Alumni-Led Firm Helps Clients Think Holistically
Fuss & O’Neill is a company on the move. This vibrant 80-year old full-service engineering consulting practice, headquartered in Manchester, CT is continuously evolving and redefining itself, growing at an enviable pace, and investing in resources, people and training to ensure it can continue to anticipate and deliver the quality services its clients have come to expect. Fuss & O’Neill offers integrated engineering consulting services that span environmental, land development and surveying, transportation, structures, manufacturing solutions, building systems, industrial services, information technology services, design/build, infrastructure management and energy services. The practice tackles roughly 2,000 projects each year for private and quasi-public clients and ranks among Engineering New Record magazine’s top 500 largest design firms in the country. Last year, Fuss & O’Neill did $45-$50 million in business.
Among the recent high-profile projects in which Fuss & O’Neill has played a major role is the Shops at Evergreen Walk in East Windsor, CT. Fuss & O’Neill was the engineer-of-record for the developers of the 240-acre Evergreen Walk parcel, an upscale mixed-use retail/lifestyle community, as well as the Buckland area of Manchester where a large mall and other retail, restaurant and hotel/residential properties are congregated. Fuss & O’Neill also was a project engineer for the infrastructure component of the new 185,000 sq. ft. Cabela’s retail “destination” store that opened at Rentschler Field in East Hartford in October 2007.
On a recent December day, Jeffrey P. Heidtman, CEO and President, joined by Michael Curtis, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, and Randall Kamerbeek, Director of Business Development and Marketing, spoke with us about Fuss & O’Neill and its special relationship with UConn’s School of Engineering. The practice employs about 350 professionals in its 11 offices, located in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, North Carolina and South Carolina. It is organized into the core business, Fuss & O’Neill Inc. – which consists of two major divisions – and five limited partnerships.
Dr. Curtis, a UConn alumnus, directs the Facilities & Environmental Systems Division, while fellow Senior Vice President and UConn alumnus James D. Parry oversees the Development & Remediation Services Division.
Fuss & O’Neill has a long, multi-layered and successful relationship with the University of Connecticut. Mr. Heidtman is a UConn alumnus (M.S. geology, ’73), and three of the company’s five Executive Committee members are UConn graduates. Dr. Curtis, who joined the practice in 1986, holds three degrees from UConn (B.S. biology, ’76; M.S. and Ph.D. environmental engineering,’80 and ’87); and Mr. Parry earned his B.S. degree in civil engineering at UConn in 1976.
The company’s UConn ties don’t end there, however. Fuss & O’Neill has recruited and hired talented UConn engineering graduates for many years and currently employs almost 50. Fuss & O’Neill generously sponsors the Fuss & O’Neill Scholarship in the School of Engineering, which is awarded to a top civil and environmental engineering student each year. The company also participates in UConn’s on-site Master of Engineering (MENG) practice-oriented degree program as one important way of investing in the professional development of its employees. Through the MENG program, UConn instructors teach master’s level courses to company employees at the Fuss & O’Neill facility. The company built a custom high-tech classroom so employees can simply walk downstairs to their classes rather than commute to Storrs. Dubbed the “UConn Classroom,” the training room is equipped with “virtual classroom” capabilities that will eventually allow employees at the company’s other locations to participate without leaving their facilities. A course recently offered through the MENG program was “Design of Transportation Structures for Extreme Events.” Dr. Curtis, who taught civil and environmental engineering (CEE) courses at UConn for several years, explained the company’s educational mission: “The world is moving very fast. One thing we’re very good at is seeing where markets are going. We are reinventing people to continue to meet those needs.”
Mr. Heidtman and Dr. Curtis consider these UConn connections to be very important, particularly as recruiting channels for the company. Michael Accorsi, CEE head and professor, agrees. He remarked, “Fuss & O’Neill has actively participated in the educational and research programs of the CEE Department for many years. This close interaction, and the company’s reputation for excellence, has benefited our department in substantive ways. As a result, they have a high visibility with our students and many of our graduates have gone on to highly successful careers at Fuss & O’Neill.”
Another facet of the Fuss & O’Neill/UConn linkage involves research. Dr. Curtis revealed that the company began working with CEE assistant professor Dr. Baikun Li last year to develop a novel energy technology involving the use of a microbial fuel cell fueled by converted wastewater. The team is seeking venture capital to support commercial development of the idea.
