United Mechanical Incorporated
When Jon Gundersen, co-founder and president of United Mechanical Incorporated (UMI), and partner Tom Sosine, CEO, decided to establish their own HVAC company in 2003, the duo applied all the right stuff. Collectively possessing 60 years of construction industry experience prior to 2003, Gundersen and Sosine’s goal from day one was to always to go above and beyond what’s expected, delivering the absolute best every time – that goal remains the same today.
“The most important factors we carried over to UMI: first; hire the right people and create a culture and atmosphere they like to work in, and second; build solid relationships with customers,” details Gundersen. “Because of this simple philosophy, we now have a remarkable amount of repeat business. We’re not just bidding any job out there to grow for the sake of becoming a larger company; we look for quality work. Clients expect quality projects delivered on time, and within budget. That’s always been our main focus and we deliver.”
Hot on the high-tech trail
Now, more than a decade later, UMI has a lengthy list of repeat customers, including major names such as Apple, Google and LinkedIn. Now approaching $150 million in annual design-build HVAC construction, service and commercial plumbing, the company is steadily rising to the top as one of the largest mechanical contractors in Northern California.
“It’s all a product of our simple philosophy: each client and every project is our most important concern,” says Gundersen. The majority of the company’s accelerated growth has occurred recently in the Bay Area. The high-tech boom is huge and the surge of work in the high-tech industry has allowed UMI to expand its reach and customer base beyond Silicon Valley.
“UMI has four buildings at its corporate headquarters in San Jose, a North Bay office, and now a sixth office opens in the East Bay Alameda January 2015,” states Gundersen. “This newest office will better serve our clients in San Francisco and East Bay. Tech companies are building big time in this area due to the increasing desire to work and live in an exciting environment. It has made the construction opportunities very plentiful. With three geographic locations, UMI now serves the entire Northern California region.”
UMI currently has approximately 500 employees. As union contractors, the number fluctuates depending on how busy the company is. “Right now we’re up around 400 in the field and 100 or so in the office,” Gundersen continues. “Our additional new office in Alameda will allow an easier commute for our current East Bay employees and bring more recruiting opportunities for future ones.”
The right stuff
Gundersen emphasizes the right team makes or breaks a business. “The company recently added two new vice presidents, Leonard Bertolami and Neal Fox,” he explains. “Their experience is extremely valuable to UMI. Leonard and Neal have more than 40 years of design-build experience in mechanical contracting and this additional management experience is vital.”
Design-build delivery is UMI’s forte, and the company works on everything from office and data centers to high-tech clean rooms, medical facilities and retail space. “More than 70 percent of UMI’s work is design-build and that’s what we prefer,” says Gundersen. “We have a full in-house engineering staff capable of BIM modeling; it’s the standard in The Bay Area. We do as much of the mechanical aspects of a job as possible so we can control the schedule and keep the client happy. The only service we subcontract is insulation.”
Not only does design-build delivery give UMI control over costs and constructability issues down the road. “It also offers a single point of responsibility for the client’s advantage,” he details. “When it’s Google, Apple or LinkedIn as a client, a direct relationship is the only way to go. We design the system, purchase the HVAC equipment and perform the full installation. In some cases, especially new buildings, we establish a service agreement. We’re looking to build customers for life – we do their project, service the building and then the next job rolls around, and then another and so on.”
The two largest projects to date under UMI’s belt are Google’s Tech Corners and Santa Clara Square, each in the $25 to $40 million range. Google’s Tech Corners encompasses five buildings.
“We’re also working for The Irvine Company; the Ericsson campus in Santa Clara Square is Irvine’s property,” he continues. “It’s a 750,000-square-foot design-build project.”
Recently, UMI has also finished a mini campus for Apple where the iTunes operation is located and a new LinkedIn campus in Sunnyvale.
Back to the basics
UMI’s backlog in prospering Silicon Valley may be lengthy now, but Gundersen says the recession certainly hit home in 2008. “Our revenue dropped considerably during that time, but regardless, there’s one thing we didn’t do; we didn’t lay off anyone,” he elaborates. “We implemented a job share program to split the work; with some employees working four days instead of five, we also carried out some cross training. The important thing is we managed to stay profitable while retaining our quality people.”
However, according to Gundersen, enough recessions can be a good thing. “It gets you back to basics; sometimes just what a company needs,” he details. “As you come back and begin to grow again, you’re more careful about spending and well-paced growth. The recession actually made UMI a better company and poised the firm for its now rapid expansion.”
Additionally, UMI’s safety record is now among the finest in the industry. “Currently, we have an experience mod of 0.57 and we work daily to improve our safety record,” Gundersen says.
UMI can add to a long list of accolades as San Jose’s Best Mechanical Contractor in 2012 and an ENR rating of No. 18 in the magazine’s specialty contractor listing. With the amount of growth UMI has and will continue to experience, this might often leave some company’s core values behind; but that’s one thing Gundersen assures won’t happen at UMI.
“We’re here to build customers for life, and that starts and ends with the right team and the right philosophy,” Gundersen continues. Building on the company’s past -both the good and the bad – has allowed United Mechanical Incorporated to continue to accelerate and dominate in design-build mechanical delivery.
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