Building the Best
Sabre Commercial, Inc. blends blazing growth and attractive culture
Nestled in the heart of Texas, the city of Austin is known for its youth and thriving growth. It’s only fitting that Austin-based Sabre Commercial, Inc. (Sabre) would mirror those qualities.
Sabre was born from an audacious decision. In 2008, at the height of the Great Recession, three men came together to found a construction contracting firm. From the start, they knew they would have to stand out from the crowd to succeed.
“I first met John about 10 years earlier, when I was doing brokerage and real estate development in the Austin area,” says Matt Lutz, Sabre’s CEO, of the first time he met John Cyrier, managing director. “We did some real estate deals together, and I even sold him a little ranch for himself. I was at McAllister & Associates, then jumped over to B-Bachs Development, Inc. But when the recession hit, the real estate market slowed down. I ran into John again in 2008, the two of us got to talking and we decided to switch gears and had the idea to start a company ourselves.”
Matt and John were joined almost immediately by Todd Reimers, who had spent the last 10 years in the construction industry, and had worked briefly with John before.
A Fast Start
“We got pretty lucky starting out,” Matt says. “Between the three of us, we had some good contacts that translated into good clients. John had a contact with a man named Howard Yancy with Zydeco Development who had a 100,000-square-foot job at the MetCenter in Austin. Everyone was fighting for that job, lots of people vying for the deal. Howard brought us in early for preliminary pricing. He won it, and we were lucky enough to be able to work on the project as our first big job. In 2008, landing something like that was a really big win for everyone involved. It ended up being a $25 million project.”
With that kind of shot in the arm for the young firm, Sabre was off and rolling, and hired its first employees. Still, knowing how precarious the economy was at the time, the three men behind Sabre were careful with their expenses.
“We started off being frugal and saved all the money we made,” Matt says. “We took the money from our first four or five jobs and bought a little building on Austin’s east side, which brought us a little more legitimacy. We leased out a lot of the property, and within a year and a half we got too big for the 2,500 square feet we had left. We grew pretty quickly and had to find another building on the east side. We’re still in that location with about 7,400 square feet of office space.”
They may have been lucky starting out, but Matt attributes much of Sabre’s success to the company’s culture, a founding principle of treating everyone fairly—from the client to the employees to the subcontractors.
“Building and maintaining good relationships with all stakeholders is what’s most important,” Matt says. “It’s part of our culture. Everyone in the office knows what to do—they’re the face of the company, they understand the need to follow up and take ownership of everything they do. It all really boils down to backing up what you’re doing in the field.”
Success and Recognition
Success and recognition have clearly been a winning formula for the Sabre team. The company, which has grown to a staff of 70, has been named five times to the Fast 50—a list of the fastest-growing local companies sponsored by the Austin Business Journal. Three times it has made the Austin Business Journal’s list of Best Places to Work, and was recognized by the Austin American-Statesman as one of the Top Workplaces in 2017. In 2016 and 2018, the company received the Outstanding Construction Safety Award from the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America.
It’s recognition that’s well deserved.
“Our growth has been much faster than we thought or dreamed it would be,” Matt says. “From 2008 to 2010 we were small, just four or five guys. We were at $80 million in 2017. The growth has been great. We’ve grown 50 to 70 percent every year since we opened our doors. Some years have been closer to 100 percent. We’ve been adding about $10 million per year.” The team also invested in a satellite office, which opened in San Marcos.
The People Funnel
“We didn’t expect to grow that fast, but the biggest challenge was finding the right people to bring on board, creating the right people funnel to fit the culture,” Matt says. “Growth is great; the hard part is finding the people who allow you to execute that growth, who fit into your culture, who let you maintain a good working environment. It’s all about finding the right balance with people, culture, projects and execution.”
Many of Sabre’s projects come from repeat clients, those who’ve been so satisfied with the work done they continue to use the firm whenever possible. Other business comes through referrals—satisfied customers recommending Sabre to their business associates. Serving the central Texas market, Sabre specializes in Class A office interior tenant improvement projects, as well as ground-up construction in the commercial, biotech, health care and higher education sectors.
A Full Plate
“We’ve been doing a lot of health care work recently,” Matt says. “We’ve had a long and fruitful relationship with Ascension, with work on multiple Seton hospital campuses. We’ve done more than 50 projects for St. David’s HealthCare in and around Austin. We’ve also worked with Endeavor Real Estate quite a bit recently.” In other markets, Sabre usually has one or two projects going with the University of Texas at any given time and continues work on multiple projects at the main campus for Whole Foods Market.
“Our growth has been purposeful. While we’re still aggressively going after work, we’re trying to be careful on what we’re looking at,” Matt says. “We don’t self-perform work; everything is done through subcontractors. They’re spread thin and overworked. Everybody’s busy, and it’s easy for things to fall through the cracks. We want to make sure we’re hiring the right people and they’ve got the manpower they need to get the jobs done in time. We want to keep and maintain good relationships with subcontractors. If you’re there for them when it’s hard, they’re there for you in the good times.”
As proud as Matt is of Sabre’s success, of the completed projects and happy clients, there’s something else that stands above everything else he and his partners have built—their company culture.
“Our people and our culture are what mean the most to me,” Matt says. “The culture of a company is so important these days, especially with the younger generation. You have to make sure the culture is attractive to people, and I think we’ve done that. It’s the little things, and the big things. Things like getting named to Top Workplaces. Making this an environment where people want to come to work every day. The decisions we make here are important; they affect lots of people. We’re proud we’ve built a place where people want to come in, work hard and put in the effort for their clients.”