MEP Giants 2009

By Patrick Lynch, Associate Editor and Michael Ivanovich, Editor-in-Chief August 1, 2009

Editor’s note:

A pull-out poster tabulating the CSE MEP Giants firms is included with this issue. The poster has ranking for 2009 and 2008, revenue figures, and contact information for the MEP Giant. The poster is available at Giants 2009 Poster

The construction market of 2008 closed dramatically different from how it opened. Several years of double-digit growth went over a cliff in the third quarter and the figures haven’t hit bottom yet. While some firms went down hard, others showed signs of weathering the storm, and some even grew. This makes the 2008 MEP Giants report interesting—it documents an historic year when robust growth turned suddenly into a recession that could last for several years. Engineering firms will be tested to compete harder in their core markets, expand into others, and improve their operational efficiency and effectiveness.

Because participating in the MEP Giants survey is voluntary and subject to the availability of the required data, some firms choose not to participate or were simply unable to do so. In previous years , the MEP Giants survey was limited to 100 firms; however, because of M&A, incomplete responses, and "strategic decisions" not to participate, 95 firms are represented this year.

To compile the annual MEP Giants list, Consulting-Specifying Engineer surveys engineering firms that provide MEP design services via e-mail and through our Web site, . Rankings are determined by total MEP design revenue; however, total revenue of the firms also is tracked. This article presents a statistical survey of most of the data we collect.

Revenue rankings

For the 2009 list, the MEP Giants amassed $4.44 billion in MEP design revenue, down only 3% from 2008’s $4.58 billion. This was better than expected performance, given the final quarter of 2008 and having five fewer firms on the MEP Giants roster. Total company revenue of the MEP Giant firms amounted to $21.28 billion, a surprising 15% increase from 2008’s $18.51 billion. Table 1 shows the top 10 MEP Giants firms in order of highest MEP design revenue, which is how the CSE MEP Giants are officially ranked. The complete table of rankings is provided in the pull-out poster, or via the CSE Web site at .

There was considerable movement within the Giants list this year: 64% of the MEP Giants moved up in rank compared to their position in 2008, 15% moved down in rank, and 2% stayed the same. There are 18 firms in the 2009 list that were not among the 2008 MEP Giants, with 10 of these coming in at the bottom 14 positions. Twenty-three firms that were in the 2008 MEP Giants listing did not participate in 2009. Some of the absences this year can be attributed to M&A. For a more detailed analysis of M&A activity among MEP engineering firms, read the "The story behind the M&A numbers" by Mick Morrissey on page 25.

Giants diversified

Generally, the MEP Giants are diversified with respect to the types of projects and clients they take on. To break out revenue streams among the MEP Giants firms, CSE created bins that assigned percentage of MEP design revenue to different types of projects. For example, Table 2 shows that 36% of MEP Giants have 31% to 50% of their revenue coming from new construction. Table 2 shows some interesting facts about MEP Giants for 2009 and relative to 2008:

  • 65% have 31% to 75% of their revenue coming from new construction (up 13% from 2008).

  • 53% have 31% to 75% of their revenue coming from retrofits/renovations (down 1% from 2008).

  • 57% are involved in maintenance/repair/operations (MRO) (up 24% from 2008).

  • 61% are involved in commissioning (up 19% from 2008).

Table 2 shows that the recession’s impact on new construction has nudged MEP Giants into new markets, such as commissioning and MRO, with relatively little impact on business volume in renovations/retrofits. In 2010, we expect new construction’s recession to continue somewhat, matched with increases in retrofits/renovations, commissioning, and MRO due to tax credits, utility rebates, ARRA stimulus dollars, and owners making existing systems and buildings last longer.

MEP Giants employment

While the official ranking of MEP Giants is by MEP design revenue, CSE also ranks MEP Giants by the number of MEP engineers they employ. Altogether, the 2009 MEP Giants employ 40,353 full-time engineers, which is up slightly from 2008, which had 39,364 total engineers. However, the number of MEP engineers is down from 16,118 in 2008 to 14,137 in 2009. Table 3 provides a ranking of the top 10 MEP Giants by the number of MEP engineers they employ and breaks out the number of engineers by type.

Fire Giants

For 2009, CSE asked firms to report their number of fire protection engineers for the first time; the results are summarized in Table 4 , which shows the 11 firms with the largest number (there is a tie for the 10th spot).

Giants with Cx services

Because many consulting firms are entering the commissioning (Cx) market, CSE also asked firms to specifically report their Cx activity. The top 10 Giants that are involved in Cx are listed in Table 5 . Of these, only one is in the top 10 of the MEP Giants when ranked by MEP design revenue, indicating that the largest firms are not yet committed to participating in the Cx market in a big way. This may change as retrocommissioning and ongoing (continuous) Cx become more widely practiced.

