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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Mar. 24, 202204:40 AM EST

Top Entrepreneur Legend Preston H. Haskell III: From stadiums to rocket launchpads

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Founded in 1965, the design-build pioneer has grown from one project to a global footprint in architecture and construction.
by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

THE HASKELL CO.  |  2021 REVENUE: $1.45 BILLION

Preston H. Haskell III likes to study a subject, come up with a plan, implement it and complete the job on or before the deadline.

That is how he decided his career path and then built The Haskell Co. into one of the largest architecture, engineering, construction and consulting firms in the U.S.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Haskell attended Princeton University for a degree in civil engineering, then attended Harvard University where he received an MBA.

“Whether you are practicing engineering or not – and I only practiced for a few years – an engineering education teaches you how to think better and how to solve problems,” said Haskell, 83.

“You learn how to apply the scientific method to business situations. It makes you a better manager.”

Haskell is the Jacksonville Daily Record’s third annual Top Entrepreneurs Legend.

The early years

With his technical and business management credentials, Haskell and his wife, Joan, moved to Jacksonville in 1962, where he had landed a job with S.S. Jacobs Co., a commercial contractor.

Three years later, Haskell, a Jacobs project manager at the time, was pitching the company’s services to developer Jim Winston, who was planning to build 100 garden-apartment units on a site in Atlantic Beach.

During the early negotiations, Winston suggested that Haskell might want to strike out on his own and bid on the project.

With some of his own money and a loan from his father, who owned a coal and steel company in Birmingham, Haskell, then 26, founded his company in August 1965 to build the $1 million project for Winston.

The strategy from the beginning was to embrace innovation and find ways to improve every process involved in design and construction.

More than 50 years ago, Haskell was one of the earliest adopters of the “design-build” concept that merged the architecture, engineering and construction phases of a project.

“I was good at designing out unnecessary costs. That got me on the design-build road,” Haskell said.

Building an NFL stadium

One of the stops on that road was Wayne Weaver, majority owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, when the city was awarded the NFL expansion franchise in November 1993.

Haskell, one of Weaver’s partners in the ownership, was in charge of designing a new stadium to replace the rusty steel bleachers in the old Gator Bowl with a facility up to NFL standards.

It was a tight schedule – the stadium had to be ready by Aug. 6, 1995, for the first home preseason game, about 20 months after the Gator Bowl game Dec. 31, 1993.

“As soon as the game was over, we trotted out onto the field and had the celebratory groundbreaking. The wrecking balls moved in the following day,” Haskell said.

The budget also was tight. The contract was $120 million for the construction while other stadiums being built at the time were budgeted at about $300 million, Haskell said.

The schedule and budget were met by constructing the stadium with precast concrete sections that were fabricated while the demolition and site preparation was underway. The concrete components then were transported to the site and assembled.

“Precast concrete is something we had fine-tuned over the years and we applied that knowledge and experience to the stadium,” Haskell said.

Another Haskell Jacksonville landmark is its 122,000-square-foot headquarters office building at 111 Riverside Ave., a project the company completed in 1986.

The lead architect was John Zona, who worked for Haskell from 1981 until 1997, when he went into private practice.

The team, with their boss an actively involved client, Zona said, settled on the design that resembles a ship docked along the St. Johns River.

“Preston loved the idea of following the shoreline. It’s made of precast compound curve panels, which is about as complex as it gets. Everybody stretched a little on that project,” Zona said.

The Southbank Riverwalk and the elevated walkway over Interstate 95 at the Fuller Warren Bridge also are among Haskell’s numerous local projects.

Another area where Haskell was an innovator was in the relationship between a design firm and the building trades.

In the early years, both at Jacobs and after he went into business for himself, Haskell had conflicts with labor unions and their strict requirements.

Those included the carpenters who build the forms for a structure’s foundation being prohibited from installing the reinforcing steel before the concrete is poured into the form.

He saw that as a waste of time and money, so the company went in a different direction, establishing a stable staff of skilled workers.

“We evolved into Permanent Craft Employees instead of hiring for a job and laying off when it’s finished. We provide training and benefits and we can pay better workers higher wages than union scale,” Haskell said.

Such employees are guaranteed 40 hours a week and agree to go, at company expense, wherever the company has a project.

“We do it our way to create value by giving our customers a superior product at less cost because we have engineered unnecessary cost out of the design.”

$1.45 billion in revenue

More than five decades and thousands of projects in the portfolio since the firm was founded, Haskell, as it is now known, has grown significantly.

Revenue in 2021 was $1.45 billion and the company currently has more than 100 active projects worldwide. 

In addition to the Jacksonville headquarters, Haskell has offices in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and in China, Malaysia, Mexico and the Philippines.

Haskell employs more than 1,800 professionals in disciplines including architecture, engineering, construction, design and consulting.

The scope of services has expanded from building garden apartments for private developers in Florida to working on commercial and industrial developments and local, state and federal government projects around the world.

In addition to construction, Haskell professionals work in process engineering and automation for the food service and pharmaceutical industries, including production of plant-based protein and monoclonal antibodies.

The 650,000-square-foot Blue Origin manufacturing and mission control complex near Cape Canaveral Space Force Station is a Haskell project.

The firm designed and constructed the assembly building and other facilities for New Glenn, the Jeff Bezos reusable orbital rocket.

Although he stepped down as CEO 22 years ago and turned over the chairman of the board title five years later, Haskell is in his office working several days a week unless he is traveling with Joan or spending time with family.

“I am flunking retirement,” he said.

 

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