Networks Built Better
Business View Magazine interviews representatives of Congruex for our focus on the evolution of Broadband Networks across the U.S.
Broadband in the United States has reached utility-scale importance with calls to reclassify it as a bona fide utility. Although the FCC is yet to make good on its promise to do so, one company is not sitting around waiting for this to happen.
Congruex is a design-build digital network solution provider on a mission to become a pivotal player in the race to take broadband and wireless 5G across the country, especially rural areas. The company, founded by long-time industry insiders, uses a unique turnkey approach to delivering digital solutions covering everything from engineering and permitting to cable placement, splicing, and testing.
“One of the challenges our founders experienced while working in the industry was the fragmented nature of digital network services,” says Rob Reynolds, CIO/CAO at Congruex. “Projects involved hiring and managing multiple general contractors who then subcontracted to dozens of vendors across the country.
Congruex solves this through integrating what it calls operating units – independently-run business units that each specialize in a critical area of digital network engineering, construction, or specialty services. All collaborate under the unified Congruex brand. Currently, the company has 10 operating units categorized by service area:
Congruex Engineering Services includes CHC which provides comprehensive, turnkey professional services in fielding, engineering design, permitting, project management, process development, and staffing.
Congruex Construction Services includes HHS, SEU, White, True North, Gudenkauf, A&M, and OVE. Its core capabilities include aerial, underground, and substructure self-perform construction, among other infrastructure services.
Congruex Specialty Services includes Terra and Matrix, specializing in technology-enabled data capture, fiber splicing and testing, and civil engineering concepts for utility relocation, protection, and support.
“Before joining Congruex, our operating units were already the best at what they did in their respective markets,” shares Reynolds. “Acquiring such well-performing companies has led to the significant growth we have seen over the last several years, with our latest unit, OVE, marking our 16th major acquisition.”
By acquiring well-performing companies, Congruex has diversified its business and enhanced its capabilities, making it one of only a handful of companies in the country that can deliver turnkey telecom and utility projects at scale. This strategy has paid off, not by luck, but because this was the original plan at the company’s founding.
“Before Co-founding Congruex, Bill Beans, CEO, and Kevin O’Hara, Executive Chairman, had worked in the telecom industry for decades and had seen gaps in how service providers delivered projects to clients,” narrates Reynolds. “They believed there was a better way – a completely integrated design-build solution. The name of our company, a play on the word ‘congruent’, signifies the alignment of our operating units under the single Congruex platform and the alignment of our capabilities with our clients’ needs. Within this model, we can achieve our mission of Networks Built Better.”
With support from private equity firm Crestview Partners, Congruex opened shop in 2017 with the vision to become the best end-to-end provider of digital network design and build services in the U.S. In just four years and over a dozen acquisitions later, the company’s service footprint has accelerated to close to 90 percent of the country, offering specific services and turnkey solutions to companies like Google, Comcast-Xfinity, AT&T, Cox, Lumen, and Verizon.
Frontlining this tremendous growth is a workforce of around 4500, some of whom work within the various U.S.-based operating units, while others work in India. While having such a broad and diverse workforce has its benefits, it takes a unique culture to get them all on the same page, as Christine Havey, Senior Director of People Services at Congruex, explains, noting, “Our core value is GRIT, an acronym that stands for Guts, Reliability, Innovation, and Teamwork. It means having the guts to do the right thing, being reliable to deliver what we promise, innovating every day, and embracing teamwork together as One Congruex.”
One of the ways the company celebrates the GRIT culture is through what they call GRIT Coins – a symbolic reward like the challenge coins in the military, awarded to individuals who embody the GRIT culture. Having such a defined culture proved to be of incredible benefit when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. “We implemented the GRIT Coin Recognition Program in early 2020, and it couldn’t have been at a better time because it helped unify the company, connecting corporate to people in the field, and helped ensure nobody felt alone or abandoned during times of uncertainty,” says Havey.
“Alongside our GRIT culture, we take pride in our family-oriented environment,” adds Reynolds. “Our CEO Bill has one of the biggest hearts I’ve seen in my career. He truly cares about employees and partners, and this cascades down the ranks. For example, when we acquire a company, we’re not interested in fixing something that isn’t broken. We embrace all the original employees and empower them to deliver superior quality work. ”
Safety is another aspect of the Congruex culture that has become a part of its DNA. The company recently installed a global health safety and environment head, who oversees all operating units from a corporate level. According to Reynolds, “Besides establishing this role, we also have a safety training program that not only trains the folks on the ground like project managers and foremen, but also those at the corporate offices, so they understand why safety is a top priority for the entire organization.”
The company has also developed a 12-month entry-level management training program that upskills employees who have proven themselves in a technical field, but lack people management skills. “An employee might have excellent technical abilities, but when they move up to a management position, they need to cultivate supervisory skills like how to hire, how to foster a successful team, and how to lead performance conversations. We train them on these capabilites and many more, so everyone has a chance to develop within the company,” says Reynolds.
As cities reach peak connectivity, Congruex anticipates tremendous growth in rural broadband fiber. Part of positioning itself for this opportunity has the company working with rural co-ops and utilities to capitalize on the FCC’s $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). However, with significant opportunities comes big challenges, and one such challenge is finding qualified workers in these rural areas.
“Getting qualified labor in these areas is a challenge for everyone in the industry,” affirms Reynolds. “Most of the people in rural areas have worked with electricity all their lives, so when it comes to fiber, it’s a whole new ball game for them.” Congruex is taking the rural connectivity bull by the horns despite these challenges. They are finding innovative ways to meet this challenge like compensating workers better to travel, acquiring companies that are geographically closer to rural areas, partnering with local vocational schools to find new talent, and investing in various technologies to deploy rural fiber solutions faster and more efficiently.
Climate change is also a significant concern for the company, with recent adverse weather events like hurricane Ida devastating large areas of Louisiana and Mississippi proving the importance of its restoration crews’ work. “When such events occur and knock out critical infrastructures like power, water, and communications, we often arrive there as first responders,” shares Reynolds. “In the wake of Ida, for instance, we mobilized 36 crews to help restore services, besides bringing along pallets of water to distribute to affected residents.”
This deep connection to the community underpins one of the ways Congruex wants to evolve over the coming years, with people at the core of its existence. “Our U.S. employees live and work in different parts of the country,” says Havey, “and one of the things we hope to enhance is a means of offering a unified employee value proposition that enhances their experience, no matter who or where they are.”
Reynolds echoes these sentiments, adding, “The trajectory of wired and wireless broadband adoption in the U.S. will further define the next decade of our company’s growth. Technologies like IoT, electric vehicles, and smart grids are accelerating fiber adoption as a core utility in cities and rural areas across the country at an unprecedented rate. Because of this, we are very bullish that the demand for our work will not slow down for the next five to ten years.”
Summing up what makes this progressive company so unique and valuable, the Congruex team shares, “The networks we design and build for our clients enable everything in the modern world to operate, from healthcare and energy to transportation and social interactions. We’re proud to be building the digital infrastructure of the future for communities across the country.”
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AT A GLANCE
What: A multi-national firm specializing in turnkey digital network construction and engineering
Where: Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado
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