BHI’s 25th Anniversary: Honoring a Legacy of Balancing Profitability and People

BHI's 25th Anniversary: Honoring a Legacy of Balancing Profitability and People

Within the construction industry, there are those who simply build, and then there are those who create – they see the art in every structure and place just as much importance on relationships as they do on the final product. BHI is such a creator, fueled by an ambitious vision, defined by resilience, and driven by a passionate, tight-knit workforce. Their story is one of humble beginnings, relentless pursuits, and a journey from a single-bay shop to the national stage.

Born in the summer of 1998, BHI stands as a testament to the vision and daring of Brad Haslem, a native of Vernal, Utah. Not one to shy away from a challenge, he had a drive that eventually led him to create BHI alongside a team of just seven. Drawing inspiration from the work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit imparted by his parents, Brad instilled these qualities into the very fabric of BHI.

Brad’s perspective towards business is rooted in humanity. As he often emphasizes, “Some say that production makes money, they couldn’t be more wrong. People make money, and our people produce.” This simple but profound belief forms the core of BHI – a company that is just as committed to offering growth opportunities to its people as it is to serving its clients.

Over the years, guided by Brad’s exceptional leadership, BHI has morphed from a small electrical contractor into a highly-regarded general contractor with an expansive national footprint. Their area of expertise now extends to vertical and horizontal construction across building, energy, infrastructure, and mining markets. From North Dakota to Texas and California to Virginia, BHI’s influence is apparent in every project it undertakes.

BHI’s principles of safety, honesty, and transparent communication paired with exceptional customer service are not merely theoretical. Every teammate lives these values on each job site, ensuring every project isn’t just a contract, but a relationship. The sight of the trademark blue bolt on a site signifies not only their presence but also a promise of excellence. But at BHI, it’s not just about building structures or fostering relationships: it’s about building America. Every project and relationship they cultivate, contributes to their vision – a vision of a company that is not just successful but significant.

The Early Years Before BHI: Brad and Karlene

Before the long hours and the success that came with it, there was a simpler time. The story of Brad and his wife Karlene is as much a tale of their courtship as it is of resilience.

Brad recalls, “Karlene and I go way back, all the way to sixth grade. We had this sweet, innocent relationship, the kind that children have. But when I was a senior, I saw her in a different light. She was the one, and I knew she would make me a better person.”

Karlene, equally smitten but more measured, retells their history, “Brad and I were a couple in the sixth grade. After a brief split, our paths crossed again during our senior year. Brad was eager to make up for lost time. I remember how he secured our upcoming dates – the Thanksgiving dance, the Christmas dance, junior prom – all on our first date. He was always one step ahead.”

Following high school graduation from Uintah High School, Brad had intended to move to Provo for college. However, life had other plans. “I stayed back to work in Vernal while Karlene went to Brigham Young University. It was a tough year, we spent the weekends driving back and forth between college and home,” reminisces Brad.

Karlene adds, “We got married in the fall after my first year of college. We then returned to Provo, where Brad began his studies at Utah Technical College. However, with a baby on the way and considering our financial condition, we realized we couldn’t afford a baby. I remember, to visit home from Provo, we used to fill up his car with gas by handing the cashier at the gas station handfuls of nickels, dimes, and quarters because that was all the money we had for such an expense. With finances tight, we had to make a tough call. After just one semester, we decided to come back home so that Brad could return to work to support our upcoming baby.”

Through the highs and lows, the trials and triumphs, Brad and Karlene’s relationship is not just a testament to their personal bond, but also to the foundational values that have shaped BHI.

This commitment to family and willingness to make sacrifices remained a recurring theme in their lives. Brad often found himself away from home on business. He would be gone from Sunday night and would return on Wednesdays to attend church meetings, then head back to work, sometimes not seeing the children all week.

“We did everything we could for our kids,” says Brad. “From being a baseball coach to traveling to support their wrestling, football, dance, and cheerleading endeavors. Despite our hectic schedules, we always ensured that family was a priority, and we made time for vacations together.”

