Barton Malow Company
Barton Malow Company
Incorporated: 1924 as the C.O. Barton Company
Sales: $1.25 billion (2002)
NAIC: 233310 Manufacturing and Industrial Building Construction; 233320 Commercial and Institutional Building Construction
Barton Malow Company is one of the 20 largest construction firms in the United States. The company handles general construction projects that include hospitals, educational buildings, stadiums, and corporate and industrial facilities. In addition to erecting structures, Barton Malow also offers construction management services to assist clients with their needs from pre-construction through final close-out. Headquartered in Southfield, Michigan, Barton Malow has regional offices in Maryland, Virginia, Arizona, Ohio, and Georgia. The family of president Ben Maibach III owns controlling interest in the firm.
Barton Malow’s origins date to 1924 when Carl Oscar Barton founded the C.O. Barton Company in Detroit, Michigan. The Canada-born Barton, age 26, had studied engineering at the University of Michigan, and after a brief stint at the Detroit Water Board had begun working for the J.A. Utley Company, a general contractor. While at Utley, he hatched plans to start a new construction firm with a coworker, Peter Darin, and borrowed $500 to start the business. Shortly afterwards, Darin left on a honeymoon vacation, during which his new wife talked him out of the venture. When the news reached Barton, he decided to go it alone and opened the doors of the C.O. Barton Co. on August 4, 1924. Barton held 998 of the 1,000 shares of stock, with his sister Margaret and Kins Collins, his auditor, receiving one share each.
Business was slow at first, and the firm was soon forced to relocate from an office on Washington Boulevard to the Detroit Free Press Building. The company’s first work came from Michigan Bell Telephone, performing interior renovations, and from the Hudson Motor Car Company, doing alterations and repairs. Revenues for the first year totaled $521,000, with net income of $1,247. The next several years saw the firm receive other assignments from Detroit-area auto makers, including Hudson, Ford, Chrysler, and Packard, but it began to record a growing deficit.
In 1927, Carl Barton, who had been putting in long hours and enduring significant stress over the company’s financial woes, suffered a nervous breakdown. After being advised to declare bankruptcy, he decided to persevere and eventually paid his debts in full. Immediate assistance came in the form of a $25,000 investment from Arnold Malow, whose father had been involved in several prominent local construction companies. Malow borrowed the money from his father-in-law, George Fink, who was the president of Michigan Steel Company. That firm, later renamed National Steel Corp., would become Barton’s largest client over the next few years. After buying in, Malow was named vice-president and treasurer.
By 1929, the revived Barton Co. was doing nearly $1 million in annual sales. The Great Depression was starting to hit Americans hard, but the company was able to withstand it due to an investment that had been made in National Steel Corp., which was sold to pay debts and use for working capital. Barton Co. recorded a profit of $20,000 in 1930 and over $14,000 in 1931. In May 1932, the firm changed its name to the Barton Malow Company.
The Depression Hits Home
The year 1932 saw the bleak economy finally impact the firm as gross sales declined to $119,000 and a loss of $3,553 was recorded. A new contract to build the Great Lakes Steel Corporation’s Ecorse plant helped Barton Malow through the next several years, however, and led to further work for that company after the project was completed. During the latter portion of the 1930s, the company sought to diversify its client base and took on new work for utility and insurance companies, food processing firms, and service organizations. Clients at this time included Studebaker Corporation, Westinghouse, Sears, Roebuck, General Electric, and Minnesota Mining.
Barton Malow’s employees had not heretofore been unionized, but this changed in the late 1930s at the same time that many other companies in the Detroit area were organized. World War II saw a number of the firm’s workers leave to join the armed forces, but the company continued to do well, with revenues for 1944 reaching $2.3 million. Following the war, the firm underwent a strong period of growth, and annual sales increased threefold by the end of the 1940s.
In 1949, chief estimator Harold Butler and vice-president and director of field operations Ben Maibach, Jr., became part-owners of Barton Malow. Each bought $15,000 worth of stock, while the wives of the company’s namesakes invested $50,000 each.
