C.R. Meyer and Sons Company

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C.R. Meyer and Sons Company

895 West 20th Avenue
Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54903-2157

Telephone: (920) 235-3350
Fax: (920) 235-3419
Web site: http://www.crmeyer.com

Private Company
Employees: 500
Sales: $97.6 million (2005)
NAIC: 233000 Building, Developing, and General Contracting

Based in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, privately owned C.R. Meyer and Sons Company is one of the leading construction companies in the Midwest. Not only does the company offer a full range of general contracting services, it is also capable of designing buildings. Further capabilities include construction management and planning and consulting services. In addition, C.R. Meyer offers specialized services. Pre-engineered solutions include construction planning, value analysis, budgeting, bidding and estimating, material and equipment procurement, cost tracking and reporting, and project close out. The company also offers equipment moving and erection services. Included among the clients of C.R. Meyer are companies in such sectors as pulp and paper, mining, power generation, food and beverage, office facilities, healthcare, assisted living facilities, and financial services. In addition to the main office in Oshkosh, C.R. Meyer has an office in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, and maintains an equipment yard in both cities. The company has also opened an office in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and owns Griese and Ross, a crane and heavy equipment rental company with locations in Oshkosh, Green Bay, Marshfield, and Tomahawk, Wisconsin.

Company Roots in the Late 19th Century

The man behind the C.R. Meyer name was Charles R. Meyer, a young German immigrant who came to Oshkosh in 1888 with little more than his mason's canvas bag. Inside were a trowel and wooden level, his only possessions of value. He was able to put the masonry skills he learned in Germany to good use in his new country. For the first dozen years, he concentrated on the stone fronts of homes, stores, and factories, many of which were related to Oshkosh's thriving lumber trade. Then, in 1900, a stroke of luck provided Meyer with an opportunity to branch out beyond stone masonry. He was a masonry subcon-tractor working on a paper plant when the carpenter on the project backed out, leaving the carpentry bid to Meyer. With this start, Meyer was able to become a general contractor in construction. His building projects were mostly small houses and stores in the Fox Valley area.

Meyer quickly established a reputation for superior workmanship, leading to increasingly larger projects, including mansions for the wealthy industrialists, as his area of operation gradually expanded throughout northeast Wisconsin, eventually reaching to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. In 1908, he built a mansion for the lumber baron and banker Edgar P. Sawyer, which later became the Oshkosh Public Museum. During the two decades of the 20th century, Meyer also built the Al Leach residence in Oshkosh, the Conway residence in Appleton, the Al Gilbert residence in Neenah, and the residence of Robert Lutz in Oshkosh. Throughout this period, Meyer also constructed a number of commercial and institutional projects, including the St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton, the massive Oshkosh Trunk Company plant, the Fox River Paper plant, the New German American Bank in Oshkosh, the Theda Clark Hospital in Neenah, the Sentry Insurance building in Stevens Point, the Jersild Knitting Company factory in Neenah, the Oshkosh Elk's Club, and the Webster Building in Oshkosh.

By now, Meyer was being helped by his sons Harry and Edward. In 1912, he incorporated the business as C.R. Meyer and Sons Company. The family construction business continued to thrive until the stock market crash of 1929. During the preceding decade, C.R. Meyer completed a number of signifi-cant building projects in Wisconsin, including the Athearn Hotel, the First Baptist Temple, the First Presbyterian Church, and the First National Bank, all located in Oshkosh. In addition, the company built the Riverside Paper Company plant in Appleton and facilities for the Neenah Paper Company and the Green Bay and Mississippi Canal Company. It was during this period that C.R. Meyer also became involved in other kinds of building projects, such as the Fox River Paper Dam in 1918 and the Lawe Street Bridge in Appleton in 1922, as well as other area dams and hydro facilities. The company also built a mansion for another lumber baron, Nathan Paine, whose residence one day would become Oshkosh's Paine Art Center and Gardens, considered an "American Castle."

Like most businesses in America, C.R. Meyer struggled as the country tumbled into the Great Depression. In 1932, Charles Meyer turned over the presidency of the company to Edward and the vice-presidency to Harry, on whose shoulders fell the responsibility of shepherding the business through these diffi-cult times. At one juncture, the brothers were forced to mortgage all their possessions in order to keep C.R. Meyer in business. A stellar reputation earned over a period of decades, strong relationships with customers, and family friendships were also important in the company's ability to survive the 1930s. What few contracts there were during this time tended to go to C.R. Meyer. Important projects included Sunnyview Sanitarium, Merrill Junior High School, Mercy Hospital School of Nursing, and the Paine Lumber Company plant, all in Oshkosh; the Bergstrom Paper Company facility in Neenah; and the De Pere Bridge, the Paint River Dam, Little Chute Dam, Grandfather Falls Hydro Plant, and the Eastern Wisconsin Light, Heat and Power Company plant.

