A Confident Evolution
Evolution is an inevitable part of growing a successful business. In the 90+ year history of the Corval Group, many things have changed. But for all the evolution that the Corval Group has gone through, there are the core elements that still remain to this very day: delivering results and putting clients first.
Founded in 1921 as Axel Newman Plumbing and Heating Company, the Corval Group now operates 9 offices throughout the United States and Canada. A fully integrated industrial and general contractor, the Corval Group offers a plethora of services and solutions ranging from construction, fabrication and refrigeration to power, alternative energy and food and beverage. With a primary geographic focus surrounding the upper Midwest – from Michigan to Montana, the Corval Group’s service division’s reach extends to 30-40 different states across the United States.
Spanning a wide scope of industries, the Corval Group’s largest business stake is the oil and gas refining sector. But like any successful company, broadening horizons and expanding on offerings has led them down various paths and projects. Whether it is midstream transportation work for oil and natural gas in North Dakota all the way to Illinois or construction and maintenance in power facilities, the Corval Group’s depth of knowledge and expertise has allowed them an opportunity to take on, what Executive Vice President – Northwest Region Kurt Swenson dubs, “branded-service”.
“Food and beverage makes up 10-15% of our work,” he said. “A lot of this is done through our branded-service of American Industrial Refrigeration. We design build work for anhydrous ammonia based refrigerant cooling systems. We design those; we integrate them at one of our shops and then install them at the food and beverage company that needs additional cooling or freezing capacity.”
LISTENING AND LEARNING
The broad range of project sizes the Corval Group undertakes yields revenue between $5 and $25 million. The contrast in projects illustrates the level of importance placed on building quality, long-term relationships with their vast client base. Gaining the inside track and going beyond the traditional business-to-business affiliation helps the Corval Group see things differently and obtain a more intimate understanding, intrinsic for both project success and customer satisfaction.
“We spend a lot of time getting to know the clients in their offices and figuring out what their capital or maintenance spending and project plans are,” Swenson said. “Then we really try and take a step back and see how we can differentiate ourselves in the product/service offerings we can provide them that helps us stand out against our competition.”
“A lot of it is listening to our clients, understanding where they’re coming from, what their needs and desires are and trying to focus on them – rather than what we can provide, we’re trying to understand what they need,” he added.
Headquartered in St. Paul Minnesota, the Corval Group has remained there since the outset in 1921. As operations in St. Paul primarily surround mechanical heating ventilation, air conditioning service and projects, they have become a comprehensive resource – diversifying their offerings based on regional market demands. In North Dakota and Montana, for example, these offices exclusively deal with oil and gas refining and power sectors. Having maintained and grown their Northwest presence, the Corval Group’s internal core is just as expansive as the projects and places they serve – with over 200 staff and 300-600 in the field, depending on workload and time of year. The attract-and-retain model instilled within the corporate culture speaks to the company’s multi-tiered approach to employee engagement.
“We do live by our values in a very serious way,” Swenson said. “We really value our employees’ safety. Safety is our foundational value. We feel that our employees truly do recognize our commitment. We do strive to build things right the first time – we’re not a contractor who takes shortcuts and build a shoddy product. One of our values is innovation. We try not to be prescriptive with the way we do things – we try to allow flexibility and freedom in how we accomplish the tasks.”
ATTENTION TO ACCOUNTABILITY
Open, honest and collaborative, the open-space style of communication allows employees and management to have those ‘tough conversations’ without fear. A platform that encourages high-trust relationships, the Corval Group’s attention to accountability breeds success – both internally and externally. Sticking to their beliefs has led the company to rewards and accolades along the way, where, in 2014 they were recipients of AGC Safety Award – Building Division, after they achieved one million man hours without a recordable incident and four-million man hours without a lost time accident.
“At the end of the day, what I like to focus on with our teams is we’re individually accountable for our own safety and supporting the safe work of others,” Swenson said. “We focus a lot on programs that have a positive re-enforcement mechanism. There are two ways to give feedback: one is to tell people what they did wrong and give corrective feedback. Then you can give feedback by using positive re-enforcement and telling them what they did right in their actions. We choose to focus on the latter.”
A shared success, industry recognition and awards play a significant role in boosting morale and confidence throughout all levels of a company. At Corval Group, the family-like atmosphere and approach to work and safety is exemplified by how they honor the achievements.
“Internally, we view it as a celebration of our employees’ accomplishments – not the company’s accomplishments, but our employees’,” Swenson said. “We do celebratory activities if we do get an award like that. We recognize that it’s our employees that got us there, not necessarily the company that got us there, so we really try and focus on the employee.”
STAYING LEAN, GOING GREEN
Innovation is a guiding principle in the on-going development of the Corval Group. A leader in industrial refrigeration technology by using anhydrous ammonia – a green alternative to others used in the food and beverage industry, the St-Paul-based contractor remains agile in both ideas and business practices that are mindful and sustainable to the environment.
“Some of the refrigerants that were used – especially if you were to go back 10 or 20 years were very harmful to the environment, where anhydrous ammonia does not have the same ill effects,” Swenson said.”
“We certainly incorporate codes and standards that are adopted by local municipalities or state and government authorities,” Swenson continued. “We have people that are certified at various levels of the LEED process. When we are involved in the design aspects, we certainly do utilize the LEED certification and LEED process.”
Dynamic, distinct and distinguished, the Corval Group remains humble and focused on profitable yet measured growth. By carrying on the traditions and lessons passed on through their 90+ years serving communities across the Northwest and building from them, the company’s legacy is strengthened by the valuable involvement, input and effort of good old-fashioned teamwork and a commitment to improving safety and the experience of the customer.
“We don’t succeed without good partners,” Swenson said. “One of the things that we try and do and spend a lot of time doing is building relationships with our vendors, subcontractors and partners that help us deliver our work, because nobody can do everything themselves.”