- April 24, 2015
David Branton was working in Chile recently when an earthquake struck that country.
“The building started going like this for 40 seconds,” Branton says, waving his hands. But no matter: “I'm going to Chile again next week,” he says.
Far-flung destinations such as Chile provide big opportunities for growth for Turbine Generator Maintenance, better known by its initials TGM. The company repairs and maintains steam and gas turbines for utilities, mining companies and agribusinesses.
In 2009, Branton engineered a management buyout of the firm. At the time, the Cape Coral-based company was losing money, but Branton and his team turned the operation around by cutting expenses and boosting customer service.
TGM has no customers in the immediate area, but it's headquartered in Cape Coral because the company's founder was an avid boater. “Our closest customer is in Bartow,” Branton says.
But countries like Chile are making big investments in infrastructure projects, and that's one of the reasons TGM is on track to boost revenues to $40 million this year, up from $32 million last year. “It's definitely been a big part of our business and strategy,” Branton says. “We're competing with European companies like Siemens.”
Because of the fluctuation of maintenance and repair schedules, international business accounts for anywhere from 20% to 40% of the company's revenues in any year. The company has 320 customers in the U.S. and overseas. It employs 56 full-time people and has another 80 to 100 people working part-time.
Over the years, TGM employees have gained expertise in working overseas as they've been called to fix turbines in distant locations, often in emergency situations at a moment's notice. “We found out it's a core strength,” Branton says. “They're tenacious about getting parts and equipment through customs.”
In addition, Branton says the company has recruited talented technicians from Venezuela who have been trained in that country's oil fields. With the Venezuelan economy in shambles, these skilled technicians are motivated to work anywhere TGM needs them to go. “Our Venezuelan labor pool is an advantage,” says Branton, who admits his own Spanish needs some improvement.
Branton is particularly interested in expanding TGM's services into other Latin American countries such as Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, where economies are continuing to expand. The company recently created a Spanish-language website and Branton's business card has his contact information in Spanish on the flip side. “We have a lot of lines out there,” he says.
Currency fluctuations aren't a concern. “We contract in dollars, so we take no foreign-exchange risk,” Branton says. But Branton prefers to stick to countries in Latin America such as Chile that have a good track record of doing business. “We haven't been burned on any overseas transaction,” he says.
At this point, Branton says his focus is on Latin America despite that the company gets requests to work in other locations around the world. “Once a week we get a call from the Middle East,” notes Robert Davis, TGM's chief financial officer.
And of course, the U.S. remains a big growth opportunity, especially in Western states. “I still feel like we're just beginning,” Branton says.
Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss