A fledgling construction company at the time, Alpha Building Corporation got its big break when it was hired by NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Under that contract, the firm was exposed to construction-support services and, later, job-order contracting—a business model that allows the client to get many commonly encountered construction projects done quickly and cost-effectively by signing a multiyear contract with a construction firm.
Today, job-order contracting is the foundation of Alpha Building’s business, allowing the firm to complete as many as 1,500 projects a year for a range of corporate clients, particularly in higher education. “I don’t think there’s a type of facility we haven’t touched in the past 45 years,” says Kathleen Kovich Acock, the company’s president and second-generation owner, who’s quick to give credit where credit is due. “Our clients have mentored and nurtured us; we’ve learned and grown because of them.” Here’s a look at the company’s expansion and job-order-contracting approach, organized by its impressive numbers.
Alpha Building’s value proposition is simple: to provide construction services—large and small—to institutional, industrial, and commercial clients under multiyear contracts. “We offer an on-call response to any number of smaller deliverables, from repairs to renovations to retrofits—projects that have values anywhere from $2,000 to upwards of $1 million,” Acock says. “Because of the expertise of the teams we’ve built, we’re able to get onto a job site much quicker, and because we’re conscious of scheduling and the safety of not only the construction workers but the people working in that environment who have to pass through, we can complete a job with a lot less disruption to ongoing operations. As a result, the client is able to continue with whatever its mission is and end up with a significantly improved work environment.”
In this year, as NASA was winding down the Apollo program, Alpha Building began doing work at the Johnson Space Center under the construction-support-services model. Later, the company was still working for NASA and had begun doing work for the military when Harry Humphry Mellon invented job-order contracting while working as the chief engineer at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Mons, Belgium. In 1985, Mellon implemented the concept for the US Army, and Alpha Building found its niche. “We began leveraging it with other clients, with our first contracts awarded in 1988, and it’s really worked for us,” says Acock, who has used the practice to grow her company to 100–120 employees. “We can’t take credit for establishing it, but we’ve certainly become renowned for it.”
Many excellent construction firms use job-order contracting, Acock says, but Alpha Building stands out for its on-site supervision. The company has 16 offices serving more than 30 clients scattered over six states, and each client that engages the business for a multiyear contract receives a fully functioning and dedicated construction team at its location.
That team is chosen with much deliberation. For each member, Alpha Building follows a résumé review with an informational interview, and if a candidate has the skills and understanding of customer service that the company needs, he or she is eventually interviewed by Acock herself. “After that,” she says, “we conduct a multiweek background check because we work in K–12 environments, then the candidate goes through an onboarding process we’ve developed to ensure they’re really inspired by what our ethics are and how we conduct business. And, after that, they work under the mentorship of a long-term manager.”
In the years of the recent housing-market boom (2007–2009), Alpha Building was doing as many as 1,500 projects a year. As the economy slowed, though, so did business—but Acock says there was only one really bad year because Texas stayed relatively strong during the crisis. Today, the situation is improving, and the company averages 1,000–1,200 projects a year, many of which are larger, between $250,000 and $500,000.
Roughly 55–60 percent of business comes from higher education, and notable long-term clients have included Texas A&M University, the University of Memphis, the University of Texas–Austin, the University of Texas–San Antonio, the Texas Tech Health Science Center, and Tarleton State University. “We consciously went down the higher-education path in 1992, when we responded to a request for proposals from Texas A&M,” Acock says. “We really pulled out all the stops, our best resources.”
45 years of experience
Alpha Building was founded by Acock’s parents, Gordon and Viola Kovich, in 1969. Acock didn’t originally intend to go into the family business—“I didn’t have any plans to do anything,” she says—but she joined in 1977 during a life transition. “As I got older and smarter, I realized I absolutely loved doing this kind of work with this firm,” she says.
And, as the firm approaches its 50th anniversary in 2019, Acock is planning to pass her role to her son, Jonathan Rogero. He joined the company at age 16 and now serves as Texas regional manager. “He has a journeyman carpenter license, an associate’s degree in project management, a bachelor’s degree in business management, and he’s being mentored to take over my role sometime around next year,” Acock says. “I’m really looking forward to seeing the third generation of owners in place.”