working with clients in the nuclear energy and engineering field, he found that the demand for engineering support was surpassing the demand for engineering services. “I was concerned about what industry I belonged to. I realized that the definition of my company was nearer to a staffing firm, so we had to come to grips with the fact that we were a staffing firm, not a consulting firm. [But] that allowed us to bring companies and success into our portfolio that we didn’t have before.”
While his company handled a variety of projects, the Jamaican-born Morrell says he still wasn’t comfortable. “Over 95% of our business was with one client,” he says of the firm’s business with Northeast Utilities (NU) companies. But diversifying was easier said than done. Morrell, 48, found that although he was armed with a database of experienced professionals following a successful three-year stint with NU subsidiary Millstone Nuclear Power Station, which netted him $3.8 million, prospective clients weren’t convinced of his expertise in areas outside of the energy industry. “We had the expertise, but they didn’t want to talk to you if you didn’t have experience in that particular field.” The opportunity to broaden their experience came in 1994 when NU awarded The Nucon Group the Retire Skillbank Program, a database of retired NU employees who are brought back into the engineering field as consultants. It turned the company into a $10-million-a-year operation. The Retire Skillbank Program led to business outside of NU and work on non-nuclear projects.
Twenty years after Morrell began consulting, he now helms a 375 employee firm and is doing things with The Nucon Group that “a mature company does,” such as offer employee training, maintain their own servers, and for Morrell, delegate. “We have three major clients — Pfizer, Northeast Utilities, and United Technologies — who are no more than 30% of our business, and I want to get that down to 10%,” he says. “I don’t want to diminish the amount of work we do, just make our client base more diverse.”
With business on the upswing, Morrell also finds time to do something else a mature company does: mentor smaller firms, often sharing contract work, helping them handle difficult clients, and teaching them about facilitating cash flow. He’s come a long way from his consulting days when his mother would tell him to “get a real job.” Over the years, as Nucon has continued to grow, “she has become less vocal about it,” Morrell laughs.
“I don’t like the term ‘serial entrepreneur,'” says Charles H. James III, shrugging off the moniker often given to those who start, grow, and sell businesses — and then do it all over again. “You can call me a serial acquirer of companies. I feel more comfortable with that,” he says. James, 44, headed Dallas-based PrimeSource FoodService Equipment Inc. until about two months ago. At press time, he is more than likely working on his next acquisition. PrimeSource distributes food service equipment, such as ovens, refrigerators, signage, seating, and