CTL Engineering Inc.

CTL Engineering Inc. of Columbus, Ohio, has grown and evolved significantly through the decades, but one thing that hasn’t changed is its commitment to quality and service, President and CEO C.K. Satyapriya maintains. Established in 1927 under the name Columbus Testing Laboratory (CTL), the company started as a small engineering and testing lab serving the local Columbus community.

In the 1960s, CTL expanded its focus to include geotechnical engineering, construction testing and inspection services. The successes, experience, equipment and expertise gained in these areas led to a natural expansion in the decades that followed. CTL began serving the metallurgical, non-destructive testing, mechanical, mining, roofing and environmental service industries.

In the 1990s, after Satyapriya became a partner in the company, CTL transitioned from a privately owned business into an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), which allowed it to expand geographically and open additional offices in Minford and Wapakoneta, Ohio; Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Morgantown and South Charleston, W.Va.

In 2002, CTL opened an office in Bangalore, India, to provide engineering services to customers overseas. The company started a software division there that prepares software for its own internal use as well as for some of its clients.

After the ESOP was formed, CTL also began making strategic acquisitions, which enabled it to increase its service capabilities and expand into new markets. Its acquisition of telecommunications firm MLS in 2007, for instance, introduced CTL to a new customer base of major telecommunications firms that now rely on the company for the planning, design, implementation and operation of cell towers and support facilities throughout the Midwest. In 2009, CTL acquired another firm that provides security and video surveillance services for building. It continues to make acquisitions that complement its service offerings, Satyapriya says.

From Start to Finish
CTL has established a solid reputation among energy and mining clients because it is one of the few engineering firms that truly provides turnkey services, according to Satyapriya. “Our major competitive advantage is the fact that we can bring many of our services under one roof,” he states. “We have become a solutions provider to our clients, which means they don’t have to negotiate contracts with multiple service providers.

“The second competitive advantage is that the average tenure of CTL’s employees – as of December 2011 – is 7.3 years,” he notes. “They have a great deal of experience, which means the quality of our services is better as a result. Our mission statement is that C stands for client, T stands for teamwork and L stands for listening, and we practice it every day. That’s the important thing.”

For mining clients, CTL can design plans for a variety of mine types, oversee the environmental permitting phase, provide surveying as well as geotechnical engineering, and then manage the construction of the mine itself. “We can also be involved in mine-related consulting services such as blast vibration and the monitoring and reclamation of mine properties,” Satyapriya adds.

As for the energy sector, CTL can design building plans, handle environmental permitting, perform geotechnical engineering and manage the construction of power plants. “We have done work for the site assessment, environmental remediation, geotechnical engineering, construction observation and testing of wind turbines and some solar projects, but those are not as ubiquitous in the states we currently work in,” he says. “However, we have gained significant experience in the geothermal sector.

“For the past six or seven years, we have been working in the oil and gas sector, particularly in the Marcellus shale,” Satyapriya continues. “It started off originally in West Virginia, extended into Pennsylvania and now it’s going into the Utica shale in the Ohio Valley area. That’s one sector where we will continue to expand, and we also might see some geographic expansion towards the northern part of the Midwest.”

Service Comes First
The markets CTL serves – transportation, manufacturing, telecommunications, building development and energy and mining – provide the company with enough diversity to keep its bearings during a tough economy.

“We had our difficulties in 2009,” Satyapriya admits. “But we survived because of the ownership culture of the employees. We navigated through the economic storm quite well and had a profitable year that year, and 2010 and 2011 were the best years in the history of the organization. That doesn’t mean we don’t have areas to improve.”

Because of the company’s nearly century-long tenure and significant industry experience, there is a “legacy cost” that comes with working with CTL, which does not always bode well in a competitive marketplace, Satyapriya remarks. The increasing competitiveness of the industry has made similar engineering firms “desperate” enough to lower their pricing until it’s nearly impossible to compete, and the quality suffers as a result, he says. CTL will not stoop to that level, Satyapriya insists.

“To maintain value, as I tell my clients, there are three things you can look for,” he says. “The first is service scope, the second is schedule and the third is cost. You can’t have all three, but you can have two. We choose schedule and service scope as opposed to cost. I like to use the analogy that we are not going to be the Walmart of the service industry nor are we going to be the Neiman Marcus – we are going to be the Bloomingdales or Macy’s of the industry.”

Happy Employees
Other civil, geotechnical and environmental engineering firms may have the same service capabilities, the same number of locations and maybe even the same clients as CTL, but they will never have the same employees – they are the people who ultimately set the company apart, Satyapriya asserts.

CTL’s employees are passionate about the health of the company and want to see it succeed because they share ownership, Satyapriya explains. “One day a client called and said, ‘May I speak to the owner?’ and the receptionist said, ‘You’re speaking to one,’” he recalls. “In the beginning of 2009 when the recession was going on, the employees discussed taking furloughs as well as written pay cuts. I believe in leading by example, so I was the first one to take a pay cut. We ended up turning the ship around and became profitable by the end of the year.”

When Satyapriya joined the company in 1979, CTL had 35 employees and was pulling in less than $1 million in annual revenue. Today, it has more than 250 employees and will earn more than $30 million in sales this year. “Our goal for 2016 is to be at $50 million a year with a 10 percent profit margin,” he notes. “In 2005, we established a goal of reaching $20 million by 2010, and we achieved that by 2007. I like to say we believe in BHAG or big, hairy, audacious goals.

“We don’t think we’ll be able to become a $50 million company if we don’t make acquisitions,” he adds.