Learn more about two MGM companies that are internationally known.
Take a look around the city on any given day, and you’ll see, MGM is buzzing and bustling; there’s plenty of business getting done right here. But several companies based in the city do a lot of their work not just outside Montgomery, but also beyond U.S. borders. We talked to two of them to learn more about what they do, where they do it and how they do it amid the challenges often found in foreign countries.
When Kent Hornsby started his Montgomery-based electrical engineering and consulting company HCS Group 10 years ago, he knew he wanted to continue pursuing work outside of the United States. “I started working overseas in Panama in 1984, and that established my interest in it,” he said. One major motivation was the continual opportunity to interact with diverse cultures. “I like to be in and learn first-hand about different places and people,” he said. Rod Ceasar, Vice President, International Operations at Caddell Construction, which builds massive U.S. government complexes worldwide, shared similar sentiments. “I have always enjoyed traveling to the various countries where we work and have significantly broadened my own perspective and appreciation of other cultures. I also derive satisfaction from bringing together the innumerable physical parts and pieces from all over required and then integrating them into an effective team to produce a structure that will stand for generations.”
While HCS Group is relatively small, with only 12 full-time employees, its reach is much bigger thanks to a network of consultants that work with it across the globe. And its projects are huge; they include U.S. embassies, military bed-down facilities for multiple jets, tanker planes and drones and much more.
When Caddell Construction was founded by John and Joyce Caddell it was small too; its first offices were in spare bedrooms of the couple’s house. But it’s been expanding ever since and today is one of the largest companies of its kind. It does some domestic work, but its international projects have become an increasingly large part of its business in the last 10 years, as Terry Willis, Director of Marketing, explained. “Terrorist attacks in the last few decades have shown the weaknesses of our U.S. embassies. There’s been a push to make them safer, and it marked a complete turn in philosophy,” he said. “It used to be that embassies were places in these communities that were open doors between cultures and countries, but after multiple attacks, everything changed.” Since the emphasis on better protection began, Caddell has dominated the market, building the majority of U.S. embassies and consulates in the last 15 years. And the company is not slowing down. The business of securing our embassies is ongoing; Willis believes there’s enough work yet to do to keep things booming for another five to 10 years.
THE RISK IS REAL
While Hornsby and Ceasar find work on foreign soil both personally satisfying and professionally profitable for their respective companies, it is not without its challenges. Sometimes life and limb are at stake. “In many of the areas we go into, we have to maintain up-to-date vaccinations to steer clear of diseases,” Hornsby said. “And I’ve been in three coups [in Venezuela and Ecuador] and a couple of earthquakes.” He and his workers have to hire guards and their own drivers.
Caddell has done work in some of the most hostile and isolated spots on earth, and Ceasar echoed Hornsby. “We have had a project that started immediately after a country’s struggle for independence in a very uncertain environment; another experienced a rebel uprising during construction that compromised supply routes,” he said. “We have built projects in areas of high crime and violence, including countries where the drug cartels exerted considerable influence. Many of our overseas projects have been in locations with harsh climates, poisonous snakes, contagious disease, dust and corrosive soils.”
Administration issues can get complex too. “We’ve got to have the proper clearances, and visas and interpreters,” Hornsby said. “We have to stay in touch with the U.S. embassy everywhere we go, often daily.”
Conscientious consideration must be paid to logistics and resources, which are unique to each location. “When we design for each area, we have to keep in mind what is locally available, so we have to get to know that environment and understand their shipping capabilities,” Hornsby said. “These areas don’t have a Walmart or Home Depot around the corner.”
Being aware of and respectful of cultural differences is key, too. “My interpreters help with language barriers, but you have to pay attention to customs and other cultural differences so you’re not offensive,” Hornsby said. “When we are in the Middle East, we really have to watch it there. Some places are under Sharia law, so you have to be very careful.”
Hornsby and his employees are usually in places for a short time, unlike Caddell; its teams are often on-site for months or even years. This, coupled with the sensitive nature of many of its projects, means added layers of planning and procedures. “We have to use cleared American workers in some cases like locations holding classified information,” Willis said. “So we have to find them and fly them in.” For many projects, Caddell erects entire communities on site with food service, laundry and entertainment options for its workers. “We can have up to 1,000 people living and working there,” Willis said. “In the end, very few companies can do this type of work. It is too dangerous and too daunting.”