Postwar Building Boom

In 1939, Harry Meyer succeeded his brother as president of the family business, a position he held for the next 25 years. It was not until the United States entered World War II in late 1941 that the U.S. economy fully recovered. Following a brief recession after the war ended in 1945, the economy roared during the postwar years and C.R. Meyer benefited greatly from a sustained building boom. Business was so strong that in the late 1940s the company used some of its own resources to build itself a new 9,000-square-foot headquarters in downtown Oshkosh. For the most part, C.R. Meyer now focused on large public works projects and the construction of factories. Projects during the 1940s included the Peavy Falls Dam, the Tomahawk Dam, the Way Dam, the Rhinelander Paper Company plant, the Kimberly-Clark Globe Mill building, the Whiting-Plover Paper Company plant, and the Neenah Paper Company plant. Projects of the 1950s included the Butte des Morts Bridge, the State Street Bridge, Oregon Street Bridge, the Michigamme Falls dam, the hydroelectric plant at Big Quinnesec Falls, the Escanaba Steam Plant, the Cleveland Clifts Company Shaft Mine, the Marathon Paper plant in Menominee, Michigan, the Bayside Plant in Green Bay, the Bayside Pulliam Plant, the Nicolet Paper Company plant, and Oshkosh's Mercy Hospital.

A third generation took over C.R. Meyer in 1963 when Harry Meyer's son-in-law, Fred W. Pinkerton, became the company's president. A year later, a fourth generation became involved when Pinkerton's son, Fred M. Pinkerton, went to work for C.R. Meyer and began his grooming to one day take over the company. In reality, he began preparing to run the company from childhood. "Everything I did in the high school years, working as a laborer or mason trader, my schooling years in Madison, my college years working with the companyI knew I was going to be involved in this company from the start," he told Marketplace Magazine in a 1995 interview. "I wanted it, and I prepared for it. With my grandfather and my dad heavily involved in the business, many of our outings and fun times as a family revolved around business clients and business friendships. Those business friendships became personal friendships. It was all interrelated." Although he always expected to work in the family business, the younger Pinkerton, a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, came close to dropping his college business classes to study architecture. Despite staying the course, his interest in design provided a key influence on the way he ran C.R. Meyer when he took over.

First, Fred M. Pinkerton would have to wait his turn. During the 22 years that his father led C.R. Meyer, the company constructed a number of significant projects, including the Bergstrom Paper Company plant, the Hewitt Machine Company facility, major additions to the Nicolet Paper Company facilities, several plants for the Oshkosh Truck Corporation, and the Wisconsin Tissue Mills plant. Additionally, in the early 1980s Fred W. Pinkerton oversaw the acquisition of Griese and Ross, which provided cranes and operators since its founding in 1973.

Fred M. Pinkerton Takes Over in the Mid-1980s

When Fred M. Pinkerton became president of C.R. Meyer following the death of his father in the mid-1980s, he continued the company's tradition of doing business by creating partnerships with clients. "The key to the partnership approach is that everyone is together from day one," he explained to the Northeastern Wisconsin Business Review in a 1992 profile of the company. "This allows for all partners to see the design stage in the works and give their input when certain needs arise." By forging a strong alliance between owner, architect-engineer, and construction firm (and in some cases an equipment supplier) and by having the parties meet on a regular basis throughout the construction process, C.R. Meyer was able to expedite work. "For example," accord to the Review, "SNE Enterprises Inc. selected C.R. Meyer to design and build a 660,000-square-foot manufacturing and office complex in Mosinee, Wisconsin. Using its partnership approach, Meyer was able to complete the $16 million project under budget and 1 month ahead of schedule."

Company Perspectives:

Since 1888 the construction professionals at C.R. Meyer and Sons Company have committed themselves to finding building solutions that work in the best interest of our customer.

The addition of design capabilities was the most significant improvement the younger Pinkerton brought to C.R. Meyer after becoming company president, an outgrowth of his early interest in architecture. In 1995, he told Marketplace Magazine, "When I graduated from school and came back to the business, I very early on saw the future of design-build, to become a support to an otherwise good, solid construction business. We have always had engineers and several draftsmen as far as I can remember employed in our office. I saw that opportunity involved, that I wanted to promote the design-build concept for C.R. Meyer. . . . I believe that clientsmanufacturing industries, mills, and industrial firmssensed the need for single-source responsibility."

