Case Studies

Lou Sigman – Horizon Glass

The horizon stretches for this Colorado glass specialist

Though Sherwin-Williams is famous for its paint, its new headquarters will be a very glassy 36-story tower in downtown Cleveland. The specialty windows and doors require much expertise to glaze, install, and service; Horizon Glass got the call from a competitor who couldn’t do it alone.

“It’s always an honor when another company reaches out for you to team up with them on such a project,” says Lou Sigman, who’s soon to celebrate his 18th anniversary as president and owner of Horizon Glass. “They probably could have done it cheaper with someone else, but that would have required more babysitting. They could put us on autopilot and know we’ll get the job done.”

Horizon Glass can be trusted for such big-ticket projects, Sigman goes on to tell Blueprint in November from the company’s Denver headquarters, touting how this past summer it became the first and, so far, only Colorado glass or metal subcontractor to be recognized by the North American Contractor Certification program.

That’s a lengthy and rigorous process, he says, one that included six months of retooling systems and poring through pages of quality-control benchmarks for front-to-back tasks, shop fabrication and standard operation procedures. It’s also not a one-and-done plaudit; NACC certification must be ascertained through performance and adjustments with ensuing construction standards.

But what a feather in the company cap.

“I’ve been told that if you’re not NACC certified, don’t bother bidding,” Sigman says. “These are all good changes that will benefit the company.”

Future ascertained

Other changes have been afoot at Horizon Glass, including Sigman moving forward with a succession plan that started pre-COVID but was finally formalized in July when the father-son duo of Bill and Michael Fricke took on 50-percent ownership. The Frickes are construction veterans but not glass and glazing specialists, so they’ll retain Sigman’s services for the next three years. Afterward, he’ll likely retire and spend more time golfing and with his grandchildren but retain minority ownership, as will some of his key people.

Sigman assures it’ll be business as usual even after he winds down and that business should be brisk, Horizon Glass having endured the pandemic just as it did the 2008-09 Wall Street crash that also wreaked havoc on the construction industry. But those are just unpleasant memories, the boss saying his company has tripled in size with its revenue higher than pre-COVID and its services increasingly in demand well outside its Mountain States stronghold.

But in Colorado, the company made its mark following its founding in 1978. The Rocky Mountain oil boom was at its zenith, construction was brisk in Denver and other cities, and Horizon Glass was answering the call for commercial and residential projects. More recently, the fabrication and assembly facility in Denver has been upgraded to accommodate larger projects, and the company staying current with new trends by enhancing its energy-efficiency credentials and some of its projects earning gold and platinum designations.

Rocky Mountain highs

While downplaying his own role, Sigman proudly rattles off a list of projects consummated on his watch.

Among the most notable was the VA Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado, which, due to red tape, was five years late and millions of dollars over budget before Horizon Glass was brought aboard as a subcontractor in 2016. The general contractor, impressed with its new partner, enlisted Sigman’s crew for a private-sector project in Austin, Texas, and another in Seattle. As with the current project in Cleveland, Sigman says his company wasn’t the cheapest option, but what risks there are in any construction endeavor being penny-wise and many dollars foolish.

Then there’s a $6.5 million hotel project nearing completion on U.S. Air Force Academy property in Colorado Springs and another at that price in Boulder. There’s an $8 million contract at a mixed-use development called the Steel House in Denver’s vibrant RiNo Arts District. Horizon Glass having nurtured clientele in the private and public sectors, Sigman says it has its choice of work.

“Our big focus now is to continue our recovery from the deep pains of COVID and refocus on reasonable growth,” he says. “We’re also taking on more large and more complex projects. As we continue to do what we do, and presumably get better at it, we should be able to take on larger scopes and ones that several or 10 years ago we might have shied away from.”

A born builder

Sigman hasn’t seemed to shy away from much since he literally learned construction from the ground up, he from a family that operated a subcontracting company in Colorado. Following his graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 1980 with a business degree, he worked at the family company and continued to do so even after it was sold during the early 1990s. By 2005, however, he says he hit his own proverbial glass ceiling but wanted to stay in the industry.

There were advantages to his then-employer being unionized, with Sigman sitting at the same side of the table as his competitors when negotiating labor arrangements. Through such networking, he befriended the Horizon Glass boss, who was nearing retirement. Sigman acquired the company in 2006 and reflects on the years with humility and satisfaction.

“I take zero credit for almost everything,” he says. “Yes, I’ve been at the helm, said yes, and signed the checks. But the real work was done by the team.”

Sigman says that assembling the team takes some doing, noting the need for more young talent entering the trades. Nevertheless, he emphasizes the opportunities in construction and the affordability of vo-tech education. Horizon Glass also being a union shop, Sigman says he’s never minded paying higher wages because he’s benefitted from more capable hired hands.

“I’m not being braggadocious, but this is where they want to work,” he says, noting the company’s apprenticeship program and sound safety record. “We’re also open-minded about hiring in families. We’ve got fathers, sons and daughters, and while it may sound incestuous, the sponsoring families want to be proud of whom they bring in.”

And he’ll be proud to stay for a few years after the Frickes take over.

“They come to us with construction experience but not in glass,” Sigman says. “That’s why I’ll need to stick around. It’ll be a team effort.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. II 2024 Edition here.

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