Through the highs and lows, the trials and triumphs, Brad and Karlene’s relationship is not just a testament to their personal bond, but also to the foundational values that have shaped BHI. Their journey illustrates a commitment to family, dedication, and sacrifice, laying the groundwork for the extraordinary company that BHI has become today.

1998 to 2014: Building the Foundation

Every company’s journey starts at a single point: the starting line. The race that follows is marked with hurdles and obstacles, demanding blood, sweat, and tears. This was no different for BHI, a company that embodied resilience and tenacity, overcoming barriers under the stalwart leadership of Brad and seven others who decided to join him.

“I started BHI in June of 1998, standing shoulder to shoulder with some key people who believed in my vision,” reflects Brad. His entrepreneurial spirit and unrelenting courage to embrace challenges were the guiding forces that dared to mold something extraordinary out of nothing.

Karlene, reflecting on Brad’s journey, paints him as a man who has “always been an entrepreneur at heart, never afraid of a challenge and wanted to see if he could create something out of nothing.”

Brad’s oldest son, Brett, who now serves as the company COO, was one of the original seven individuals who stood by Brad from the first day. He recollects, “I remember the first day we were all out in front of our small one bay shop, standing around a couple of trucks going, ‘Okay, here’s day one, what do we have to do?’ and suddenly, it hit us – this was the beginning of our journey. We were all filled with a mix of anticipation and excitement, ready to take on whatever challenges lay ahead.”

Indeed, the genesis of BHI was rooted long before its formal establishment, in the youthful enthusiasm and curiosity of a young boy. Brett narrates, “As a child, I would insist on riding with my father to the job sites. Your dad is always your hero, and what he did, I always thought was cool.”

His adolescence and early adulthood were spent under the learning shade of his father. “Every summer, I worked for him whenever I could,” he shares, expressing his eager interest in the electrical trade. Brett’s educational path led him to Utah Valley Community College for electrical schooling, and eventually back to Vernal when a new school opened up that offered night classes. All the while, he continued to work alongside his father during the day.

“I remember the first day we were all out in front of our small one bay shop, standing around a couple of trucks going, ‘Okay, here’s day one, what do we have to do?’ and suddenly, it hit us – this was the beginning of our journey.” ––Brett Haslem, COO

When it came to the crossroads of the company’s destiny, Brett was right there, weighing in on the pivotal decisions that shaped BHI’s foundation. “I distinctly remember where we were when we were having those discussions, driving in a truck, dreaming about what it would be like to start a company, and where we would take it,” he fondly remembers. Today, looking back at the journey spanning 25 years, he feels humbled by the company BHI has become from its humble beginnings.

Their tale resonates with the age-old wisdom that nothing worth having comes easy. As Brett candidly concludes, “From day one, it wasn’t easy. But that made the journey even more worthwhile.”

The legend of BHI is not just a story of a flourishing business, but also a tale of a family’s evolution and adaptation to ever-changing circumstances. At its heart stands the Haslem family – a lineage of hardworking, dedicated individuals who defied their individual plans and aspirations, converging instead to cement BHI’s legacy.

Erik Haslem, the younger son of Brad and brother to Brett, now holds the reins as CEO of the company. His journey, in particular, is a testament to this unyielding family commitment. His initial career plans were far removed from the business. In pursuit of an MBA in finance and a dual bachelor’s degree in foreign languages, Erik dreamt of conquering the corporate world back east. But as fate would have it, his plans changed dramatically after a consequential conversation with his father.

“I had no intention of coming home to work for my father,” Erik confesses. Yet, a phone call and a weekend talk with his father sent his life on a wholly unexpected trajectory. As Erik recalls, “My dad, seeing me as newly married, posed a question. ‘How are you going to support your new wife?'”. That weekend, Brad made Erik an offer he couldn’t refuse – a $30,000-a-year position as an office manager. Brad’s company was still a fledgling enterprise with just a part-time secretary. His dream of expansion needed someone capable to manage an office that didn’t yet exist.

“Erik,” he said, “I need someone to usher us into the digital age and straighten out our books. You’ll also have to go into the field and work in the afternoons.” The proposition didn’t seem particularly enticing, yet Erik decided to give it a try for a year, encouraged by his wife.

