Shaw-Lundquist Associates Inc.

A Chinese émigré lands in Minnesota—and builds one of the country’s largest Asian-American-owned construction companies.
Shaw-Lundquist Associates Inc.

Feng Hsiao came to Minnesota to pursue a Ph.D. Instead, using the Americanized name of Fred Shaw, he built one of the largest Asian-American-owned construction companies in the United States. It’s a legacy his sons, who use their father’s original surname, are continuing to build on.

For its fiscal 2016, which ended March 31, Eagan-based Shaw-Lundquist Associates Inc. posted $120 million in revenue. It was a new record for the company. This year, it expects to exceed that, projecting revenue of $125 million.

“From a minority business standpoint, we’re one of the bigger contractors,” says Hoyt Hsiao, Shaw-Lundquist’s CEO and president, and one of Fred Shaw’s sons. “But then when you look at the playing field that we’re playing on, we’re a medium to smaller-sized commercial general contractor.”

Still, it has won some notable work, including a slice of the $1.1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium project. On that multi-faceted effort, Shaw-Lundquist served as the general contractor for the skyways connecting the stadium to parking ramps, the new Wells Fargo towers and the downtown skyway system. This year, Shaw-Lundquist landed the largest project in its history: the $73 million addition and renovation of Shakopee High School. Shaw-Lundquist is also seeing solid growth from its office in Las Vegas, which opened in 2005.

Hsiao says that his father’s values included helping other minority business owners and the community at large. Fred Shaw co-founded the National Association of Minority Contractors-Upper Midwest Chapter in 1984, sharing his business acumen with other minority business owners. In the same vein, Shaw founded the Chinese American Business Association of Minnesota in 2002.

Timeline

1974 – Fred Shaw and Lyle Lundquist founded the company in downtown Minneapolis.
1984 – Lyle Lundquist retires; Shaw-Lundquist moves its headquarters to Eagan.
1987 – Shaw’s son Hoyt Hsiao starts working full time for the company.
1993 – Hsiao’s brother Holden Hsiao starts working part time for the company; he later becomes a co-owner.
1997 – Shaw-Lundquist relocates to its current Eagan headquarters, which it built.
2005 – Fred Shaw receives a lifetime achievement award from Associated General Contractors of Minnesota.
2005 – Shaw-Lundquist opens an office in Las Vegas.
2009 – Hoyt Hsiao is named Shaw-Lundquist’s president and CEO.
2010 – Fred Shaw dies at 91.
2015 – Hoyt Hsiao is named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Minneapolis-based Metropolitan Economic Development Association in recognition of his leadership and the company's growth and philanthropy.
2016 – Shaw-Lundquist is awarded a $73 million contract to enlarge and renovate Shakopee High School, the company’s largest project to date.

 

Hsiao says his father emphasized the importance of education and giving back to the community. Hsiao is active as well, serving on the boards of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA) and the Children’s Theatre Co. MEDA is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that offers mentorship, financing and networking assistance for minority business owners throughout the state. Hsiao was named MEDA’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2015.

Building a successful Minnesota-based construction business was not what Feng Hsiao originally intended when he came to the United States. After graduating from college in China in 1945, he earned a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He came to the Twin Cities in 1947 with plans to earn a Ph.D. in hydraulic engineering at the University of Minnesota. His dream was to return to China and help control flooding along the Yellow River in the northern part of his homeland.

He never completed the degree. Nor did he return to China, which fell to the Communists in the late 1940s. Two years after coming to Minnesota, he began earning money as a part-time estimator for a local construction company, Orville E. Madsen and Sons. Soon he was working there full time. He also adopted the name Fred Shaw, since his colleagues found his real name difficult to pronounce. It was his business alias for the rest of his life, though he never legally changed his name.

When Orville E. Madsen and Sons relocated to Madison, Wis., in 1974, Shaw and a company colleague, Lyle Lundquist, decided to stay in Minnesota and launch their own construction firm. Lundquist had started with Madsen in 1951 as a carpenter; in time, he managed site operations for Madsen’s largest projects. As Shaw-Lundquist Associates, the two partners took over Madsen’s former office space in the Sexton Building in downtown Minneapolis.