The year 1952 saw Barton Malow win its largest contract to date, for a plant, warehouse, and testing facility for the Packard Motor Car Company’s jet engine manufacturing operation in Utica, Michigan. The project was designed by noted architect Albert Kahn. That year also saw the firm establish a profit sharing and pension plan for its employees, the first of its kind in the construction industry. Sales for the year were more than double those of just three years before, at $14 million.
In 1953, Carl Barton stepped down as president and later sold his ownership shares back to the firm for $500,000. Arnold Malow, who took over the top job, suffered a heart attack in 1954 and spent an extended period of time recuperating in Florida.
Diversification in the Mid-1950s
Because of the steady flow of work the account generated, Barton Malow kept 2,000 employees assigned to National Steel. When a major steel industry strike forced changes in the way in-plant construction and maintenance work were handled, the firm laid off half of this staff. Consequently, the company began looking for ways to avoid becoming dependent on a single client and once again sought greater diversity of work. To this end, Barton Malow began to accept more projects outside of Michigan, partly in association with Udylite Corporation, which specialized in installing automated plating equipment. A rigging department was also created in 1956, and crews were made available on a 24-hour/seven-days-a-week basis for certain clients.
The latter 1950s saw new construction challenges undertaken, including the firm’s first high-rise structure, the Michigan Mutual Liability Building in downtown Detroit. A joint venture was also formed with Turner Construction Company of New York to build a parts and equipment manufacturing plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, for the Ford Motor Company. Other major projects included modernization of a steel mill in Louisville, Ohio, for Jones & Laughlin and construction of research laboratories and offices for Parke Davis & Co. in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the company’s first $10 million job, as well as another office and warehouse for Parke Davis in Skokie, Illinois. Barton Malow also signed a contract to build the U.S. Post Office in Detroit, which at the time was the largest building in the state of Michigan in terms of cubic feet. The $23 million project was finished on time and helped raise the firm’s profile within the industry.
In 1957, an agreement was reached to buy back Arnold Malow’s stock in the firm over a five-year period, which would make Butler and Maibach joint owners of Barton Malow. When Harold Butler suffered an aneurysm several years later, he decided to retire and offered to sell his own stock back to the firm. Barton Malow did not have the cash reserves to pay him, so in April of 1960 an agreement was reached with Rolland Wilkening, a civil engineer who had worked for the company since 1950, to buy 40 percent of Butler’s stake. Maibach acquired the rest, giving him an 80 percent share. He subsequently sold small amounts of stock to eight other employees of the firm.
In April 1961, Barton Malow moved into its new headquarters in Oak Park, Michigan. The firm’s sales of $9.7 million for that year elevated it to 35th place on Architectural Forum magazine’s ranking of U.S. general contractors. The following year, the company completed the 27-story Jefferson Apartment Building, the tallest reinforced concrete structure in the state of Michigan. Clients during this period included Kelsey-Hayes, General Motors, National Steel, Union Carbide, and General Electric.
After a difficult year in 1963, Barton Malow received a major boost from Ford, who asked the company to build a 2.6 million-square-foot stamping plant for production of the new Mustang car. Volume for 1965 reached $27 million, with profits of $239,000. Revenues jumped to $78 million in 1967, a surge which necessitated the addition of 6,000 square feet to the company’s headquarters. That year also saw Arnold Malow retire as a director of the company.
Purchase of Mead & Mount in 1968
In 1968, seeking further opportunities outside of Michigan, Barton Malow purchased the Mead & Mount Construction Company of Denver, Colorado. Mead & Mount, which had been founded in the 1920s, was roughly the same size as Barton Malow. Work undertaken in Colorado included the United Airlines Training Center, hangars for Frontier and Western Airlines, projects for the U.S. Air Force Academy and Western Electric, construction of several hospitals, and a complex built for the Metropolitan Denver Sewer System. Mead & Mount’s Wyoming-based subsidiary also erected several structures for the University of Wyoming.
