Giants 300 keep pluggin’ along

July 19, 2012 |
Rob Cassidy

Here’s what Rich Tilghman, SVP at Pepper Construction, told me recently: “What surprises me more than anything is that more subcontractors haven’t gone out of business. I would have thought half of those firms would be gone by now, but they’re still struggling through.” The same could be said about our Giants 300 firms. Surprisingly, most of them are hanging in there.

That’s kind of the good news about this year’s Giants 300 rankings (which are based on 2011 revenues) of the top AEC firms. The great majority are still in business; in fact, quite a few—especially those that have been able to tap into rapidly expanding overseas economies, notably China and the Mideast—are doing quite well.

True, there have been casualties. Who would have predicted four or five years ago that Karlsberger, one of the great names in healthcare design, would call it quits after more than eight decades in the business? Or that KlingStubbins, itself a recently merged entity, would be acquired by Jacobs?

In fact, Jacobs, along with mega-Giants Stantec and AECOM, has been on the lookout for good buys, to tap into or strengthen specialty areas or to gain geographical market presence. I think it’s a fair bet we’ll be seeing more such activity by the very largest firms into 2013.

If you take the time to scrutinize this year’s Giants 300, you may also notice that a number of firms that would normally make their respective tables are not listed. Usually this happens for one of two reasons: first, because, try as we might—with repeated emails, personal phone calls, and postings on our website—we miss some firms, or they miss us.

We hate when this happens, but given the size of the task of gathering all the data, it’s inevitable: every year, we’ll get a few calls from understandably upset marketing directors asking why their firms were not on the list.

The second reason is that some firms simply choose not to supply us with their numbers, chiefly because they had a bad year and don’t want to publicize the fact. I can’t blame them. Overall, we get remarkable cooperation from our Giants 300 firms, for which we are very grateful. Thank you, Giants 300 firms!

Now, some news about this year’s rankings.

Thanks to a new online survey tool, we captured a lot more data this year. In these pages and in much greater detail online (at, you’ll find information that we’ve never been able to supply—for example, the top AEC suppliers to the Veterans Administration and the military. We also expanded our “green” coverage to capture the  numbers on Certified Energy Managers and other green professionals, not just LEED APs.

We also separated construction firms by whether they worked on a fee basis (CM agency, program management) or on a gross revenue basis (GCs, design-build, CM at risk). We did this because a contractor that takes in $100 million in fees to manage projects is probably managing 20 times that figure in the value of the construction being put in place. We hope this is system is more equitable and realistic.

Finally, you may note that we have added considerable editorial coverage to this year’s Giants 300, to round out the data with perspective from C-suite executives at the top firms. We hope you find their comments enlightening.

One last point: to gain two pages of editorial content, we put the greatly expanded and much more detailed Giants 300 Index online at +

Rob Cassidy | Building Team Blog

Rob Cassidy (“ClimateGrouch”) is editorial director of Building Design+Construction. A city planner, he is the author of several books, including “Livable Cities,” and was a co-founder of the Friends of the Chicago River.

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