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Big Apple Success
June 24, 2015
Source: Construction Today
If you can make it in New York City, as the song goes, you can make it anywhere. The Big Apple is home to some of the most successful companies and firms in the world, and a second home for many more. Whether that company is a multinational conglomerate, a highly successful law firm or a titan of the financial world, making it in New York City means that company is at the top of its game.
Serving those companies also means that a contractor needs to be at the top of its game, as those that have made it in New York City won’t settle for anything less than the best. So, for a relatively young company like JRM to succeed in this highly competitive environment, it has to have something special. Owners David G. McWilliams and Joe Romano says JRM does a lot to set itself apart from the competition, and it has the client base and portfolio to prove it.
Since 2007, JRM has specialized in performing general contracting and construction management work with a concentration in commercial interiors. Although the majority of the work JRM does is for clients in the New York City area, the company also has performed work for clients elsewhere in the United States. In everything the company does, partner and President Joseph Romano says JRM strives to complete each project with the same high level of professionalism, skill and integrity.
McWilliams, Romano and James Connolly founded JRM nearly eight years ago, bringing more than 80 years of combined experience in the construction industry. McWilliams comes from a background in building numerous high-profile commercial, residential and high-end retail projects, while Romano’s expertise in addition to his impressive construction resume includes the company’s contract administration, cost control, compliance and cash flow analysis functions. Connolly’s more than 30 years of experience in the industry gives him the expertise needed to oversee all of JRM’s on-site operations and field personnel as the company’s general superintendent.
McWilliams says the company’s founding principals have given JRM a solid foundation of core values that have helped it build strong relationships with clients over the last several years. “The internal culture at JRM is one of team pride in the projects we build for our clients,” McWilliams says. “This strong team culture is not by accident, but derived directly from the firm’s philosophy. At the core of that philosophy is allowing our employees adequate time and resources to do their jobs well.
“Unfortunately, the culture in the New York City construction arena is one where highly talented employees are oftentimes asked to do more than any one person can possibly do effectively, much less to a high standard,” he continues. “We believe that practicing a philosophy where you have ample time to do a great job naturally results in each level of employee taking ownership and pride in their work.”
The combined expertise of its leadership and its field personnel make it possible for JRM to deliver a top-notch experience for its clients no matter what type of project it tackles. One of the biggest differentiators for JRM compared to other contractors is the care and attention the company pays to the earliest stages of the project.
To ensure that every project runs smoothly and incorporates a lot of one-on-one communication between the company and the client, JRM assigns a full-time superintendent to each job. McWilliams says this provides the client with a direct line of contact to one of the company’s top decision-makers, and one of the company’s six principals also takes direct involvement in each project. “There is start-to-finish owner involvement,” Principal and Project Director Anthony Iandoli says. “From the initial presentation of a project to the preconstruction to the bidding and award to the construction and the closeout, there is an owner who is intimately involved in the project.”
Iandoli adds that this level of involvement means he can field a call from any of JRM’s clients and be able to talk them through any issue right then and there. “I understand what’s going on in each and every job so that I can take a call from my clients and field any question,” he says.
THE RIGHT TOOLS
JRM believes preconstruction is the most critical stage of any project, and takes this stage very seriously. “The easiest part of construction is the construction,” Iandoli says. “You can’t build a job if you don’t have the right tools in place to build the job.”
The right tools, Iandoli continues, are the thorough knowledge of the project and the preplanning done during the preconstruction phase. By understanding everything that’s on the project documents and reviewing every last detail, JRM’s estimators give the company all the right tools for each project. “If you do that in the preconstruction phase, once it goes to construction the field team has all the tools to build the project without any issues,” Iandoli says.
“JRM estimators and project managers thoroughly review the proposed drawings for completeness, and develop a strategic and well-thought-out estimate for the anticipated work that will reduce the need for change orders during construction,” the company says. “The JRM team then provides value-engineering options for schedule and budget reduction, and will ensure that the most efficient means, methods and materials are utilized at all times.”
During the preconstruction phase, JRM develops estimates and conceptual budgets, as well as provides value-engineering. It is also during this stage that the company’s estimators and project managers analyze the project’s design feasibility and arrange for the logistics and phasing plans for the project.
McWilliams adds that the extensive work JRM puts into the estimating and pre-construction phases of a project means the company never gives clients the impression that it is nickel-and-diming them, and that every project is a collaboration between it and the client. “Every decision that we make is really for the good of the project,” McWilliams says.
