Bernward Mechanical and Construction Solutions builds dramatic growth by meeting customer needs
Carl Neimeyer, PE, President of Bernward Mechanical and Construction Solutions (Bernward), has a vision for his construction company. “We want to be the company that accomplishes anything our customer needs us to do.” And he’s on the path to achieving just that.
Since the company was founded five years ago as an interior construction contractor, Bernward has expanded its services to include mechanical contracting of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) services, as well as HVAC automation and controls; plumbing; electrical, process isolation; interior construction; and industrial control panels.
The firm has 20 sales, project management and office staff at its Severna Park, Maryland, headquarters and about 75 people in the field. It works primarily in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas, Northern Virginia and Delaware. Besides handling general construction projects for the federal government up and down the Eastern Seaboard, its newest area of growth is in controls work for pharmaceutical manufacturing laboratories, office building owners and educational facilities. Its controls and cleanroom work projects have taken the company to the Carolinas and New Jersey.
The company’s rapid growth and expansion of service capabilities can be attributed to Neimeyer’s philosophy. “Instead of saying no to a customer request, we say, ‘Let’s see if we can take care of that.’”
In the Navy
Neimeyer’s can-do approach can be traced back to his career in the U.S. Navy. Both Neimeyer and his Director of Operations, Courtland Sawyer, have backgrounds in the U.S. Naval Construction Battalions. “We’re both Navy Seabees. When you’re deployed with more than 500 guys with a scope of work to do, you’re self-sustainable. So you’ve got to be able to do anything, anywhere, with whatever resources you’ve got.”
As a construction manager for the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command in Jacksonville, Florida, and at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Neimeyer managed large federal construction projects. “I managed projects that in total were in excess of $125 million, including a multiphase hangar renovation, restoration of the granite facade of a library and the engineering building at the U.S. Naval Academy, and the renovation of a fire-training facility.”
Neimeyer’s favorite projects while serving in the Navy include a $9 million historical renovation and modernization of an administration building and a full rehabilitation of the controls in the high-temperature, hot water plant at the Naval Academy. “I also managed the third phase of the organ renovation at the Naval Academy Chapel. I trained as an organist in high school, so the project was very special to me,” he says.
For his work in the Navy, Neimeyer was recognized as an emerging superstar in the architecture, engineering and construction industry in Building Design & Construction magazine’s 40 Under 40 Class of 2015 ranking.
Though Neimeyer enjoyed serving in the military, by 2015 he and his wife, Laura, were ready to settle down. They met during high school and got married while both were on active duty. “Our most recent duty station was to Annapolis. We really liked the city and had purchased a house.” With three children and one on the way, the couple both decided to take honorable discharge.
From his early years, Neimeyer dreamed of owning his own small business, and in 2016, his dream came true. It was his wife, Laura’s idea to name the company Bernward, after Bernward of Hildesheim, a patron saint of architects and engineers, with a nod to Saint Monica hidden in the company’s logo.
Bernward’s first project was a 10,000-square-foot tenant renovation. “The project included demo of the office to create a larger space, as well as asbestos removal. It was a fast turnaround. We had two and a half weeks to complete the job over Christmas,” Neimeyer says. “We did fantastic without a hitch and even finished early.”
The company’s scope of services soon grew. In 2018, Bernward added mechanical contracting to its slate of services. Last year, the company introduced electrical controls to its capabilities.
“I’m a mechanical engineer by trade, licensed to design mechanical systems. But when I got out of the Navy, I had the opportunity to start doing interiors,” he says. “As I built the business and got a foothold in the area, I started talking with clients outside the federal marketplace. Doing commercial construction is a new world and a new set of contacts, and it let me build up as we went.”
Young Company with Depth, Experience
Bernward has great depth and experience typically not found in a young company. That’s because Neimeyer has built a strong team of people with extensive backgrounds in the construction industry.
“Our Managing Director Chris Jacobi has more than 20 years of experience in the construction industry. The two people who run our Panel and Controls Division, Stu Kerr and Tim Waterfield, have 20 years of experience each,” Neimeyer says.
