CH2M HILL is a $3.5 billion privately held engineering design and build business. It has 13 global business units that comprise its organization and is one of the largest employee-owned companies in the U.S. No single employee can own more than 1.5% of the stock. This business paradigm results in a different approach to fiscal conservatism. "We try not to make silly, non-customer driven decisions," says Underwood.
Underwood is clearly positioned his company to leverage CH2M HILL's vast connections in the engineering world. He looks at his ESS unit as nothing more than classic brand extension to use the enormous good will and credibility of CH2M HILL in building an organization where the knowledge base had been scattered but is now focused on geospatial systems integration. He feels that CH2M HILL's strength is in the way the company has designed, built and managed critical infrastructure projects. In so doing, the ESS unit has assembled the expertise of 280 people who had once been scattered throughout the company.
But unlike its other business units, where $50 to $100 million contracts are considered the norm, ESS is quite content with the $1 to $5 million dollar business. "I'd rather have fifty $5 million projects rather than five $50 million engagements," said Underwood. Currently, Underwood has his unit focused on the state and local government infrastructure market but he is attuned to what he calls "white space," an untapped area where the commercial application of GIS has yet to take off. He mentions that he has had interest from several "blue chip" companies looking for solutions. These companies often seek the comfort level of a systems integrator with the track record like CH2M HILLs. Underwood thinks his unit could grow in the range of 50% in state and local government and perhaps 100% in the "white space." This kind of credibility and growth potential helped convince Google that it was the right partner to become the first Google Earth certified partner in the Google Enterprise Professional Program.
CH2M HILL's ESS business unit currently deploys in excess of 500 spatial consultants and expects to grow that number to 1,000 in the next 2-4 years. Underwood's goal is to stay away from commoditization and to help clients gain top and bottom line business value. His vision for CH2M HILL is to be recognized as one of the top three geospatial systems integrators in the SIM market.