ALL HANDS ON DECK
JRM employs more estimators than the typical firm, and McWilliams says this gives the company more eyes on a project at the onset to identify potential trouble spots. “When we get a job, we know where most of the warts are before we start, and we staff the projects the same way – we tend to overstaff the projects,” McWilliams says, adding that in his experience most of the problems encountered during a construction project could have been avoided if they had been picked up during the preconstruction process.
Having a large staff of estimators on call to examine every detail of a client’s project before a single nail is hammered ends up saving the client money in the long run and results in an overall higher-quality project, Romano says. Even though the results speak for themselves, however, JRM remains one of the only contractors specializing in commercial interiors in the New York City market to utilize the technique. “Nobody else does it – God knows why,” McWilliams says.
“I was at an after-work event a few years ago and in speaking with one of JRM’s competitors they boasted that they were able to do over $200 million dollars of revenue the previous year with a staff of only four estimators,” McWilliams adds. “Coincidently, JRM also had similar revenues that same year; however, our estimating group at that time had 16 full-time senior estimators. The tangible result of this structure is that this allows us to run smooth projects and keep our clients happy and hassle-free because the project has been estimated correctly at the outset.”
Not only does JRM bring more professionals to the table at the start of a project, but it brings the most experienced and most qualified, as well. “The cornerstone of our business is solid construction and excellence in on-site management,” the company says. “The JRM staff is comprised not only of individuals with architectural and construction backgrounds, but with financial, administrative and high technology expertise as well. This varied experience offers the JRM team a more global approach to each project and allows us valuable insight into the true needs of our clients’ workplaces.”
Once the preconstruction phase is completed, JRM is capable of providing clients with a variety of construction services that can fit virtually any type of project. The primary means by which JRM serves its clients in the commercial interiors sector is through acting as general contractor, which the company says is the result of having built up significant trust between the company and its client base. “Through the use of a general construction contract, JRM will assume full responsibility for all building-related activities and will deliver a turnkey product that meets agreed upon schedule and pricing values,” the company says.
“While clients are kept apprised of all job-related progress via regular meetings with the project team, all risk is borne by JRM and the client is kept removed from the minutia of operations on site,” the company adds. “This is the preferred method of construction for many of our repeat clientele, who have come to rely on the JRM team for excellence in construction under even the most challenging of conditions.”
In some cases, however, the client requires a different level of involvement from JRM, and the company is equipped to oblige the client in that regard. For example, construction management is another area of expertise for the company, and it says its goal is always to provide complete customer satisfaction. “At JRM, we understand that our clients have limited resources to dedicate to their capital projects,” the company says. “Our goal as a construction manager is to lessen the burden placed upon our clients by providing single-point accountability for all project work.”
The company adds that its construction management services bring the same level of attention to detail and meticulous planning as its general contracting services do while still allowing the client to maintain control over the financial elements of the project. “With our clients’ best interests in mind, the JRM team manages all aspects of the building process from its inception, while the client retains full financial control of the project,” the company says. “We make it a priority to ensure a consistent level of communication is met across all project participants and consultants.”
For projects where the client requires more involvement from JRM during the design stage, JRM also offers a full suite of design/build services aimed at creating a seamless transition from the conceptual phase to the actual construction. “Often a project begins with an idea on a scrap of paper – JRM will take this idea and work with the client to turn it into a reality through the design/build process,” the company says. “At JRM, we take the time to identify and prioritize our clients’ immediate project requirements and business objectives.
“Taking these needs into account, we will assemble a design/build team of architectural, engineering and real estate professionals that will creatively and efficiently develop a product that will exceed all client expectations,” the company continues. “The JRM approach to design/build projects is streamlined, and the JRM team will assume total project accountability to establish a singular source of contact for all project needs and concerns.”
For clients that are trying to achieve LEED certification for their projects, JRM has the expertise in place to ensure that their projects are sustainable and utilize the most environmentally friendly materials and methods possible. The company says it accomplishes this in part through its JRM LEEDers program, which provides its professionals with education and resources necessary to stay on top of the latest sustainable trends. “JRM LEEDers is a program we have implemented company-wide to further JRM’s commitment to building better and more sustainable projects whenever possible,” the company says. “It is our mission through this program to learn, carry out and comply with the philosophies, concepts and practices instilled by the U.S Green Building Council and LEED requirements.