The firm’s newest management team member, Sawyer, is a retired Master Chief with 27 years of experience in construction with the Seabees. At one point in his Navy career, Sawyer oversaw operations at projects in 17 different countries across the Pacific. Sawyer and Neimeyer served together in the Navy, and over the years, their paths crossed numerous times. Recently retired from the Navy, Sawyer joined the firm in April as Director of Operations after completing a four-month internship with Bernward through the Department of Defense SkillBridge program.
Vice President of General Construction Tom French has 35 years in general construction, building everything from small projects to those running into multimillions of dollars, including the $180 million FedExField in Landover, Maryland; the $43.6 million Johns Hopkins University’s Bunting Blaustein Cancer Research Building; and the $50 million Marriott Corporate Headquarters in Gaithersburg, Maryland. French also has coordinated a $30 million HVAC and infrastructure upgrade project at the White House, as well as several multihundred-million-dollar projects for White House Military Office projects managed by the National Park Service.
This depth of experience is undergirded by Bernward’s workforce in the field, which uses union labor. “By using union labor, we can employ and source some of the best trained, consistent labor that you can get in this area,” Neimeyer says. “We know we have a good pool of people and what we’re getting before we get it.”
He has another reason for being a union company. “My intent is to provide retirement and health care funded by the company to every single employee. The union gives me an option to provide the best health care plan you can get. We can also expand and contract our workforce as needed.”
The military’s spirit of teamwork carries over into Neimeyer’s approach to managing his own team. “People want to work here because they know they are a valued member of the company family. We work and play together, and we listen to each other and have fun together. Because of that, we can bounce ideas around the room and come up with ways to do new things and create a better company culture."
“We do our best to hire the best, and we discover talent from within,” he says. “We don’t hesitate to hear from anybody in this company if they have ideas to help us get better.”
He cites one example of tapping into his employees’ talents to illustrate the point. “Our former warehouse was a disaster. We had logistical challenges on our job sites. We didn’t know what tools or materials were in the warehouse and when things were coming or going. We asked an apprentice if she wanted to be the warehouse manager. We took her out of the field for the job, and she made a real difference. Now everything is inventoried, everyone knows where the tools are, and we have control over our materials and equipment.”
Safety is also a big emphasis at Bernward, which in 2018 and 2019 won the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) Safety Award for having zero lost-time incidents. The company has a safety manager and employs a third-party safety company to assist in inspecting its job sites. “My focus on safety comes from my military background, where Navy standards are typically stricter than OSHA regulations. We have regular toolbox safety talks and offer safety training. As a result, we have a fantastic safety record,” Neimeyer says.
To give back to the community, the company supports a local Cub Scout pack, where Neimeyer serves as a Cubmaster. Bernward also works with the local community center and gets involved with projects at the Greater Servena Park and Arnold Chamber of Commerce.
“We want to be the company that accomplishes anything our customer needs us to do.” Carl Neimeyer, PE, President, Bernward Mechanical and Construction Solutions
Expanding into New Areas
Currently working a range of projects, including construction jobs with the Naval Academy and the United States Secret Service, Bernward is looking to expand its electric controls work. The company is wrapping up a large project for Kite, a pharmaceutical company founded as a pioneer in cell therapy research. The job included building an 80,000-square-foot cleanroom from the ground up for a cancer research lab. Bernward did all the interior work, including stainless steel work and glass panels, electrical and HVAC controls, as well as HVAC service and commissioning.
Senior Sales Engineer Bob Tiedemann, who served as lead on the project, says he appreciates Bernward’s focus on providing complete construction services. “Usually, a general contractor will hire the mechanical, electrical and plumbing. Here, we take pride in self-performing all those trades to provide a turnkey effort. Our quality of work is superior, and the level of intricacy of the work we do is not something just any contractor can do.”
Jacobi, who helped build the company’s Mechanical Division, says, “The more we can do turnkey, the better able we can solve our customers’ issues in one shot. It saves them from having to get multiple quotes for multiple services. We can solve 95 percent of their problems.”
And meeting customer needs is the name of the game for Neimeyer. He says the biggest strength of the company is its willingness to lean forward and not get bogged down by the way things were or used to be. “We embrace the things that have always been done a certain way because they are tried and true. But if there is something holding us back or stopping us from innovating to become better and more responsive, we make a change,” he says.
As for the future, Neimeyer says, “We’re going to keep growing. We’d like to be one of the big boys (of construction) in this area.”