Building from scratch

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:28 pm

Strategies executed:
– Matches the strengths of the staff with the needs of the clients.
– Offers wide range of services to differentiate from competitors.
– Committed to keeping staff lean and accountable to be responsive to customers.
For more than 20 years, Geoffrey Hurtado worked in the public sector. His career included stints as the chief executive officer of the Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation and the chief executive of MECCA as it was transformed into the Wisconsin Center District. He also worked with the Milwaukee County Parks Department and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.
Hurtado said he enjoyed his public sector jobs, in which he worked on capital finance, project management and economic development projects.
"But I had this itch. What I realized was that I was in my mid-40s and for a number of years I had wanted to start my own business," he said. "I figured, if I don’t do it now, I’m likely to wake up in a nursing home someday wondering, ‘Gee, I wonder what it would have been like.”’
So in 1997, he formed Hurtado Consulting LLC, a construction management firm that provides assistance in real estate development and economic development.
For the first three years, Hurtado was the only employee. Today, he has four employees.
"Between my third and fifth year, our revenues probably doubled. It was kind of a ramp-up, slow growth and then it took off," Hurtato said. "From what I see, that’s very common for start-up small businesses. It takes awhile for people to get to know that you’re here."
Hurtado said the biggest challenge he faced in starting the company was simply finding clients to work for.
"Even though I had a pretty long (public sector) career with a pretty big Rolodex of business cards, that was all from other ventures," he said. "I had to get a lot of people to know who I am, and I had to get a lot of other people to know me in a different light than what I was."
Hurtado has gained customers by bidding on a mixture of public and private projects. His firm provided project management for the $24.6 million Menonmonee Falls library, police station and municipal hall renovation and addition.
Hurtado also did an economic development analysis for the Santiago Calatrava addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum. In addition, his firm provided services for the Metropolitan Place condominium development in Madison, the Hilton Garden Inn at Park Place in Milwaukee and several other private-sector projects.
"A lot of our work was and still is competitive selection," Hurtado said. "There are a lot of cases where requests for proposals are issued and we get hired if we have the winning proposal.
"(Now) we’re starting to see more referral business. People will just call us up. We still have to submit a proposal, but it’s where somebody has made up their minds that they think we can do this project and they just want to see our terms and conditions and what we’ll do and what our price is. It’s kind of a sign enough people know us and know our reputation."
Hurtado said he has tried to differentiate his business from his competitors by providing clients a wider range of project management services.
"We’re not just a construction manager," he said. "We can also deal with issues of finance. We can help with some design phase reviews and value additions.
"Our emphasis on cost and schedule control and I think our willingness to be diplomatic, but also pretty brutally honest with our clients is also something that sets us apart. We never make our client’s decisions for them," Hurtado said. "That’s a very bright, hard line for us that we don’t cross. But if we think our client is doing something that is not in what they have stated to be their long-term best interest, we let them know."
Another challenge Hurtado faced in starting the business was acquiring enough capital.
"But as a service business, we do run pretty lean on overhead," he said. "We don’t have a lot of trucks and apparatus and equipment that we have to buy or lease. So we deliberately set out not to have a high overhead operation and to keep ourselves fairly strong and fairly nimble."
Hurtado also has worked as an instructor in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning. Hurtado has recruited students he taught there to work for his business.
"One of the advantages of teaching is you kind of get to see the capabilities of people," he said.
Hurtado said having skilled employees is key to the success of his business.
"In the service industry, it’s critical," he said. "If you don’t have good people, you’re dead. It’s that simple."
Hurtado said he would like his company to become involved in helping more projects in their earlier stages. However, he has no plans for a significant expansion in the size of his operation.
"No matter how successful we may get, I never want to grow to be a 30-, 40-, 50- or 100-person firm. We want to stay small. We always want to be able to match up the strengths of our people with the needs of our clients."

May 28, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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