Mission Statement: We build excellent solutions. Corporate Values: Leadership; Expertise, leading to effectiveness; Innovation, leading to quality solutions; Teamwork, leading to synergy; Decisiveness, leading to action; Commitment to our customers and employees; Integrity —the bedrock of long term success.
Projects in Michigan during the late 1960s included Postal Service buildings in Dearborn and Saginaw and the Burroughs Corporation’s world headquarters in Detroit. Problems completing the latter led to a series of delays and a subsequent lawsuit. Another ill-fated project was a transfer station that was built for the U.S. Disposal Company. When the client fell into default, Barton Malow finished the work and ran the transfer station business as a subsidiary until 1973, when it was sold to Browning Ferris at a profit.
Assignments of the early 1970s included a $14 million high school in Pontiac and $11 million and $22 million hospital projects for William Beaumont. During this time, Barton Malow began to offer construction management services, which involved performing pre- and post-construction consultation with clients to streamline the process of building. A notable example of this was the 80,000-seat Pontiac Silverdome enclosed stadium, which was finished on time and under budget, a rarity for such projects.
In the mid-1970s, Barton Malow formed a Special Projects Division to handle construction of stadiums and arenas. In 1977, following an analysis of the Mead & Mount operation, it was phased out and its activities taken over by the parent company. In 1979, founder Carl Barton passed away at the age of 82. Arnold Malow had died in 1971.
The beginning of the 1980s saw the U.S. economy slipping, and the resultant tightening of construction budgets forced several of Barton Malow’s long-time competitors to be sold or consolidated, although the company itself continued to do well. Offers to purchase control of the firm were considered, but ultimately rejected by Ben Maibach, who was concerned about the impact such a change would have on his employees.
Projects of this period included the General Motors Assembly Division World Headquarters and three 3.2 million-square-foot complexes in Orion and Hamtramck, Michigan, and Wentzville, Missouri, also for GM. The latter projects were each budgeted at more than $500 million. The company also formed a subsidiary, Barton Malow Pontiac, to facilitate participation in the Downtown Pontiac Development Company’s Phoenix Center project. Due to the slump in the construction industry, Barton Malow had little trouble finding qualified personnel to help complete these new assignments.
Continued Growth from the 1980s into the New Century
In 1981, Ben Maibach, Jr., passed the job of president to his son Ben Maibach III, remaining with the firm as board chairman. The following year, the company’s sales reached an unprecedented $738 million. Barton Malow’s rapid growth necessitated a new organizational structure, and three divisions were established: Commercial/Institutional, Health Facilities, and Special Projects. The company also formed a marketing department at this time and later launched two new subsidiaries, Barton Malow Rigging Co. and The Argos Group. Education, Design, and Technical Services divisions were later added as well. By this time Barton Malow was on Engineering News Record’s list of the top 25 U.S. contractors and top ten construction management firms.
Major projects of the mid-1980s included a facility built for the Mayo Clinic of Jacksonville, Florida, a Shriners Hospital in Greenville, South Carolina, and the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired headquarters of Domino’s Pizza in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 1987, work began on the $200 million Minneapolis Convention Center and the Wayne County Metropolitan Airport.
The year 1988 saw Barton Malow change its corporate logo and color scheme, which became blue and gray. Problems at the Barton Malow Thatcher subsidiary in Atlanta led to the closing of the operation, along with the firm’s Sarasota, Florida, office. A new Mid-Atlantic office was opened in 1989, however, and it won a bid to build the Baltimore Orioles’ stadium the following year. Other jobs undertaken at this time included Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant, the Ford Motor Company’s Allen Park Test Lab, and Troy High School. In the early 1990s, the company built stadiums in Georgia and Colorado, as well as the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Hospital work was also done for the Shriners in Salt Lake City, Houston, and Sacramento, as well as for a number of other health care providers. By this time, Barton Malow’s out-of-state work had grown to 70 percent of its total, up from 50 percent just a few years before.