BHI, in its early years, was a far cry from the tech-savvy operation it is today. Erik describes the early years as “prehistoric.” The company ran on faxes, not emails, and ledger books instead of digital spreadsheets. Erik was knee-deep in the task of modernizing the operations. Mornings were spent in the office, afternoons in the field, and late hours poured into advancing the company’s tech capabilities.

Over the following years, the company witnessed substantial growth, and Erik’s role shifted from an office manager to a General Manager. The culmination of Erik’s career trajectory came in 2008 when he assumed the role of the CFO, and his brother Brett became the COO as their father began transferring his responsibilities.

Brett, too, recalls his evolution within BHI. The initial years saw him out in the field, finding and executing projects. As the company grew and more employees came on board, his role transitioned from a construction manager to a project manager, and finally to a vice president role. “I had always gravitated towards the operations part of the business. That’s all I’ve ever done, and I enjoy it. So, it just made sense to assume the COO role when we established a C-suite,” he shares.

In the face of unpredictable circumstances, the Haslem brothers found their individual niches within BHI, carving out a space that was not just an occupation, but a calling. Their story, intertwined with that of BHI’s, mirrors their commitment to a shared dream.

2014 to 2017: The Diversification Years

A mark of a great leader is the ability to know when to step aside and let the next generation take over. In Brad’s case, it was the recognition that his two sons had the talent and energy that could propel BHI to new heights. He remarks, “I realized I was holding them back with my conservative approach. It was time to let them take the reins and see what they could achieve.”

In the fiercely competitive domain of the oil and gas industry, riding the waves of prosperity and navigating through storms of uncertainty is a routine part of the journey for those bold enough to take the plunge. Erik would soon learn this lesson all too well. His tenure as CEO, which began in 2014, was a saga of relentless growth and relentless struggle in the beginning, as BHI faced the volatile twists and turns of the industry.

“In 2014, the oil and gas sector was booming. Work overflowed, outpacing our workforce, and quite frankly we had grown comfortable, maybe even complacent,” Erik recalls. Life was good. But as is often the case with good times, they can mask the cracks beneath the surface.

From the onset, Erik’s vision was to diversify BHI’s business model, branch out beyond their established niche of electrical expertise, and embrace roles in infrastructure and general contracting. “I wanted us to be more than just electricians,” he confesses. But his aspirations were met with resistance from many of the executives, including his father.

However, 2015 brought a jolt. The once-booming oil and gas industry began to falter. Despite reassurances from their corporate contacts, BHI felt the tremors of the downturn. “We gambled on a double-down model, slashing our rates and playing the volume game with time and materials contracts. But the strategy backfired spectacularly as oil plummeted from $100 a barrel to $26, and our work dried up,” Erik recounts.

As the new CEO, Erik was suddenly in the thick of a crisis. The company was bleeding cash faster than it could recover, and in the midst of sleepless nights, a desperate plan was hatched. “We’ve got to change our business model, it’s broken,” Erik declared, rallying his executive team to diversify their services, open new divisions, and position BHI as a prime general contractor.

Implementing the radical shift was a difficult journey, marked by layoffs, declining revenues, and naysayers. Erik equates it to “turning a cruise ship – it takes time.” But perseverance and smart investments in project controls and technology began to bear fruit. “We first diversified into the construction of solar energy and industrial facilities, adopting a ‘strength through diversity’ mindset. It was a monumental moment, the dawn of something special.”

Erik acknowledges the tumultuous period, “The stakes were high; there were a lot of scary moments when we had to trust our gut and convince ourselves that we were heading in the right direction.”

Adding to the gravity of the situation was the retirement of their father who was away on an LDS mission in California at the time. The transition to renewable energy was in its infancy, and many regional offices and staff were idle. On top of that, a court dispute over non-payment further complicated the situation. “Those were some dark days,” Brett remembers. “ We knew what we had to do, but turning the ship was painfully slow.”

Even amidst the trials of 2015, 2016, and 2017, Both Erik and Brett wouldn’t trade the experiences. The challenges helped shape the company, refine its processes, and taught them the value of perseverance and the importance of hiring top talent. “Those years were tough, no doubt, but they sculpted us into who we are today,” Brett reflects.

