Brian Gibbons Transitions from Military to Successful Building Career
By KEVIN FLANDERSBrian Gibbons is not your typical entrepreneur, nor did he follow the conventional routes to becoming a business owner. But success, his staff has learned, isn’t contingent upon adhering to a specific formula. It’s all about being creative and making the most of every opportunity.
Gibbons, president of Springfield-based Brican Inc., opened his construction business in 2007 after a 24-year career as a Seabee engineer in the U.S. Navy Reserve. Utilizing the Service-disabled Veteran-owned Business Program of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), he was able to get his business off the ground at a time when the economic climate was about to become much more challenging. Looking back now, he knows he couldn’t have done it without assistance from the program instituted by the SBA in 2003 to help veteran-owned businesses succeed.
“In my case, it [the SBA program] did exactly what it is intended to do,” said Gibbons, who joined the Navy Reserve following his freshman year in college. “I never would have been a business owner without that program.”
Seven years later, Brican is thriving at the corner of State and Dwight streets, specializing in commercial, industrial, and institutional building systems. Its staff of just over 20 is expected to grow, and its project list continues to expand each year. Well-versed in federal contracts, the majority of the company’s projects have been completed for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), with the average job coming in between $2 million and $5 million.
“We have had projects throughout the East, from Ohio up to Maine,” Gibbons said. “We are always checking on different opportunities and bidding them.”
Veterans Helping Veterans
Gibbons, who took an early interest in construction as a teenager cleaning up job sites for his neighbor during high-school summer vacations, never imagined what doors the Navy Reserve would open for him. The experiences accrued during his nearly quarter-century tenure have helped him long after his transition back to civilian life, and he is always eager to take on projects that assist others who served their nation.
As a veteran-owned business, Gibbons isn’t surprised that the VA is Brican’s best client, as the agency routinely sets aside projects to be bid exclusively by small firms led by vets. But for Gibbons, construction for the VA is about far more than erecting structures — it’s about making a difference in the lives of those who served. As such, Gibbons says his most rewarding project to date was the construction of a building for the Northampton VA Medical Center’s acute psychiatric ward. Completed in 2013, the prototype project set new standards for the construction of such facilities, specifically those designed to prevent suicide and injury, with specialists from throughout the nation traveling to Northampton to offer input.
“In the past, they often used many of the techniques you see in prisons, but lately they have realized that the people in these facilities are sick, not prisoners,” Gibbons said. “We approached the job very empathetically. The goal was to help the VA come up with ideas to minimize the dangers to patients and staff. As a veteran, it’s always rewarding to work on projects that help other veterans.”
Brican has also immersed itself in the energy side of construction over the last few years, recently taking on several boiler-plant safety projects. Ground was broken on one such job last month, a combined heat and power plant at a VA-owned facility in Newington, Conn, which Gibbons expects to be finished by the end of next year.
While statistics are always valuable, a quick glimpse at the whiteboard in Brican’s conference room sufficiently indicates the direction of the business. Filled from end to end with project information, the board keeps Gibbons’s bustling staff constantly updated on what needs to be done. And they certainly prefer to be busy, especially in an industry that has seen its share of challenges statewide in recent years.
But no matter how one looks at it — project totals, staff size, buildings acquired — Brican is a rapidly expanding company, its reputation building along with its structures. Whenever a project is erased from the whiteboard upon completion, another one quickly replaces it.
Gibbons hopes that his staff, which currently includes about 20 people, will grow to nearly 30 as more work comes in from the private end of the construction spectrum. “Our largest job so far was just under $16 million, and we are definitely looking to increase our work on the private side,” he added.
General contractors go only as far as their staffs take them, though, which is yet another reason for Brican’s success. Gibbons said each of his project managers handles up to three projects at a time — including Gibbons himself, who has focused on everything from management to estimating. He wears many hats as the owner of a small business, but he has also been impressed by his employees’ ability to multitask and split time between multiple projects.
In particular, Gibbons praised engineer Mike Belanger, who brings more than 20 years of experience to Brican, as well as project manager Todd Spooner and his 30-year career in the industry.
But along with more projects comes a need for more employees who can handle an array of assignments, a need Gibbons recognizes. “As we continue to grow, we will probably hire another project manager who can assist with estimating.”
Of course, as a military veteran who takes pride in his years of service and how they helped prepare him for life as a small-business owner, Gibbons is always on the lookout for veterans searching for work. His staff already includes a few vets, and he enjoys providing them with opportunities following their service. As veterans conclude their service in the Middle East, SBA officials have attempted to open as many avenues as possible for job creation and entrepreneurship. One such avenue is the Service-disabled Veteran-owned Business Program that Gibbons qualified for, and now he’s completing the cycle by hiring veterans.
“I try to give as much preference as possible to veterans,” he told BusinessWest. “I am always looking for good people to work here.”
Brican is also expanding from an acquisition perspective. In March, Gibbons purchased the building adjacent to his State Street office at a tax title auction. He is keeping his options open for the purpose of the 1890s-era building, but he mentioned several possibilities, including using it for additional office space.
“We have done a lot of work to clean it up; it was a real mess before,” he said. “I think it would make a great office for a contractor, and I would love to see it rehabbed. There are a lot of opportunities we are considering right now for the building.”
Gibbons said he likely won’t make a final decision on the building until he learns whether or not the nearby MGM casino project will proceed, a development that would create jobs and drive up demand for rental spaces throughout Springfield and neighboring towns. If the right opportunity were to present itself, a rental or lease situation might prove to be the most beneficial purpose for the building, but no decisions have been made yet.
In addition to the State Street acquisition, Gibbons has a full plate, with 18 active projects and expected staff increases. It’s all part of leading a small business on the rise, a business built by a veteran whose employees and clients are also veterans. But while Brican specializes in federal contracts and institutional construction, what sets it apart from other businesses, he said, is its ability to handle private construction as well.
“We have a great staff,” he said. “Everyone comes from a different background in terms of experiences and education levels, and we work well together as a team.”