In spite of all this, to date, all of Caddell’s projects have been completed without major incident or injury. “You simply cannot stop paying attention to even the smallest detail and our people are excellent at that,” Ceasar said. HCS has been equally fortunate. “We’ve overcome every obstacle in every instance,” Hornsby said.
ON THE FLIPSIDE
While the hurdles and hazards are real, so are the rewards. And they go beyond dollars and cents, according to Hornsby. “I really love the kids I meet in all these places,” he said. “Kids are the same everywhere you go and to see them smile, to see them appreciate us being there and the things we are doing to help is truly gratifying.”
He’s equally fulfilled doing work that assists our military. “We’ve done overseas work for our government, like bed-down facilities for military bases, and those are rewarding too, to see our military in action and see what our men and women in uniform do and the impact their presence overseas has,” he said.
HCS Group is also involved in Humanitarian Assistance Program (HAT) projects administered by the State Department that actually bring very little profit but yield life-changing results. One is Power Africa. “We’re trying to provide access to electricity for people in Africa without any,” Hornsby said. “It’s key because with power you bring communication and education that will lift these impoverished areas.” He and his team develop micro power grids, often using wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. HCS has helped with other HAT projects too, simple things like building a bridge over a river, connecting a village with the outside world. “Things like that mean everything to these people,” Hornsby said.
Caddell carries a strong obligation to do community outreach wherever it works too, using local workers to the fullest extent possible, providing training and mentorship and partnering with the State Department to find ways to give back. “Caddell has brought a slice of America and American generosity to some very remote locations of the world,” Ceasar said. “Caddell teams have worked in orphanages in Nepal, built basic housing for poor families in Guinea, provided material to support the efforts of the police force in Djibouti, supported local schools in Istanbul with donations of books and materials, helped alleviate some of the suffering of the homeless in Burundi, and the list could go on and on.”
Even when the pros outweigh the cons, what HCS and Caddell do can be dangerous and is always demanding work. Willis stressed that it’s only suited for a specific type of person. “Our international project teams have to work a great deal, sometimes seven days a week, so they often don’t get to do much sightseeing,” he said. “You have to be able to leave your own culture and comfort to do these things, and it can be very isolating and hard, hard work. But we have folks who really embrace the positives of it.”
Ceasar added praise for Caddell’s international teams. “The ability of our people, regardless of their nationality, to work together in adjusting to the sudden problems that arise in this type of work is amazing. These problems can be anything from adverse weather affecting our material deliveries to political events stopping work,” he said. “I also believe that Southerners have a natural patience and perseverance for this type of work.”
MEET THE COMPANY: HCS Group
YEAR FOUNDED: 2008
PRIMARY PRODUCT/SERVICE: Electrical engineering, energy-related services such as micro-grid and renewable energy system design, technical energy audits and power system studies.
CLIENTS: The U.S. State Department, U.S. Military, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and more.
GLOBAL SCOPE: Work done in more than 50 countries on five continents, including Panama, Columbia, Peru, Brazil, the Caribbean, the Galapagos Islands, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, Venezuela, Ecuador and more.
OF NOTE: One interesting recent project was a drug interdiction base, a platform in the ocean, right off the coast of Nicaragua. HCS Group designed the base and the energy supply for it using windmills and solar panels.
MEET THE COMPANY: Caddell Construction Co.
YEAR FOUNDED: 1983
PRIMARY PRODUCT/SERVICE: General contracting, design/build, construction management and preconstruction with expertise in tackling unique and difficult construction challenges.
CLIENTS: The U.S. State Department, U.S. Military, NASA and more.
GLOBAL SCOPE: Work done on five continents and in countries including Mexico, Greece, Kenya, India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Nepal, the Netherlands, Russia and more.
Caddell construction has built more than 30 U.S. Embassies and Consulates and has a portfolio of $11 billion-plus of projects worldwide. A complex currently being constructed in Kabul, Afghanistan, is approaching $790 million.