and Company
A native of Houston, when Graves became principal owner of WB Moore, he could have moved it anywhere. But he chose to stay in Charlotte.
“Everything kept us here,” he smiles. “We liked the community and the environment. We settled in and got acquainted with a church. The climate and weather is good. Traffic wasn’t near what I was used to in Dallas or Atlanta (where he had also worked for WB Moore).”
Now 46, Graves and wife Judy have raised two daughters and live in Monroe.
Graves expanded on Moore’s original concept of a one-stop shop nimble and flexible enough to respond to market changes.
As he established the engineering component, he also instituted a family-style culture that includes great benefits, solid health care coverage and a range of personal development and training benefits.
He has also built a culture of caring for the community and giving back. Just before the employees celebrated the year-end holidays, they helped raise 4,000 pounds of food for the Second Harvest Food Drive to feed the area’s hungry.
A few weeks later, the company held an employee recognition luncheon at uptown’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel that the company helped build. “I wanted them to appreciate our accomplishments and see what we had done,” Graves explains.
For his large employee work force, Graves also places a premium on continuous training and safety. He’s convinced it gives them a preferred advantage among his clients.
Insurance companies use the Experience Modification Rate (EMR) to establish the cost of insurance premiums by correlating previous job injuries with chances of future accidents. The lower the EMR, the smaller the likelihood of a mishap, which can equate to a better bottom line on insurance premiums. Nobody wants a number higher than 1.0. WB Moore rates 0.7.
That attention to safety brings more opportunities to bid on work and also impresses potential clients, particularly large corporations whose lieutenants scrutinize a contractor’s risk factor.
WB Moore has won safety excellence recognition from the Carolinas Association of General Contractors for five straight years, touts Graves, who adds that the firm is vying for a national safety award this year as well.
Diversity Is a Strength
Graves also operates a diverse work force. He always had paid attention to the mix, but when the company built its headquarters on open land in the shadow of uptown, he obtained a loan through Charlotte’s “City Within a City” program that encourages inner city investment and hiring from the urban core.
WB Moore’s work force is now about 25 percent African-American and 5 percent Latino. It includes a significant number of Slavic nationals who settled here around a decade ago when war drove them from their Adriatic homeland.
“We pride ourselves in meeting all our goals as outlined by our clients on the diversity spend that we need,” Graves says, “both from our employees as well as our vendors and suppliers. A lot of our clients’ goals are in excess of 25 to 30 percent. We’ve been able to consistently achieve that by working with pre-qualified and local minority-owned firms.”
One of those minority subcontractors is The Daniele Company based in Durham. President and Chief Executive Gloria Shealy praises the entire WB Moore management team.
“They engage in building diverse and local work force capacity through training, mentoring, providing access to opportunities and community involvement,” Shealy says.
In a comparatively lean business climate this strategy has served WB Moore well, helping it continue to acquire sizable projects while maintaining many it helped build.
WB Moore is also quick to respond to client emergencies. In recent times, the company has been instrumental in expeditiously repairing large electrical outages at both the IJL Financial Center and Charlotte Plaza.
“When there is an unexpected event with the power in downtown,” Graves says, “we’re one of the first 911 calls that get made.”
WB Moore also performs on multiple power plant projects for Duke Energy. For work on an emissions scrubber at the Allen Steam Plant in Gaston County, the company wins high marks from Duke engineer Pennie Trevillian.
“The equipment owner has made several comments to management about the quality of the finished product,” Trevillian wrote to Graves. “His manager made the comment to me that we had to make sure we keep this team together,” she added, concluding that WB Moore “has made me look very good again.”
Green Practices Grow Bigger
Another hot button for Graves is building with an environmentally friendly mindset. Not only does the company provide these innovative services to their clients, but WB Moore practices what it preaches by including a multitude of green precepts in the expansion of its headquarters over the last several months.
Besides almost doubling the firm’s space at 16,000 square feet, the project includes greater water efficiency with a 40 percent reduction in use. Photovoltaic (solar) capabilities provide 14 percent renewable energy. The design uses 95 percent of existing walls, floors and roof and emphasizes waste management. Materials promote indoor environmental quality and enhance cleaning capabilities.
The company has submitted the building for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification at the Platinum Level.
“A lot of our clients are very engaged in green practices,” Graves points up. “It is taking a high priority. We need to show that we support their endeavors and commit to the same level, so we can say we walk the walk and talk the talk.”
For evidence of outside experience on environmental-related projects, WB Moore Vice President Todd Stevens again cites the Bank of America Corporate Center. In recent years, renovations the company has participated in have brought 24 floors up to LEED standards.
“I’d say we are very client-driven,” observes Stevens, a great believer that clients appreciate the value his company brings to a project.
Stevens had built a lengthy career in Columbia, S.C., and Raleigh when a mutual friend introduced him to Graves. He joined the WB Moore in 2003 and lives in the Charlotte area with wife Robin.
“A lot of the vision I had, Billy had the same vision and had already implemented it,” says Stevens, who at 40 is working for only his second employer. “I was excited.”
One recent innovation WB Moore uses is building information modeling, or BIM. It produces a three-dimensional view of the contemplated structure.
“The client really knows what the building’s going to look like before it gets built,” Graves says. “That saves a whole lot of headaches down the road.”
Though the economy remains tough, Graves sees expansion on the horizon, with additional offices in other areas such as recently added Raleigh location.
“We want to be in Raleigh because of our clients,” Graves says. “They are some of the same clients that are right here in our backyard.”
“We’ve got some projects we’re chasing in Tennessee and we’ve got stuff we’ve done in the Atlanta area,” continues Graves. “But this is where our main office is and this is our base.”
Meanwhile, Graves intends for WB Moore to continue its heavy involvement with Charlotte area businesses and the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.
“The Chamber is pro-business and pro-growth and it’s all about creating a great environment for our city,” he says. “We support them pretty heavily.”
The company hasn’t promoted itself otherwise and Graves admits that’s a product of his own personality. “I think cream will rise to the top,” he says simply.
But he wonders if that approach will have to change as the company grows. “A lot of people know who we are around here, but it’s kind of hard to get that message out there in an expansion,” he muses.
“When we go in those new areas, we need to make sure we’re taking our culture with us. And that’s a challenge,” he adds.
Still, Graves can tell the WB Moore story succinctly: “We’ve never worked on a project that we didn’t finish,” he says. “And for every project that we’ve ever worked on, we are still there for our clients.”
He uses the 60-story tower at the Square to emphasize the WB Moore staying power.
“We’re still over there changing light bulbs,” he says of the on-going WB Moore maintenance presence. “We’re not in business for a one-shot deal.”