Green Giants

The CSE MEP Giants firms are heavily involved with green buildings and sustainability. MEP Giants 2009 report 3,565 U.S. Green Building Council LEED-accredited professionals on staff, and have submitted 1,449 buildings for LEED certification. They also have submitted 332 buildings for Energy Star Buildings Label ( ). We have begun to hear more about Green Globes building certifications ( ), so we will report on MEP Giants participation in this program in 2010.


Continuing education and mentoring are fundamental for a successful engineering career; facilitating such endeavors is fundamental to a successful engineering company. Mentoring programs, which are the formal or informal indoctrination of engineers into various stages of their career (from novice to retirement), were reported to be active in about 36% of engineering firms represented by CSE ‘s survey of subscribers in 2008. ( See "Mentoring engineers: myths, motivations, and models," by Amy Smith, PhD, in the February 2008 issue of CSE .) For 2009, CSE stepped up its questions about mentoring and continuing education, and we are happy to report that 75% of MEP Giants firms report having formal internal mentoring programs, and that MEP Giants firms support most forms of continuing education that an engineer might want.


The 2008 MEP Giants list demonstrates that there is a lot of resiliency in the engineering firms surveyed. Many firms have proved the wisdom of hybrid vigor and others success through entrepreneurship.

The 2009 construction market is expected to be down about 16% from 2008, so it’s possible that next year’s MEP Giants report will have fewer firms listed than the 95 we have this year. Consolidation was trending upward before the recession; we expect more of it, combined with attrition, in 2009.

To end on a high note, the considerable knowledge and talent embodied in engineering firms is needed more than ever before as America reconfigures its infrastructure toward sustainability. But as renewable energy, the smart grid, and net-zero buildings ramp up, America will depend upon what we have now to work well and economically enough to see us through to the next generation. For that, too, America will need engineering talent more than ever before.

MEP Giants On the Web Exclusive–

In Table 6 , CSE surveyed the MEP Giants on their sources of work–the clients whom they contract with. In Table 7 , CSE surveyed the MEP Giants about their mentoring and continuing education programs.

Table 1: Top 10 MEP Giants based on MEP design revenue

Firm name Ownership type Total gross revenue for 2009 fiscal year ($ million) Total MEP design revenue for 2009 fiscal year ($ million) MEP Giants rank previous year
1 AECOM Technology Corp. Public 6,082.00 782.00 1
2 Burns & McDonnell Employee-owned 1,108.00 601.00 3
3 URS Corp. Public 5,206.00 480.00 2
4 Burns and Roe Private 280.88 207.68 4
5 Parsons Brinckerhoff Employee-owned 2,343.12 145.00 7
6 HDR Inc. Employee-owned 297.04 118.82 22
7 Syska Hennessy Group Employee-owned 115.00 115.00 5
8 Stantec Inc. Public 1,268.00 84.00 10
9 R.G. Vanderweil Engineers LLP Private 78.19 78.19 15
10 SSOE Inc. Private 118.30 76.80 11

Table 2: Distribution of revenue among MEP Giants across project types

Percentage of revenue from project types
Type of project: 0 or N/A 1—10 11—30 31—50 51—75 76—100
New construction 3% 6% 19% 36% 29% 6%
Renovation/retrofit 2% 7% 35% 33% 20% 3%
MRO 43% 37% 18% 2% 0% 0%
Cx 29% 54% 15% 2% 0% 0%
Other 78% 19% 3% 0% 0% 0%

Table 3: Top 10 MEP employers

Firm name Full-time engineers Mechanical engineers Electrical engineers Plumbing engineers Fire protection engineers Total MEP engineers MEP Giants rank
1 URS Corp. 5,771 1,007 1,496 356 25 2,884 3
2 AECOM Technology Corp. 4,201 1,012 1,026 n/a 62 2,100 1
3 Parsons Brinckerhoff 3,473 916 818 n/a n/a 1,734 5
4 Burns & McDonnell 1,522 335 425 n/a n/a 760 2
5 Stantec Inc. 1,152 317 254 n/a 1 572 8
6 Syska Hennessy Group 382 181 147 43 2 373 7
7 POWER Engineers 625 62 218 n/a n/a 280 65
8 Burns and Roe 526 125 136 n/a n/a 261 4
9 Affiliated Engineers Inc. 453 136 62 19 4 221 11
10 Henderson Engineers Inc. 453 123 78 5 14 220 13