“[LEED] is the gold standard for sustainable construction, and we are proud to have accredited LEED professionals on staff who understand and believe that building high-performance and environmentally conscious spaces will create an eco-friendly community for our clients and for our future,” the company adds.
Evidence of JRM’s skill in interior construction can be found all over the island of Manhattan, and any one of the company’s recent projects could be selected as the pinnacle of its portfolio. For example, the company recently completed work on URBO, a trendy new restaurant in Times Square that offers guests a unique dining experience on multiple floors. JRM oversaw the conversion of the space into URBO as the general contractor, and from the very first moment the company came onto the project it was clear that creating the restaurant’s environment would be no simple task.
The main element of the restaurant JRM was tasked with bringing to life was the feel of seeing the entire restaurant from the chef’s perspective. As envisioned by restaurateur Eugene Kadomskly, guests emerge from a glass elevator onto the main dining area on the second floor greeted by a full view of the restaurant’s kitchen, accentuated by an industrial look comprised of reclaimed wood and concrete planks.
JRM’s scope included opening up the former industrial space considerably to accommodate URBOs desire to provide a grand sense of large open areas by removing concrete decks and steel beams to make room for suspended catwalks that make up a mezzanine level above the main dining area as well as a grill that can produce flames that reach up more than two-and-a-half feet.
In keeping with the building’s original use and the changing style of Times Square, JRM utilized numerous recycled materials in the construction of URBO’s interiors, including reclaimed windows and a fire escape repurposed from another building. The centerpiece of the restaurant and the most prominent of its reclaimed features is a wooden water tower, which JRM acquired from New York City’s Rosenwach Tank Co. At the time of the restaurant’s opening last summer, Project Director Robert Rydstrom said the additions of antique furniture and chandeliers and other elements such as custom drapes “create elegance, richness and seamless separation within the space.”
POINT OF PRIDE
Perhaps one of JRM’s proudest moments came in 2013, when the company was selected as the construction manager/general contractor to build the observation deck on the top of One World Trade Center in Manhattan. Rising 1,440 feet above the city, the three-story, 120,000-square-foot observation deck gives people the opportunity to see a panoramic view of New York City unlike any other. The deck has five high-speed elevators that can carry visitors to the top floor from street level in about 60 seconds.
JRM was responsible for bringing the observation deck’s modern, high-tech look to life, which includes state-of-the-art digital technology. Among the special features of the observation deck are a four-star restaurant and 60-foot cocktail bar, gift shop, special events space and the “See Forever Theater,” where visitors can learn about One World Trade Center.
“I would point to the completion of the observation deck at One World Trade Center as a great example of how JRM’s philosophy helped build a strong relationship with its client, Legends Attractions, and simultaneously helped catapult JRM’s name into the New York market,” McWilliams says. “Due to our team’s commitment to uncover all the ‘skeletons’ that existed during the preconstruction period we were able to guarantee our price and schedule.
“These guarantees were extremely critical for planning purposes to Legends and had to be met at all cost,” McWilliams adds. “When I say ‘guarantee,’ I mean that JRM took ownership of all engineering aspects of the project as well as coordination between all consultants and the information they ultimately placed on the drawings. I am 100 percent convinced that no other firm in New York is positioned to make such a guarantee under the circumstances under which JRM provided our client on this very complicated project.” When all was said and done, the space was turned over two months ahead of the original schedule.
Another recent project that demonstrates JRM’s ability to bring unusual and innovative commercial interiors to life is the space the company built for technology start-up AppNexus in Manhattan’s iconic Flatiron district. Sprawling across an entire level of a former department store space that once was a showroom for toymaker Mattel, the AppNexus space was designed by Habjan Architecture and Interior Design with JRM serving as general contractor.
As befits a young, hip start-up in the technology sector, the AppNexus space was designed to be collaborative, forward-thinking and more relaxed than the typical office environment.
What JRM built for the company was a 67,000-square-foot environment that functioned more like a campus than an office, with informal gathering spaces and meeting rooms for co-workers to get together and work on projects. These meeting rooms divide the rows of workstations and separate them into “neighborhoods.”
McWilliams says the campus-like open feel of the AppNexus office is representative of an overall trend away from cloistered office environments where every worker has his or her own enclosed space. “I would say that the biggest trend is one of utilizing shared spaces with an open-plan feel,” he says. “Benching is quite common now, along with the use of having common areas in the workplace where employees can gather and exchange their own ideas.”