Although Shaw was trying to build a new business, Hsiao says that he was not one to network with others in the industry at a bar after work. “My dad’s strengths were in estimating and figuring out the price for the projects,” he says. “My father always felt his English was poor and he really didn’t drink. . . . . He didn’t really like socializing a lot.”

Shaw didn’t need to schmooze. His expertise with numbers led the company to focus on work for public agencies, where landing the project ultimately boils down to one number: the bid.

There was another number that Shaw liked to hit: zero. That’s the amount of debt that Shaw-Lundquist has on its books, which has been the case throughout its history. “There was a time when we did have to borrow against a credit line for like a week,” Hsiao says. That happened exactly once. “He was always fairly conservative on how we managed the business to make sure that we try to maximize our bonding capacity or our surety capacity,” Hsiao says. “It was managed growth and a lot of reinvesting back in the business.”

When Hsiao joined Shaw-Lundquist full time in 1987, its revenue was $13.4 million, a fraction of where it stands today. Multifamily and hospitality projects have helped drive a revenue rebound since the Great Recession. Another reason for the vigorous recovery is Shaw-Lundquist’s Las Vegas office, which the company opened in 2005.

It was originally drawn to Vegas because MGM Resorts International and its contractor were looking to draw minority-owned companies to the huge CityCenter mixed-use project on the Strip. Shaw-Lundquist didn’t land any work on CityCenter, but it saw future opportunities and decided to stick around. Since then, it has worked on numerous projects, including the renovation of 949 hotel rooms at Caesars Palace.

Shaw-Lundquist’s success has meant that, in some cases, it has grown too large to qualify for federal programs aimed at awarding work to minority-owned contractors. These days, the company belongs to the National Minority Supplier Development Council, which works to advance opportunities for minority firms—and does not have any size limit. At the same time, Shaw-Lundquist has grown more diversified. Private projects currently account for 55 percent of its business, making the company less dependent on public sector construction.

Though it has grown and added an office hundreds of miles away, Shaw-Lundquist very much remains a family business. Hsiao’s mother, Jennie, still handles some marketing and community relations work for the company; his younger brother Holden is a vice president and helps lead the Las Vegas office. The Hsiao family owns the majority of the business; Trent Lundquist, a grandson of co-founder Lyle Lundquist, works for the company as a project manager.

In transferring the ownership to his sons, Fred Shaw worked with advisors including an estate planner to help ensure a smooth, gradual transition to the second generation. Not everything went according to plan.

Hsiao’s older brother Howell Shaw joined the company in 2005 after working for a time in California. His exposure there to venture-backed dot-com companies spurred him to encourage more of a risk-taking spirit. But his ideas for rapid expansion prompted disagreements about business philosophy. Hoyt Hsiao says his brother’s ideas weren’t a good fit for the comparatively conservative construction company: “That’s where a lot of the angst came between the brothers and my dad.” Howell Shaw decided to leave the family business and is now a teacher in California.

Clients admire the company culture. Cushman & Wakefield/NorthMarq, a Bloomington-based commercial real estate services company, first worked with Shaw-Lundquist on a U.S. Bank branch in south Minneapolis, completed in 2011. The project repurposed a vacant Art Deco floral shop on Hennepin Avenue, an iconic building in the neighborhood.

 

“They understand the client, they understand us as a third party, and they represent that true spirit of collaboration,” says Bill Freeland, executive director for project and development services at Cushman & Wakefield/NorthMarq. “They’re a unique organization, and it comes from the top. Hoyt has a legacy to continue. It’s rock-solid across the board.”

Since then, Shaw-Lundquist has built new, ground-up U.S. Bank branches in Shakopee and Anoka. Freeland says that Cushman & Wakefield/NorthMarq hopes to expand its relationship with Shaw-Lundquist.

Fred Shaw might not have foreseen what he would end up building in Minnesota. But he would have appreciated how his family has carried on his spirit of hard work and service. Hoyt Hsiao says his father still regularly came into the office into his 80s. “He never really retired,” Hsiao says. “He loved work. He felt it kept him young and kept his mind sharp.”