“The stakes were high; there were a lot of scary moments when we had to trust our gut and convince ourselves that we were heading in the right direction.” ––Erik Haslem, CEO

However, the decision to trust in their chosen path, despite declining revenues in 2016, was accompanied by several sleepless nights. The external perception added to the stress. “Here’s dad retiring, and it looked like his two sons were about to run his company into the ground,” Brett confides, revealing the mental strain of the time. But they assured their father, promising to steer the company back on track.

“And we did,” adds Erik, his tone hinting at the monumental task they had accomplished, “It was a significant learning opportunity, but we pulled through. And today, looking back, all the struggles were worth it.”

When asked about the challenging years of 2014 to 2016, Brad recalls the deep faith that steered him through those challenging times. “Being a few states away on our LDS mission, I felt a bit detached,” he confesses. However, a profound realization reassured him. “I felt an assurance that since my wife and I were dedicating our time to serving others, our boys would receive the support they needed,” he recalls. “From that moment on, I had complete faith and stopped worrying. I knew the business was in good hands, and whatever happens, happens.”

With a sigh, Erik adds, “During those stressful times, some people workout, I eat cookies. But looking back, it was worth every bite. It was the foundation for our future, a future that has seen BHI grow into a successful diversified company.”

Finance and Operations: How the Haslem Brothers Found Their Unique Grooves

Working together in a family business is no easy feat; a fact the Haslem brothers know only too well. With a shared history that spans years, the brothers have managed to weather all manner of business storms, their bond and mutual respect remaining unbroken.

“You hear the horror stories of people working in family businesses, and we’ve had our fair share of disagreements,” Erik concedes, “But we’ve always made it work.” Initially, as is the case in most patriarchal setups, the father holds the final say on key decisions. Despite their occasional divergences in opinion, the brothers held enough respect for their father to rally behind his calls. “Even if we didn’t agree with his decision, we respected him enough to run with it,” Erik reveals.

Moving on to Brett, he appreciates the blend of skills they bring to the table. The years of hands-on involvement in different aspects of the business have molded him into a well-rounded leader. He recalls being at the forefront of every new business venture, “From the wireless communications sector to renewable energy projects, to the civil and excavation part of the business, I’ve had a chance to understand every facet of our operations, from building relationships with customers to leading projects.”

“Brett and I think very similarly in many ways, yet our differences create a balance, enabling us to approach matters from unique perspectives.” ––Erik Haslem

Indeed, each role, and every project was an essential piece of the puzzle, contributing to his comprehensive understanding of business operations. “Yes, I started as an electrician, but along the way, I picked up valuable knowledge from every other part of the business,” Brett says, “Having this knowledge is invaluable now, as it enables me to effectively manage operations across the board.”

As the leadership baton has been passed to the brothers, Erik reflects on how their similarities and differences have been advantageous. “Brett and I think very similarly in many ways, yet our differences create a balance, enabling us to approach matters from unique perspectives.” This dynamic has been instrumental in their success, guided by the principle that decisions should be wise, honest, well-thought-through, and people-centric.

Reflecting on his early days as CEO, Erik recounts a profound lesson taught by his father. Erik, who hails from a financial background, delivered a presentation that was largely data-centric and growth-focused. “I spent hours crafting this presentation, and in my mind, I thought I did an amazing job,” Erik recalls. At the meeting’s conclusion, Erik turned to his father, who had remained silent all day, and asked if he had anything to add. Rising from his seat, Brad acknowledged the day’s proceedings, saying, “This was a good day, we learned a lot. Erik has presented a lot of data.” Then, with a slight pause, he looked at everyone and declared, “But never forget that this is about people.” You can have all the data in the world, but without people to execute on it, you can’t do it.” It was a wake-up call for Erik, a lesson he has carried forward in his leadership.

Brad’s Legacy: Valuing Relationships over Profit

BHI, having achieved a series of remarkable milestones in the industry, indeed has ample cause for celebration. A noteworthy recent accomplishment is securing the #376 spot on ENR’s Top 400 General Contractors list for 2023, an achievement that is a testament to their extraordinary efforts.