Although Pinkerton generally honored his father's advice, there was one area in which he followed his own judgment. He told the Review that his father once told him, "Don't you ever put computers in here. That'll never work son." Realizing that it was just the cost that scared off his father, who had grown up parsimonious as a child of the Depression, Pinkerton embraced new technologies. The addition of computers and computer-assisted design systems were a key to the growth C.R. Meyer enjoyed as design-build company from the late 1980s onward. Turnaround time on a project could be greatly reduced while also providing cost effectiveness and the ability to make changes on the fly. Such flexibility was evident in a project the company completed for its own uses. Having outgrown their downtown offices, in 1989 C.R. Meyer converted a former airplane manufacturing building and hangar to suit the needs of a construction company. For several years, C.R. Meyer was the only construction firm in all of Wisconsin to offer computer-assisted design services.

Continued Success in the 1990s and Beyond

When C.R. Meyer entered the 1990s, it ranked number 173 on Engineering News-Record's list of the top 400 contractors in the United States. Within one year, the company jumped to number 158, boasting contracts worth $48.5 million. It now shied away from bridge construction and road projects, while adding specialties such as construction management services. In this way, C.R. Meyer became what Pinkerton called "a mid-sized company with large-project capabilities." Not saddled with the overhead costs of a large company, C.R. Meyer enjoyed a great deal of flexibility. As Pinkerton told Marketplace Magazine, "We are able to gravitate towards industries that are successful and we are not dependent on an industry that might be in a down cycle. . . . In any economic cycle, there are always industry sectors that are thriving when the overall market isn'tand we have to be flexible to move toward those markets that are prospering." Major projects in the 1990s included the Sludge Burning Complex for Cross Pointe Paper in Park Falls, the Yankee dryer replacement at Wisconsin Tissue Mills In Menasha, the wastewater treatment plant at Packaging Corporation of America in Tomahawk, Berlin Memorial Hospital, the Riverside Medical Center in Waupaca, and the Cur*Med building in Oshkosh. C.R. Meyer also handled a pair of smaller jobs that were as much a labor of love as commerce: restoring the Oshkosh Public Museum that was housed in the Edgar P. Sawyer mansion it had built in the early 1900s and repairing the Nathan Paine mansion, home of the Paine Art Center, which it built in 1927, after the roof of the building burned off in a 1994 fire.

C.R. Meyer adjusted its management structure somewhat in the late 1990s. Pinkerton became chief executive officer in 1997 and turned over the presidency to Phillip J. Martini, who had served as vice-president for more than ten years. The company continue to pursue the same approach that made it successful for more than 100 years as it entered the 21st century. A yard was added in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, and in 2002 an office was opened in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. At the same time, C.R. Meyer was preparing for the future. Years earlier, Pinkerton told Marketplace Magazine, "I want to be here through a successful transition from a family-owned business into the next generation that will manage C.R. Meyer and Sons. I will be here to ensure that our people who have given us their working lifetime are ensured that this will be in good hands for the next young people to carry on this business. It is important for me to prove that a fourth-generation business can successfully proceed into the fifth generation."

Principal Divisions

Griese and Ross.

Key Dates:

German immigrant and stone mason Charles R. Meyer immigrates to Wisconsin.
Meyer expands beyond masonry.
C.R. Meyer and Sons Company is incorporated.
Meyer's son Edward Meyer assumes presidency.
Edward's brother, Harry Meyer, become president.
Harry Meyer's son-in-law Fred W. Pinkerton is named president.
Following Pinkerton death, his son, Fred M. Pinker-ton, heads the company.
Pinkerton become chief executive officer; Phillip J. Martini is named president.
The company opens an office in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

Principal Competitors

The Clark Construction Group; M.A. Mortsenson Company; The Walsh Group.

Further Reading

Howard, Thad, "C. R. Meyer Excels at Building Area Landmarks," Northeastern Wisconsin Business Review, May 1, 1992, p. 23.

Prestegard, Steve, "The Solution-Builder: C.R. Meyer and Son's Name Is on Some of the Area's Largest Construction Projects," Marketplace Magazine, August 15, 1995, p. 12.

"Scrapbook: C.R. Meyer and Sons Company," C.R. Meyer and Sons Company, 2003.

Ed Dinger