Lexicon invests in its workforce

by George Jared ([email protected]) 461 views 

Patrick Schueck wasn’t sure if he wanted to go into the family business. His father, Tom, founded Lexicon Construction and Fabrication more than 55 years ago.

Tom was a ‘hard charger’ and the two didn’t always see eye to eye, Patrick told Talk Business & Politics. But through the course of time, he began to appreciate his father’s work ethic and leadership style. He went to work for Tom and now serves as the company’s CEO.

Tom Schueck, who served as a state highway commissioner, passed away in 2020.

“I often find myself saying something that my dad would have said, and sometimes, I mentally put myself in his shoes when making a hard decision. I’ve even asked my executive team, ‘Hey, this is a big decision. What would Dad do?’ It’s funny now because, growing up, I swore I would never do that,” he said. “As a company, Lexicon is on a huge growth trajectory right now. The industrial construction market is operating on a high level – one that I have not seen in my entire career.”

Pent up demand after COVID, rising interest rates, and several bills passed by Congress including the infrastructure bill have spurred growth in the industry in recent years, he said. Interest rates may go higher, and a lot of companies realize that it may be cheaper to build today than tomorrow, he added.

The Little Rock-based company, with heavy operations in Northeast Arkansas, is involved in a variety of large industrial, commercial, and roadway projects around the county. It specializes in many types of construction projects including steel mills and golf courses.

Lexicon is divided into four divisions. Lexicon’s Construction division (formerly known as Schueck Steel) specializes in structural steel erection, mechanical equipment installation, construction management, and plant maintenance.

The Prospect Steel division specializes in structural steel fabrication and erection. The Custom Metals division focuses on plate and sheet fabrication, installation, and maintenance. Heritage Links specializes in golf course construction.

Lexicon currently employees about 2,000 workers and has annual revenues of more than $900 million, according to the company.

One of the challenges in this new economy is developing and maintaining a solid workforce. Patrick said that three years ago the leadership team at Lexicon focused on tackling the labor market problems that would be inevitable in the coming decade.

“As a result of that meeting, we immediately shifted gears and started our on-site health clinic in Little Rock. Now, we’re able to provide our employees in Little Rock and around the country with high-quality, in-person health care and telemedicine. Clinic staff also visit other locations regularly, including Blytheville and Monroe, La. This investment in our people has helped us safeguard the health of our workforce and alleviate some of their stressors, which has been huge for our team,” he said.

“Another thing we looked at is how we train our employees and invest in their professional success. We created a leadership program that covers a lot of topics, including diversity, equity and inclusion, bullying in the workplace and effectively navigating different personalities. We inherently employ a lot of lion personalities around here, let me tell you. This program has helped us level the playing field and better understand and communicate with each other,” he added.

Earlier this year, the company launched Lexicon University (Lex U), a workforce development training program that provides additional tools for employees to improve in their current roles, develop skills in another field, and build a career path to success for themselves and their families. Lex U is paid for by Lexicon, available to all employees companywide, and includes a combination of on-the-job, classroom and online training programs.

During an annual reception at its Little Rock headquarters, 20-year employees are awarded a steel I-beam trophy and a $10,000 check – all taxes paid – in recognition of their service.

“My dad started this incentive in 2002, and it’s a program I am proud to continue. Over the past two decades, Lexicon has honored nearly 200 employees and gifted nearly $3 million. This is just one more way we show our gratitude to our incredible team members,” Patrick said.

One employee who has been with the company for 20 years is Field Engineering Manager Bill Wallace. He told TB&P that he got his first job with the company so that his wife could move closer to her parents who were having health problems at the time.

A main issue in the industry right now is finding talented workers, Wallace said. The most significant change in his field has been the shift from optical survey equipment to the use of laser trackers and laser scanners. Wallace said he plans to work for 15 more years and has no plans to switch companies.

“The thing that sets Lexicon apart is the way they treat their employees. You are not just a number or just another employee. You are part of the Lexicon family,” he added.

Another longtime employee at the company, Heritage Links Project Manager Blake Smith has worked for the company since 1999 and he plans to work there another 10-15 years. His father worked there and his first meeting with Tom Schueck and the rest of the management team was intimidating.

“My interview was set for 4 p.m. I arrived early and my dad introduced me to the senior management team. After several good chats, I was invited into Tom’s office to wait for his arrival. Even his guest chairs were intimidating – oversized, and I felt like my feet barely reached the floor,” Smith said. “Waiting and looking around didn’t help my nervousness. Tom finally arrived around 5 p.m., as I recall, and the office was almost empty at this point. Tom’s larger-than-life presence was intimidating, along with his apology for being late, as he was ‘spending time with Jerry Jones at the Cowboy Training Camp and got held up.’ We had a good discussion about the company equipment assets being utilized across multiple states and many job sites, along with historic data, smart purchasing, return on investment, etc., which led to him saying: ‘Well, that’s the picture. I’m not sure about what I want. But I want something that works for the company and something that all of the senior management will support. Are you smart enough to do that?’ I said, ‘I believe I can do that.’ I think I’ve used that response 100 times now through the myriad of projects that I’ve worked on.”

Patrick predicts that the current construction boom will continue far into the decade.

“We’re currently seeing the reshoring of America. I think in the next decade, we will see even more companies move from China and other countries back to the U.S. I believe we will see more bills passed that include funding for different types of manufacturing devices, such as microchips and electric vehicles so that we can bring that work back to the United States. We also expect to see green energy and sustainability play a big role in this reshoring. Companies are going to pull their plants back from countries that are not taking sustainability efforts seriously and move them back to the U.S., where green energy is a priority,” he said.