Alicia Brentzel Builds Success Through Employee Development

Dec. 12, 2023
Brex rests on a foundation of clear objectives and processes.

Alicia Brentzel did not start out in the construction industry, but the skills she acquired in corporate America have served her well as the pipeline maintenance and services company has grown. She has implemented employee-development processes that benefit not only the company, but also the workers. 

Brentzel and her husband, AJ, started Brex Enterprises, a DBE-certified company based in Irwin, Pennsylvania, a little outside of Pittsburgh, in 2012. Both Alicia and AJ are members of the Under 40 in Construction Equipment; Alicia in the Class of 2023 and AJ the Class of 2020.

Read more: Under 40 - Alicia Brentzel

In the early stages, the business’ growth was slow but steady.

“At first, it was just AJ, where he was doing small projects for different clients," says Brentzel. "We were pretty much covering oil and gas at that point. So, we were doing right of way mowing and landslide projects, but very small.”

During those first few years, Brentzel was working a corporate job unrelated to the construction industry where she learned valuable skills related to the proper management of employees, how to implement strong processes, and how to scale a business.

“Working in a corporation, there’s a process for everything," she says. "With so many employees, it’s important to make sure they know exactly what they are to be doing and when. These are the things that are important to scale any organization—clear objectives and processes to meet them. It’s hard to motivate people when they don’t know what they’re doing or how to do them. From a business owner’s perspective, it’s equally important to have processes for when you bring on new people so they know how they’re expected to perform.”

Brex grew organically in the beginning, Brentzel says.

“Our organic growth was attributed to good quality work and representatives switching companies," she says. "The oil and gas industry are a close-knit bunch. Usually what would happen is we’d work someone at company A, who would then switch to company B and bring us along as new customers. This was 90% of our growth in the first 5 years.”

Read also: Crew Collaborative Works to Recruit Next Construction Generation

In 2017, Brentzel quit her job to jump full time into Brex, applying the skills she had acquired to the growing business’s operations.

“AJ and I liked to say he focuses on the ‘what‘ we do, and I focus on the ‘how,’” says Brentzel. “I assist with everything that goes on in the office or any of our administrative people handle. From finances to hiring, and anything on the business development side is where I like to have a touchpoint.”

The road to success

As with most businesses, Brex has had to overcome challenges that eventually made the company’s accomplishments and hard work feel all the more worth it, according to Brentzel.

“Our initial challenge was we weren’t differentiated," she says. "There’s only a handful of large oil and gas companies in the region that we could work with. This left us pigeon-holed to one industry.

“In 2020 we decided to start bidding work for local general contractors doing heavy civil work. For a long time, GCs would take our bid, but we didn’t win any for two years. Just recently, we broke through and are now doing most of our work with GCs,” says Brentzel.

With its newly diversified range of services, Brex is seeing heightened success.

“We like to cover a lot of different services," says Brentzel. "That's why we do have work in the pipeline industry, we do have work on the utility side, we also do projects for the state Department of Environmental Protection and different government projects.”

This success is due in no small part to Brentzel’s contributions, which have helped the company move from less than $1 million in revenue to between $8 million and $10 million annually.

Trust builds dedication

The company’s crew has also grown to 45 employees, a continual focus for Brentzel, who says gaining employee trust is key.

“We have been pretty successful, but we've also hit some major bumps with events like Covid, so it’s an accomplishment to have dedicated employees that trust us who know we act on their behalf.”

Brentzel says gaining that trust entails time and dedication, and transparency above all, but the return for the business is worth it.

“We try to be very transparent with our company," she says. "We outline our goals and make plans for how we reach them together. We also let our employees know we will do what it takes to make sure they have a secure job.

“We ask them what makes them feel valued. This is very individual to every person as sometimes it’s more money, recognition, or sometimes it’s just letting them know they had a good idea. We want our employees to know that Brex is successful because of them,” says Brentzel.

As successful as Brentzel has been in her 35 years, the road ahead is full of aspirations.

When asked to reflect on the most rewarding part of her career so far, Brentzel answers sentimentally.

“Personally, we were able to hit our personal goals by buying our dream property, but I feel like that's scratching the surface," she says. "We are much more fulfilled when employees send us pictures of the truck or house they bought, or when they’re able to check off something on their list. That’s much more fulfilling and creates a drive to keep doing better all the time.”

Looking ahead, Brentzel details how she and her husband plan to place further emphasis on investing in their employees to secure the best return on projects and streamline practices.

“When I look to the future, I think a lot of our goals are surrounding dedication to our employees," she says. "How do we make our employees feel more valued? How do we get them to reach their goals faster? That’s the lens through which we look at our company growth and our company goals.”

Moving into 2024, Brentzel is also adding a business coaching endeavor to her list of duties to help clients in the construction industry grow their companies and to create a sense of camaraderie.

“I am very satisfied where we are now,” says Brentzel. “But I also think sky's the limit for the next couple years. There are so many initiatives we want to start, to better processes in the business and support our community. I look to 2024 for a big growth year for us.”

About the Author

Harlee Hewitt

Harlee is associate editor for Construction Equipment. She has a Bachelor's in English with a focus on technical writing.