In 1994, Barton Malow launched a Total Quality Management program. The firm was also actively seeking to reduce on-the-job injuries and achieved an average rate 25 percent below the industry norm. Additionally, the company was taking aim at diversifying its staff, in 1994 hiring 46 percent female and 24 percent minority workers. Several years later Barton Malow partnered with a minority-owned contractor, Ideal Steel & Builders’ Supplies, Inc., to create Ideal Contracting. Barton Malow would own 49 percent of the joint venture.
- C.O. Barton Company is formed as a general contractor in Detroit, Michigan.
- Arnold Malow invests $25,000 to help save the firm from bankruptcy.
- The company is renamed Barton Malow Co.
- Ben Maibach, Jr., and Henry Butler buy into the firm.
- Butler retires; Maibach becomes majority owner.
- The company moves into new headquarters in Oak Park, Michigan.
- Mead & Mount Construction Co. of Denver, Colorado, is purchased.
- Mead & Mount operations are phased out.
- Ben Maibach III takes over the presidency from his father.
- The company is chosen to manage a $1.4 billion Detroit Schools bond project.
- The firm moves into its new headquarters building in Southfield, Michigan.
The auto industry continued to tap the company for major projects, and the mid-1990s saw construction of a truck development center for General Motors. Barton Malow also converted the former GM headquarters building in Detroit into offices for the State of Michigan. Dubbed Cadillac Place, the project won the company an award for its extensive use of minority- and women-owned firms. Other work of this period included several sports stadiums, including Phillips Arena in Atlanta, where two workers were tragically killed by a falling 19-ton concrete beam during construction.
The company passed on work building casinos in the Detroit area, where only a limited number of them had recently been approved. Citing a belief that gambling had a negative impact on the community, a Barton Malow spokesperson stated that the firm would not pursue such work. Chairman Ben Maibach, Jr., was an ordained minister, and the company had a long history of promoting ethical conduct and values.
In 2001, Barton Malow moved into its new headquarters, a 110,000-square-foot building with a four-story atrium that had been designed in-house. The view of an adjacent wetlands was enhanced by windows pitched downward eight degrees, as well as by a walkway that extended into it. The start of the new century saw the company continuing to attract important new assignments, including a $150 million hospital addition for William Beaumont and management of a $1.4 billion, seven-year renewal program for Detroit Schools that comprised the construction of 69 new buildings and making repairs to 50 others. By this time, the company’s reach extended from its base of Detroit to 37 states and the District of Columbia.
After more than three-quarters of a century in business, Barton Malow Company was the largest construction firm in Michigan and one of the top 20 in the United States. The company had a solid reputation for quality in the areas of health care, educational, industrial, and stadium construction, and its fruitful associations with the auto industry and a number of major institutional clients promised to keep it busy well into the future.
Barton Malow Design; Barton Malow Energy Group; Barton Malow Technology Services; Barton Malow Interiors Group; Barton Malow Concrete; Barton Malow Special Events Group; Barton Malow Public Education Group; Barton Malow Higher Education Group; Barton Malow Health Facilities Group; Barton Malow Corporate/Industrial Group; Barton Malow Rigging Co.
Gilbane, Inc.; Hunt Construction Group; McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.; The Turner Corporation; Walbridge Aldinger Co.
Harmon, Brian, “Detroit Schools Pick Major Firm for Bond Program,” The Detroit News, April 18, 2000.
King, R.J., “Headquarters Flaunts Builder’s Design Skills,” The Detroit News, April 30, 2002.
Maibach, Ben, Jr., “History of Barton Malow.” Available at http://www.bartonmalow.com/overview/overview.htm
Mercer, Tenisha, “After Years of Stagnation, Detroit Construction Surges,” Crain’s Detroit Business, July 1, 1996, p. M-22.
——, “2 Companies Create Minority General Contractor,” Grain’s Detroit Business, March 16, 1998, p. 3.