The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 was one of the greatest disasters in U.S. history, but for Danish immigrant Soren N. Jacobsen it became an opportunity. The young cabinetmaker had arrived at Ellis Island in 1900 and worked his way west doing millwork and building houses before settling in Salt Lake City.
But realizing the need for rebuilding after the quake, Jacobsen left for San Francisco. He built a base of experience working as a foreman on projects like the Fairmont and Bellevue hotels before returning to Utah to found the company that still bears his name.
Soren led the company until shortly after World War II and was followed by his son, Ted C., and then Ted M., Soren's grand nephew. Lonnie M. Bullard served as president until 2006, when Jacobsen became an employee-owned company. Company stock is held by many long-term employees who become fully vested after seven years. "We have a great legacy to build on, and while there is not a Jacobsen leading the company now, we have strong leadership from a board of directors who are carrying on the ideals of leaders like Soren and his son Ted C. and then Ted M.," says Douglas Welling, the current president and CEO.
Today, Jacobsen's leaders still talk about a passion for building, "unlocking creativity in clients and employees" and seeking opportunities wherever they might be, Welling says.
For more than 10 years, Jacobsen Construction Co. has been consistently ranked among the top 10 contractors in the Intermountain area by ENR Mountain States, taking the fifth spot last year with self-reported revenue of $282.5 million and reaching No. 3 this year with $282 million.
ENR consistently ranks the firm in its top 400 contractors nationally. Jacobsen is headquartered in Salt Lake City and concentrates on projects along the Wasatch Front, but it has worked in 35 states as well as Mexico, Honduras and Argentina. It also maintains field offices in St. George, Utah, and Honolulu. The contractor employs between 400 and 550 people.
Welling says the company's ideals are spelled out in the Jacobsen Formula, which is used in training and throughout the firm's culture. It incorporates outside-the-box thinking, exceeding expectations, doing a job right the first time, continuous improvement and a focus on safety as a key to prosperity and value, he says.
"We are a very solution-oriented company," says John Fortuna, chief operating officer. "We want continuity in our projects, but we don't want a manual that says this one way is the only way to do things. We break our project-delivery manual into expectations and risks, and we leave it up to the project managers to come up with a plan to deliver on those expectations and manage the risks."
Welling says flexibility in delivery and a reliance on the creativity of the work force complements the nature of an employee–owned organization.
"We don't want people who just want to be told what to do. Our people have a stake in the game, and they know if they can do something to help the organization, there is a benefit to them personally," he says. "When you get people caring about each other and what they are doing, some magical things can start to happen."
Jacobsen has a significant history of repeat clients along the Wasatch Front. Since building the first Primary Children's Hospital for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1952, the contractor has built numerous projects for Intermountain Health Care, the regional nonprofit created when the LDS Church divested its hospital and health care operations. Jacobsen's health care work has included Intermountain's flagship health care campus south of Salt Lake City, and the contractor is now completing work on a $118-million ambulatory-care facility and renovation at Primary Children's Hospital on the University of Utah campus.
Mike Creason, assistant administrator for facilities management at Primary Children's Hospital, has worked on projects with Jacobsen since 2000. "We are a pediatric hospital, and they [Jacobsen] are always very sensitive about noise and working around unique cases and understanding what we do," Creason says. "Our motto here is: 'The child first and always,' and they understand that."
Jacobsen is also doing more work for doTERRA, a manufacturer and marketer of natural essential oils-based products headquartered in Pleasant Grove, about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City. Having just completed the firm's $60-million headquarters building, Jacobsen is starting work on a second phase that will include a light manufacturing facility and warehouse.