McWilliams says the open floor design has been especially prevalent in law offices, where JRM has completed more than 20 high-profile projects over the years. “Law firms throughout New York City have almost without exception embraced the concept of allowing natural lighting in to reach interior spaces,” he says. “Many firms are also now creating environments that can accommodate a working mom’s needs. I have seen an increase in the allotment of ‘mother rooms’ within the workplace. These are private area where a nursing mom can pump or tend to their child in any way they see fit.”
Among the more whimsical elements of the AppNexus office are what is referred to as the “cheese wall,” so named because of the Swiss cheese holes carved out of the freestanding wall that are outlined with rope lights. AppNexus CEO and co-founder Brian O’Kelley’s enthusiasm for skateboarding was incorporated into the interior design through a wall of skateboards mounted in the reception area. JRM also built the company’s training room to resemble a giant Rubik’s Cube, with walls covered in blocks decorated with colorful vinyl arranged around an enormous whiteboard.
Projects such as those and the many others that make up the company’s portfolio prove that although JRM specializes in commercial interiors, its client base is very diverse. Among the company’s clients are many Fortune 500 companies and major well-known brands including Barclays, KKR, Blackstone, Porsche, Food Network, CBS, BOA, WPP Group, Etsy, Grant Thornton, Infor, the NBA, Google, Coach, Sony and too many private educational institutions to list. The company also provides services for many of New York City’s biggest law firms.
Currently, JRM is hard at work on the new headquarters of Sony Corporation of America, which will be moving from midtown into a 550,000-square-foot space at 11 Madison Avenue. Work on the project began in March and will be another shining example of JRM’s capabilities once it is completed. The company also has been contracted to perform work on the new 700,000-square-foot world headquarters of Coach, which is located in a new office building at Hudson Yards, 10th Avenue and West 30th Street.
The company’s work on projects such as these demonstrates JRM’s commitment to broadening its footprint in the New York City market and shows off its expertise in more diverse sectors. McWilliams says that recently the company has branched out into more projects in the entertainment sector, such as its work on the Best Buy Theater. The $14 million project involved a complete renovation of the 50,000-square-foot space to create a 2,100-seat theater environment.
The company says its work on the Best Buy Theater included the installation of state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems, as well as the construction of three full bars, two escalators, luxury dressing room spaces and new mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.
Also in the entertainment sector, JRM recently completed a $4.5 million renovation of Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre. As part of the renovation to the long-time home of “The Lion King,” JRM performed a remediation of the building’s façade as well as a complete upgrade of its infrastructure. JRM also expanded the theater’s stage, which included a new hydraulic stage lift, and provided high-end finishes such as extensive terrazzo flooring throughout the theater’s interior. Very recently, JRM was chosen as the builder for the complete renovation of the historic Ed Sullivan Theatre and the new home of “Late Night” host Stephen Colbert.
The high-quality work the company has completed in multiple sectors has made JRM one of the most highly sought-after contractors in New York. This has created many opportunities but also some challenges as the company works to manage the growth it is experiencing. Iandoli says this has meant the company has become more selective about the projects it pursues and the clients that it works for.
“Everybody likes a winner,” he explains. “Right now we’re a winner in the city, so everybody wants to use us, but we can’t do every project.”
The biggest challenge that comes with managing the company’s growth is ensuring that JRM has the best people available, and at the proper levels to ensure the company will never be stretched too thin. Iandoli says that JRM has a good number of tenured professionals on staff and constantly focuses its efforts to keep the staff up to par with the projected workload. JRM employs a rigorous program of continuing training, which further ensures that new and seasoned employees fully understand and embrace the companies no problem philosophy also fully utilizing JRMs extensive systems of control.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
Growing at the right rate is essential for JRM to maintain its success in a highly competitive New York City market. Construction activity has increased throughout the city, and there is no shortage of firms fighting for the same projects, which means JRM has to ensure that everything it does is of the highest quality. “With everyone being busy, you need to be able to pick up the slack,” McWilliams says.
“It is no secret that today New York City is beyond busy and there is no end in sight to the growth,” he adds. “The result of this is that contractors, engineers, architects and other building consultants needed for these projects are overtaxed, thereby increasing the challenges of building in New York.”
Romano says New York City is one of the most challenging environments for a general contractor because “there’s always someone standing there to take your place.” In this kind of environment, he says, JRM’s philosophy is what separates it from the rest of the industry. “This is a client-driven business,” he says. “As an owner or as a contractor, you need to be able to accept the inconvenience on yourself to satisfy your clients.”