Worthing HS construction firm overcomes obstacles to land school building projects

Editor’s note: This profile is part of an occasional series on minority or women-owned companies that do business with HISD. The district’s minimum M/WBE goal levels are 20 percent for all levels of purchasing and construction, and 25 percent for professional services. In the 2007 bond program, that commitment reached nearly 34 percent. In the 2012 program, the contracts awarded to date reflect a nearly 51 percent M/WBE commitment.

Company Name: 3Ci

Headquarters: Dallas with a branch office in Houston

Number of employees: 75+

Years in business: 13

Answering the questions: Micheal Williams and Esther Francis, founders of 3Ci

Q. How did the business get started, and what kind of work does the firm focus on?

A. 3Ci is a construction firm founded by Micheal Williams of 3i Construction and Esther Francis of CBIC Construction & Development. We merged our firms to form 3Ci to bring together our collective experiences in the construction of educational facilities. 3Ci has renovated more than 60 schools in Texas and was the first African-American-owned firm in Dallas ISD’s history to build a new school from the ground up.

3Ci has developed a solid reputation for providing comprehensive project management services to both public and private clients. The company is 100 percent African-American-owned, 30 percent woman-owned, and HUB and City of Houston certified. Collectively, our team brings over 80 years of knowledge through our project management professionals. Our project portfolio includes civil, environmental, K-12, higher education, health care, transportation, aviation, sports entertainment, athletic complexes, general commercial, retail, and municipalities.

Q. What is your education/business background?

A. Williams is a graduate of Baylor University, the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, and the Kellogg School of Management Executive Program at Northwestern University.

Francis is a graduate of Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in construction science and a professional constructor certification from the American Institute of Constructors. Francis is also a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.

Q. Tell us about the contract you have been awarded to do business with HISD and what it entails?

HISD awarded B3Ci, a joint venture comprised of Balfour Beatty Construction and 3Ci, three Construction Manager at Risk contracts. We will be completing work at three Houston area high schools. As part of the 2012 bond program, our projects include a new two-story classroom building addition at Worthing High School and construction of a new High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice on a new site. In addition to the bond projects, we will be building a new North Forest High School in north Houston.

We have been interfacing with HISD facilities staff, design professionals, school staff, students and community members to assist in developing the vision and construction of new 21st century schools in HISD. We are extremely excited to be working with our team members at Balfour Beatty, and they join us in enthusiasm. There is a true team spirit not just with 3Ci and Balfour but with HISD as well.

Construction has already begun on the Worthing project. We want to build a state-of-the-art facility for a community that is so deserving of a new facility and is so much a part of Houston’s history. The alumni have played a very active part in that school for years, and we are proud to be a part of the renaissance of Worthing High School and the Sunnyside community.

Q. How has the district’s Office of Business Assistance helped the firm?

A. The business assistance staff has been extremely helpful to B3Ci as mentors and advisors as to how to navigate the HISD business system and maintain progress on our projects at a positive pace.

Q. What are the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome as a business owner and M/WBE?

A. (Micheal Williams) This year, we’re celebrating our 13th year in business, and as such, I have had several obstacles to overcome while building 3i Construction into a respectable construction firm. I retired from the NBA in 2000 and started 3i Construction in 2001. But not a lot of people knew I worked at construction firms while I was playing in the NBA and that I understood how to read the plans and how the numbers worked. Even though the transition was easy for me as an individual, it wasn’t easy as a company. Being a former NBA player and a minority in the construction industry in Texas was a challenge, and I wanted contractors to take me and my business seriously.

Hiring construction professionals was another obstacle I faced because the most talented applicants turned me down time after time because my firm and I were not recognized in the industry. There were contractors wanting me to lend 3i’s name but not perform work, asking me to joint venture with their firm but then turn around and offer me a check to walk away. I was even asked to partner with a contractor superintendent’s friend to increase 3i’s contract and receive a contract, but the firm would end up subcontracting the whole scope of work out to another sub. In addition, acquiring the proper financing was also difficult.

(Esther Francis) I’ve faced and conquered challenges common to all independent entrepreneurs. There are not many women in the construction business, so I often find myself as a trailblazer in this industry. I can recall one experience of being awarded a contract with the airport system in Houston. My firm, CBIC Construction & Development, was one of the first minority, woman-owned business to do a joint venture with a major company and get a major construction project in Houston.

Early on, whenever I walked into the board room or meeting room, the other attendees would initially assume I was an assistant for the project manager. No one ever assumed I was the CEO of the company. Rather than focus on this, I learned how to take control of the situation, so that everyone in those meetings would see clearly that I knew what I was talking about. They learned to work with me as an equal.

Q. What advice would you give M/WBE firms seeking to do business with HISD?

A. Our firm adamantly believes in growth through mentoring. If your firm is serious about wanting to grow and do business with the larger entities, you must ensure that your company has accurate systems and processes in place. If not, then begin looking for a company to be mentored by.

If interested in a mentoring opportunity with 3Ci, please contact the firm’s Business Development Office at (214) 231-0675.