Growth, advancement and change are underlying themes within the Fuss & O’Neill culture. Over the course of their decades-long work with Fuss & O’Neill, Mr. Heidtman and Dr. Curtis have seen the business evolve as clients’ expectations and needs have changed. The largest share of Fuss & O’Neill’s work, according to Mr. Heidtman, is in the area of industrial services. Industrial clients are offered diverse facility, process design, construction services and lean manufacturing assistance as well as ongoing environmental, health and safety (EHS) compliance assistance. Mr. Heidtman said “Increasingly, our work brings us to the factory floor working to upgrade select process areas. No other firm offers this ‘one-stop-shopping’ approach through a single point of contact.”
One of the major focus areas to emerge has been the environment. Mr. Heidtman said, “Environmental concerns fall into generally two practices: remediation and prevention. With the recognition that pollutants can leave a toxic trail – in water, air and soil – that often linger long after the initial polluter has gone, companies increasingly are faced with legacy pollutants from prior uses of the land and facilities. Similarly, buildings may be contaminated with toxic substances, from chemicals to building materials.
In the last 20 years, government regulations have been passed to reduce and prevent potentially toxic pollutants and climate-altering emissions – such as lead, mercury and other heavy metals; solvents such as perchloroethylene (PCE); sulfur and CO2 and the like – to protect workers and residents living nearby. Dr. Curtis explained that many companies come to Fuss & O’Neill for assistance in safely removing the offending substances. Increasingly, clients are also seeking to become compliant with EPA and OSHA regulations, etc. “The real place we can help is, going forward, with providing our clients assistance so they can stay compliant or begin a process of exceeding regulatory expectations. Regulatory issues have become paramount. Sixteen years ago, we became very good in terms of the Clean Water Act compliance as regards industrial waste. We are now nationally recognized.”
Mr. Heidtman added, “We crawled up the effluent pipe and into the factory. We have moved beyond remediation and into prevention, helping companies rethink their operations to reduce their environmental impacts, enhance energy use and the like. Now, we are dealing with wet chemistry and chemical processes, infrastructure, etc. The most expensive place to resolve issues is at the end of the pipe. From the standpoint of cost savings, simplicity and good citizenship, we need to help our clients modify their operations from the inside out.”
Dr. Curtis said, “The environmental and facilities side of the business is heading toward reducing our clients’ carbon footprint. LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design Green Building Rating System) certification has emerged as an important goal for many companies, and Fuss & O’Neill can help them reach that goal. We talk with our clients now about LEED. We are interested in making American industry more efficient.”
“For a firm of our size, we’re as diverse as you’ll find, but we don’t offer every service,” commented Mr. Heidtman, so Fuss & O’Neill has expanded its reach through strategic acquisitions, such as the April ’07 purchase of EnviroScience LLC, which provides industrial hygiene, asbestos and lead-based paint testing and consultation, training, laboratory analysis, health and safety consulting and monitoring, environmental engineering and environmental sciences.
Preserving History for Tomorrow
Fuss & O’Neill’s headquarters offices are housed in elegant, restored red brick and timber beam buildings that once were part of the famed, sprawling Cheney Brothers silk mills. The company bought two of the buildings during the 1980s and has renovated and modernized the spaces to accommodate contemporary needs. Another adjoining building is undergoing renovation now. According to Dr. Curtis, the buildings were “brownfields” sites before the term was coined. Undaunted, Fuss & O’Neill invested time and money in removing the hazardous waste and revamping the historic buildings. Inside, the offices are entirely modern and high tech, though key elements of the buildings’ pasts remain. With a nod to preservation, Fuss & O’Neill kept the exteriors virtually unchanged, and some of the internal features were preserved – including art deco-style iron stair rails, oak paneling, marble flooring and several impressive safes – said to have protected papers describing the Cheney Brothers’ proprietary silk processes – remain.
Like UConn, Fuss & O’Neill is a thoroughly modern company that is committed to investing in the future while preserving the past. The same commitment pervades its business values, which Mr. Heidtman explained, “We have a philosophy that ownership should be grown from within. It’s an incentive for good people to stay.”