Table 4: Top 10 fire protection engineering firms

Firm name Number of fire protection engineers MEP Giants rank
1 Schirmer Engineering Corp. 120 16
2 Rolf Jensen & Assocs. Inc. 80 19
3 AECOM Technology Corp. 62 1
4 M/E Engineering PC 28 35
5 URS Corp. 25 3
6 Bala Consulting Engineers Inc. 19 74
7 Henderson Engineers Inc. 14 13
8 Environmental Systems Design Inc. 11 24
9 Henneman Engineering Inc. 10 41
T-10 Robert Derector Assocs. 9 38
T-10 Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP 9 43

Table 5: Top 10 commissioning firms based on Cx revenue

Firm Name Cx revenue ($ million) Cx percentage MEP Giants rank
1 Sebesta Blomberg 19.27 48% 25
2 Syska Hennessy Group 17.25 15% 7
3 MAVERICK Technologies LLC 9.87 20% 15
4 Schirmer Engineering Corp. 7.27 15% 16
5 Optimation Technology Inc. 6.00 15% 26
6 E M C Engineers Inc. 5.40 40% 54
7 Heapy Engineering 2.91 15% 45
8 Karpinski Engineering 2.74 28% 70
9 Brinjac Engineering 1.84 15% 62
10 M.E. Group Inc. 1.52 25% 86


Table 6: MEP Giants sources of work

MEP Giants

Formal internal mentoring (such as 1:1 pairing)

Growth despite recession

When CSE asked the MEP Giants, "What were the biggest corporate challenges facing you during the 2008 fiscal year?" 70% of the firms pointed to the economy’s impact on the construction market. Despite the difficult fourth quarter, seven of the top 10 MEP Giants grew in 2008. CSE sent questions to the seven, and four responded. Here’s a summary of what they said.

Diversity for types of projects, clients, and geography proved important because the recession did not hit all markets in 2008. "We have been fortunate in that the combination of the market sectors where our highest volumes of work occur (healthcare, higher education, and sports and leisure) have remained fairly robust, our geographic locations across North America have coincided with regions that have stronger economic health," said Greg McPhee, PE, LEED AP, vice president, buildings engineering, Stantec Inc., Edmonton, Alberta. According to Keith Lord, CFO/Managing Principal, R.G. Vanderweil Engineers LLP, Boston, "We have done more international work over the last couple of years and that has helped us grow our revenue and backlog."

The MEP Giants worked with public, private, and government clients across several industries;,including commercial, industrial, and government sectors. Many of their large-scale industrial projects are being driven by regulatory mandates, which require projects to be completed within an allotted time frame.

Increased focus on and the continuing expansion of the green market factored heavily in the decisions and overall success of many of the MEP Giants. In a year of a struggling economy, energy resources were at a premium and budgets were tightened, but these firm’s clients wanted a return on investment. MEP firms needed to demonstrate to their clients how the initial higher costs of these practices would be offset by the reduction in long-term O&M costs. Tax rebates and incentives, federal grants, and an increased market value of a property are fiscal benefits clients wanted and these MEP firms provided.

"With energy resources at a premium, companies are paying close attention to their operating costs … Tax credits and other incentives are also spurring increased interest in sustainable buildings. While first-costs continue to be important, companies are also recognizing the return on investment associated with building green," said Roy T. Gifford, vice president director of healthcare engineering services, HDR Inc., Pasadena, Calif.

According to Greg Graves, Chairman and CEO, Burns & McDonnell, Kansas City, Mo., "With commercial construction slowing to a crawl, we have to make a very strong case for incorporating sustainable design principles in any project. But we have been able to show that the economic benefits of designing energy-saving and sustainable features into a building can lower long-term operating and maintenance costs and increase the overall market value of the property."

While commercial construction remains down in many areas, the combination of new ventures, renewable energy, power generation, proven commodities, healthcare construction, and higher education facilities has helped some MEP Giants remain strong. The diversification of these MEP firms’ portfolios provided them with opportunities for growth even in times of economic uncertainty. The ability to manage an array of clients, work in varying industries, and understand building performance in multiple building types were keys to these firms’ success in the previous year.

Although diversification provides insulation from rough economic times, maintaining strong client relationships and refocusing on core business principles allows the MEP Giants the ability to strengthen their foothold in the industry. Branching out into previously unchartered industries has its advantages and disadvantages.

"For a number of years we have been zeroing in on and improving our operational efficiencies and effectiveness, while at the same time, we have focused on improving the technical or practice side of our business. During the previous year, we have continued on this path, ensuring our core business services remain strong. At the same time, we have continued to indentify opportunities to bring new and previously untapped services to our clients," said McPhee of Stantec Inc.