Executives of the Year: Eric Schmidt’s building blocks

In many ways 2015 was, if you’ll pardon the pun, a groundbreaking year for CG Schmidt’s Madison area employees. To Eric Schmidt, general manager of the Western Region for CG Schmidt, the quality of the recent year goes beyond record-breaking sales numbers.

Those numbers are not the sole reason that Schmidt was selected as an In Business Executive of the Year in the Small Company category (based on Dane County employee counts), but they help explain it. He and other EOY winners were chosen for this honor by a panel of judges that includes Deb Archer, president and CEO of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, retired UW–Madison Director of Athletics Pat Richter, and Mark Bakken, founder of Nordic LLC and HealthX Ventures.

“This is an incredible honor to be chosen by these types of individuals who are the pillars of business in Madison,” Schmidt notes. “I’m humbled and thankful to my staff.”

An open book

Schmidt’s most significant accomplishment pertains to the firm’s transparency and open book accounting practices, which helped it earn both a 2015 Wisconsin Family Business Award and the 2011 Business Ethics Award from the Wisconsin Society of Financial Services Professionals. The latter is no small feat in an industry where not every company builds trust with clients because they are often skeptical of their builder’s billing practices.

CG Schmidt provides construction management, general contracting, and design-build services for education, industrial, health care, senior living, and community projects. As a result of its “no surprises” approach, the Milwaukee-based CG Schmidt is the only construction company to ever receive the aforementioned ethics award. “As a company, that was a significant accomplishment,” Schmidt notes. “It’s a challenge to distance yourself from the questionable practices of others.”

If customer engagement means anything, that kind of reputation is a gift that’s likely to keep on giving. The reputation was built in part by the relationships Schmidt has fostered with clients like Paul Buchholz of the Beaver Dam Unified School District, who offered this testimonial for CG Schmidt based on his working relationship with Eric Schmidt: “By far the best firm I have interacted with in over 30 years of facility management.”

Notes Sarah Dunn, director of client strategies for CG Schmidt: “Eric has made it his personal mission to simplify construction billing practices and bring greater transparency to the industry, which clients appreciate.”

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Making history

CG Schmidt’s roots dates back to 1907 when founder Charles Schmidt, then just 19, came to the United States from his home in Roosendaal, Holland. For 13 years, he worked in maintenance for a Milwaukee brewery before deciding to apply his masonry, concrete, and carpentry skills in his own business, Charles Schmidt and Sons.

Eric Schmidt

As the company approaches its 100th anniversary, it’s led by the fourth generation of the family in the person of President Rick Schmidt. Rick and Eric are among four brothers (along with Mark and David Schmidt) who are actively engaged in the management of the company, with a fifth generation (Rick’s sons Ryan and Brad) being groomed take over.

The firm reports $250 million in annual revenue and employs 29 people in its Madison office. Under Eric Schmidt, the grandson of the company founder, CGS has won and worked on 28 projects out of the Madison office in the last year and more than 50 since Schmidt arrived in Madison in 2010. These include corporate projects such as the Hovde 316 W. Washington building and education work for the Monona Grove School District and others.  

In 2010, CGS made the corporate decision to relocate an owner to Madison and focus its resources on growing the Madison office. The Madison office has quickly expanded despite the lingering affects of a recession that devastated the construction industry, pumping up its annual revenue from $10.4 million in 2012 to $28 million in 2013. In 2015, the Madison office exceeded its sales goal by 307%, contributing mightily to a 36% rise in overall company sales.

During the recession, some workers had left the construction industry altogether and for Eric Schmidt it was difficult to build the staff at CG Schmidt’s Madison office. The company’s reputation for viewing employees as an extension of the Schmidt family, including the establishment of a management team of non-Schmidt family members to contribute to the company’s future direction, helped matters. However, given the type of employee CG Schmidt looks for — talented and high-values people who need minimal guidance — building the Madison staff was no easy task.

“Finding qualified individuals and making sure they fit culturally with the company, that they embody the values the company is known for, was a challenge,” Schmidt acknowledges. “I was astounded how difficult it was to find the people who embody those values.”

Communal values

As a values-driven company, community service has always been part of CG Schmidt’s mission. Each year, the company devotes 5% of its earnings to philanthropy through a combination of donations, sponsorships, and in-kind donations to more than 100 nonprofit organizations. This philanthropy is coordinated through a volunteer committee comprised of employees.

In Madison, one of the most mission-critical causes, both for the quality of life and for economic progress, is the effort to remove phosphorous from local lakes. A founding sponsor and board member of the Clean Lakes Alliance, Schmidt is pleased with the progress that has been made in reducing phosphorous in the lakes.

“We have work we can still do to educate the public,” he says. “People look at the lakes more for recreation, but with the city’s interaction with the lakes and the way they define the character of the city, you start to realize how valuable they really are.”

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