Editor's Note: This article is part of a series that looks closer at select Inc. 5000 companies in the trenches.
As a third-generation lineman, Ottis J. Sparks was acutely aware that utilities lost critical time by working with large contracting RMs, which were often based far from the job site, adding costly mobilization hours. In 2007, Sparks and his wife, Magen, founded Sparks Energy, in Danville, Alabama. The RM specializes in restoring electricity and power-line repair after natural disasters. Its hallmark? Hiring and maintaining a select base of smaller, regional subcontractors to supply the linemen. Handling about 50 big weather events a year, Sparks works with 100 subcontractors nationally that together count 3,300 linemen. "It's a challenge getting groups of subcontractors who normally compete for the same job to work as a team," concedes Sparks--he's president, his wife is CEO--adding that transparency and holding all his subcontractors to the same high standards are the best way to ensure a level playing field against bigger firms. Here, Sparks explains how a 70-page contract has become his company's most prized asset. --As told to Coeli Carr
What has helped us significantly to build and run our business is the contract we provide to our subcontractors. It's nearly 70 pages long and covers everything, including codes of conduct and ethics, how linemen should interact with our utility customers, and even housekeeping and cleanliness measures for trucks. We'll sit down with a new subcontractor-client and go over every item. We even have a safety-training team that instructs the new linemen. We have a high set of standards, so it's important for us to communicate our expectations because it's my surname on these projects.
Initially, we sought out feedback from the utilities after every project, usually through a conference call.
We're an evolving company and could be growing faster than we are--this year we're projecting a 50 percent increase over 2016. However, we want to grow sustainably to maintain our reputation. If a company grows too fast, it's easy to lose control.