At the same time, Erik is keenly aware of the shifting dynamics within their industry. “We’re witnessing the end of an era, with numerous baby boomer owners seeking trustworthy successors,” he says. Yet, he is optimistic and eager for what lies ahead. “Each ending also signifies a fresh start, and we’re prepared to seize the opportunities that come with it — expansion through acquisitions and mergers.”

His positive outlook is evident in their recent acquisition of Hamer Nicker, a well-regarded utility and excavation contractor based in St. George, Utah. Erik is quick to point out that their integration into the BHI family “will enable us to increase our market presence,” a statement that forecasts a promising trajectory for BHI.

Regardless of their individual vantage points, Brett and Erik are united by a shared ambition — an unyielding drive for growth. Their collective enthusiasm, their objectives harmoniously intertwined, and their vision seamlessly aligned.

However, while these significant accomplishments and promising endeavors are indeed praiseworthy, what truly fills the Haslem family with pride are the honors that are closer to their hearts. BHI’s recognition by the Salt Lake Tribune as one of the Top Workplaces in both 2021 and 2022 holds a special place for them. This honor is a testament to their dedication to delivering an exceptional experience, affirming their reputation as the industry’s foremost relationship-based contractor. Beyond their tangible achievements, they remain steadfast to a deeper, more profound principle that has been part of the company’s spirit since its inception: The notion that, at the end of the day, people are what matters the most.

“If you treat people right, they will give their best effort. It’s not just about the work at hand, it’s about taking a genuine interest in them and their families.” ––Brad Haslem, Founder

At the foundation of BHI’s substantial success lies the legacy of Brad Haslem’s belief in people-centered culture. Brad has always been convinced that treating people with respect and empathy will foster a thriving organization. He reiterates, “If you treat people right, they will give their best effort. It’s not just about the work at hand, it’s about taking a genuine interest in them and their families.”

This unwavering commitment to placing people and relationships above profit became a cornerstone in BHI’s success story. Despite the industry’s challenges, he valued his clients and employees more than monetary gain. This rare glimpse into Brad’s leadership values shows his genuine concern for others, which instilled a culture of empathy and respect within BHI.

As BHI experienced rapid growth, Brad was acutely aware of the delicate balance that needed to be struck between maintaining profitability and caring for his employees. Undeterred, he insisted, “It’s not about short-term gains; it’s about the lasting impact we can have.” His visionary approach to building an enduring company became a guiding light in the midst of BHI’s expansive growth and its future aspirations. For Brad, attracting exceptional talent has always been pivotal to BHI’s success. “Our ability to attract amazing people and build upon their strengths has made a substantial difference,” he says. His excitement for the future of BHI is rooted in his joy of seeing new people join the company and watching them grow.

The Next 25 Years and Beyond

As BHI embarks on a new era, Erik and Brett Haslem assume the responsibility of preserving and enhancing their father’s legacy. “Our father’s legacy is our compass,” Brett declares, a sentiment shared by both brothers, indicating that their journey involves more than just a shift in leadership, it’s a sacred commitment to upholding BHI’s Core Values.

“Our father’s legacy is our compass.” –– Brett Haslem

Accepting the challenge to fill their father’s shoes, the brothers acknowledge the indelible mark of their father’s resilient spirit and vision on BHI’s trajectory. They have continued to follow his path while creating their own, using his teachings as a foundation while embracing innovation. The brothers continue to honor their father’s legacy while embedding it within BHI’s evolution. “We will ensure BHI remains a company where everyone feels valued, honesty is a given, and community involvement is central,” Erik explains. Their focus transcends business growth and profit, seeking to preserve a culture of integrity, respect, and social responsibility, thereby honoring the past while forging a future rooted in Brad’s enduring spirit.

BHI’s silver anniversary, a milestone as bright as it is momentous, is a tribute to this enduring legacy. It is a celebration of the remarkable journey of a man whose life and work have impacted countless individuals, not just within BHI’s walls, but in the community and industry at large. His influence will continue to resonate, guiding BHI as it charts its course through the future.

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