As one of the renowned communities in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, Bethesda, Maryland is home to the beautiful Strathmore theater and apparently the world’s second-longest escalator (according to VisitMaryland.org) that connects visitors to the area’s metro system. It also is the home of Miller & Long, a concrete construction company celebrating 75 years of building the area’s concrete horizon.
Miller & Long is a turn-key structural concrete provider specializing in concrete construction for mixed-use residential, office, institutional, medical, laboratory, garages, and sports stadiums. They take care so that each project reflects the customer’s unique needs, budgets, and timelines. Miller & Long provides in-house equipment, labor, and certain design services to transform customers’ visions into highly functional and quality-built structures.
Established in 1947, the company grew from a small operation into one of the largest construction companies in the USA. They have about 1,100 employees, have placed more than 20 million cubic yards of concrete, and have completed more than $8 billion in concrete construction projects.
To celebrate their diamond anniversary, they worked with the PR and marketing firm Holleran Communications LLC to launch a new corporate website which reflects the company’s history and showcases a small selection of their projects from the greater Washington D.C. area.
“We are proud of our history, accomplishments, and our team’s unwavering commitment to safety and customer service that have paved the way for decades of success,” says Brett McMahon, Miller & Long Chairman and CEO. “I couldn’t be more pleased with our new website that helps to tell that story as we mark our first 75 years.”
John Paleologos, Miller & Long’s Vice Chairman and COO adds, “The leaders who came before us believed in being creative, forward-thinking, and willing to take risks. They also demonstrated a strong work ethic, continuous learning, and caring for others. I believe our greatest achievement is continuing that tradition by training, teaching, and caring for the family that is Miller & Long.”
And this tradition shows. In addition to launching the new website, the company held an anniversary party in December 2022 for all employees with five or more years of service. More than 400 employees, 17 of which have been with the company for more than 40 years, and their guests were in attendance.
If that doesn’t say something about their company culture, we don’t know what does.
“We’ve tried to take very good care of our folks,” says McMahon. “It’s a testament to the market we’re in but also trying to make sure people are properly taken care of. To give them a good place to be and a culture that promotes that kind of longevity.”
This culture found its roots from the very beginning with founders Jack Miller and Jimmy Long, and first employee B.H. Blassingame. Except for Long, who passed in 1977, the entire inaugural team stayed with the company until retirement.
Another testament to the company’s culture.
Why A Construction Company?
Founders Miller and Long were high school classmates and both served in World War II. Miller, a lieutenant junior grade in the US Navy, was stationed on a landing ship, tank (LST) in the South Pacific shipping troops, tanks, and various supplies. Long joined the US Army Air Force serving as a first lieutenant as a navigator. After the war, the two reconnected and made plans to start a new construction business for themselves—creating what would be known as Miller & Long Co. Inc.
Compared to what they both just had gone through, the idea of starting a new business venture was small potatoes. They started in February 1947 with borrowed capital, a new Ford truck, $50 of tools from Sears, a secondhand wheelbarrow, and a classified ad in the local newspaper. The first job was placing a concrete driveway for $199. According to early balance sheets and income statements, they made $659.42 during their first six months in business.
For context, the company has done over $8 billion in projects to date.
Recognizing that skilled labor often starts at the bottom, it was at this time that the foundation of Miller & Long's culture of employee relationships was placed. It’s a foundation that the company has continued to build on throughout the decades. Quoted in the company's history, Miller writes, "We adopted the merit shop policy of advancing people as fast as they could learn. Like the two of us, many, if not most, of our skilled help, foremen, superintendents, managers, and the like started at the bottom and worked up."
Another key to the company's success was innovation, and lots of it, says McMahon. Over the years, Miller & Long pioneered numerous industry innovations, including the use of electric-powered climber cranes and tall-tracked tower cranes.
The story goes that Miller and Long had been to an equipment show in Europe. The cranes back then looked nothing like what professionals use today. These early models had hand cranks, luffing jibs, moved on little tracks, and had tiny capacities. Yet, both founders saw the potential to speed construction and maximize efficiency by moving away from old methodologies of utilizing an elevator to move up and down, constructing floors out of wood, and manually trucking in concrete with buggies or wheelbarrows.
“They kept pushing forward and developed both customer and employee relations and built it up from there. It was all about their quality, service, time, and speed – the basic essentials that everybody needs to have as core values for any kind of successful enterprise,” says McMahon. “We’ve been trying to replicate as much of that both culturally and in business ever since.”
When he was younger, McMahon had wondered why it was two people. Why has it been one person running the office and one running the field? Why had they always divvied the company up? Miller’s answer: “One person can’t do both well.”
Challenges & Changes
Throughout the company’s years, they’ve seen plenty of changes, starting with systemic changes like the switch from lumber to forming systems. Yet, McMahon has an opportunistic point of view as efficiencies should increase the number of available opportunities, not decrease. “But getting things to be more efficient and more effective before you start shoveling dirt is – by far – the most effective thing,” he says. For that, he points to virtual design and recalls when software technologies like AutoCAD became available. He says that the Miller & Long team sees the BIM environment as the Microsoft Windows for construction. “Everything that you will be doing will be in that environment – from project management, design, planning – everything,” he says.
In addition to welcoming the early models of crane technologies, Miller & Long also claims:
- To be the first contractor to use high-speed conveyors to place concrete on high-rise buildings.
- To be the first in the Washington D.C. area to use banding straps and clamps to reduce the cost of concrete column forms.
- To have introduced the use of large bins for hauling trash and construction debris away from jobsites.
Like the founders’ vision of seeing the opportunity for innovation, McMahon says that contractors aren’t even realizing how much that’s happening with virtual design and BIM. “It makes infinite sense. It’s the oldest carpenter rule there is: measure twice; cut once. That’s literally what [virtual design] is. Run the design through its paces on a computer before getting out on the job. The more of that can be done ahead of time…I think that's the biggest thing that will change our industry. And that'll free up time and energy to maybe get some of the more materials and equipment efficiencies that will be coming down the pike.”
While the company is currently working on rebuilding its numbers, the Great Recession of 2006-7 and the COVID pandemic took its toll. Prior to these industry-changing events, they were between 3,500-4,000 employees—most local with some operations in the Carolinas. To paint a picture of how many projects Miller & Long work on, “the most tower cranes we had around here was 53 at the same time,” notes McMahon. “[Washington D.C.] is very much a concrete town.”
To help Miller & Long keep up with contracts, large or small, they own a fleet of mobile batch plants from Cemco and Elba enabling them to make their own concrete and better assure the timeliness of their work. “It's important to us because it helps us schedule assurance, particularly traffic,” he says. Contractors are likely familiar with attempting to manage a concrete delivery delayed by traffic and potentially delaying the job further. He sees that the ability to maintain your schedule and assure customers is worth the investment.
Despite having the latest technologies and solutions, people are the keystone of the longevity of this great concrete company. It’s hard. It’s demanding – for both the employees and their families. But where the work can be demanding from the time constraints and last-second decisions, it’s also where many contractors have discovered the challenge is what they like. It’s part of the fun.
“It’s the puzzles,” says McMahon. “That’s what our folks are pretty good at, and it makes [the job] exciting.”
The key to Miller & Long’s 75 years of success? The combination of customer service and good employee relations.
In short, it’s doing what you said you are going to do.
The main challenge McMahon says is balancing the expectations and employees. “We’ve been blessed to have our oldest customer as a customer for close to 70 years. There have been others who’ve come and gone as general contractors and we make sure we take very good care of them. Balancing that with our care of our employees…just like Jack Miller said, you must do both well.”