Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the March 30 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.
During the past 24 years, typical of most business owners, Greg Shipley has seen ups and downs. It’s the cyclical nature of a commercial enterprise.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Great Recession of 2008. Those events and others provided challenges over the years.
“We’ve had to make some maneuvers to stay in business, and keeping our people working was certainly important, too,” Shipley recalled. “We navigated the recession without having to lay anybody off.”
Shipley and Neal Morrison co-founded civil engineering firm Morrison-Shipley Engineers Inc. (MSE) in 1996. In a recent interview, Shipley acknowledged a certain amount of uncertainty surrounding the latest challenge facing the company: the COVID-19 pandemic. The global healthcare emergency is creating ambiguity that will affect most any enterprise on some scale. In many cases, a “new normal” is still being developed.
“Who knows what happens with this mess going on. The changes are still coming,” he said. “But we have an excellent book of business for this year. The million-dollar question is how the changes in the economy will affect whether [construction] projects continue to move forward or not. We’ve not had any projects cancel at this point. I know it’s still pretty fresh, so knock on wood when I say that, but we’re still getting a good influx of requests for new work.”
Morrison and Shipley worked together at Mickel-Wagner-Coleman Inc. in Fort Smith before starting their own Fort Smith business. A native of that city, Shipley earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Arkansas in 1988.
MSE’s revenue steadily grew at a rate of about 20% annually through the first few years. In 2004, while overseeing millions of dollars worth of public and private development infrastructure projects, Shipley was recognized by the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal as a member of the publication’s Forty Under 40 class.
That year, MSE had offices in Fort Smith and Bentonville with roughly 25 employees. The company now has four offices and 45 employees.
Shipley, 54, said his business philosophy has always run counter to a “take-over-the-world” mentality.
“I always wanted to see us create a firm that was high quality, with good people who are engaged in projects,” he said. “We weren’t just growing to hit numbers. We weren’t just hiring a bunch of young, inexperienced engineers to handle work with important clients.”
MSE opened an office in Springfield, Mo., in 2016, and did the same in Frisco, Texas, in 2018. In 2019, the firm underwent an ownership shuffle when Morrison sold his position in the company. Travis Brisendine, a 22-year employee of MSE, came on as a new owner and board member. He joined existing owners Shipley, Brian Maurer and John Wary. Morrison remains on staff as a senior project manager.
Shipley spends his time working between offices in Fort Smith and Frisco. He said that entering the Dallas-Fort Worth market has been an essential step in the company’s growth, and he has committed to being the MSE principal to oversee the office and build the market.
“Until we opened the office [in Frisco], our growth mindset hasn’t been to spread out geographically, but to take care of the business we do have,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities to be a lot larger, but we had the mindset that we wanted our best people to be hands-on with our projects.”
Last year’s company ownership shuffle coincided with the firm’s longstanding ownership transition plan. Shipley said he still enjoys coming to the office each day and taking on new challenges, which is now primarily a business development role. Retirement, he said, is not in the foreseeable future.
“I probably will not work until my last [year] on earth,” he joked. “But I would like, at some point approaching my 60s, to split time between work and retirement. I love what I do.”
Shipley said he has a passion for sharing career advice to students in technical fields. For the past several years, he has been chairman of the Advancement Council for the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.
The Arkansas Academy of Civil Engineering at the University of Arkansas inducted Shipley in 2011.