Most nine-year-olds enjoy playing with toy construction equipment; dump trucks, earth movers and cranes. Mark Israel preferred playing inside the cab of a full-size drilling rig outside his father Seymour (Sy) Israel’s small engineering company in Orlando. Today, Mark Israel, still within sight of drilling rigs outside his own corporate offices, has helped his father build the company Sy Israel founded 54 years ago into Universal Engineering Sciences (Universal) the largest, family-owned geotechnical engineering firm in the U. S., an $80-million, 750-employee, 18-office industry heavyweight that grew 17 percent last year alone.
Sy, a dapper, quick-witted 85 -year-old, retains an office across the hall from Mark Israel, now Universal’s President, and regularly participates in long range planning as Universal eyes further expansion. The elder Israel, who, in 1964, started building Universal literally from below the ground up — his first job was working a hand-cranked drill to clean out a clogged commercial draining tank on Merritt Island — spends some office time kibitizing with senior staff who remain at Universal’s sprawling headquarters in Orlando. Mark Israel says his dad still smarts at the memory of the recession years when he and his father fought to minimize layoffs.
“We are family,” Mark says, “so the fact we had to let any employees go hurt us both.” Now, all signs are pointing up. Many major public and private projects throughout Florida have Universal’s stamp on them, including airports from the Panhandle to South Florida, transportation jobs that crisscross the state in the form of commuter and high-speed rail, as well as major road widening ventures like I-4 Ultimate in Central Florida. Universal’s projects also include sports stadiums, concert venues and hotels. In 2017, Universal Engineering was ranked Number 210 in Engineer News Record’s Top 500 Design Firms.
Staying ahead of Florida’s booming economy, Universal has strategically broadened and diversified its offerings to include a strong Environmental Engineering division in addition to geotechnical services, construction materials testing, threshold inspection, building code compliance. Heading up Universal’s Environmental team is respected Engineering Professional Richard (Rich) Carman. Carman has bolstered the company’s emphasis on bridging the historical gap between land owners, developers and builders and the environmental agencies that regulate the process.
Carman said that as developable property in the state continues to shrink, the mitigation and restoration of contaminated land becomes more important. “I believe that as regulatory agencies become more realistic and developers understand the importance of sound science, a positive outcome can be realized”, Carman said, adding that Florida leads the country in the yearly pool of federal tax credits available for projects that meet environmental standards.
The character of the consulting engineering company that Sy Israel founded, and that his son is expanding is based on demonstrable, bedrock principles. Father and son literally have an open-door policy. Anyone walking by their offices can look in to see if the president or chairman are at their desks and, if they are, drop in with a comment or question. Mark Israel also adheres faithfully to a promise to return all calls or messages made to him during the day by the end of business that same day.
While Mark Israel is creating Universal Engineering Sciences in a modern image, far from the hand-cranked drill his father wielded 54 year ago. But, he remains loyal to his father and to what Sy created more than a half-century ago. “I guess,” the younger Israel laughs, “If dad had been a florist, I’d be a florist too.”
Corporate headquarters for Universal Engineering Sciences (www.universalengineering.com) is at 3532 Maggie Boulevard, Orlando, Fl, 32811. Phone – 407-423-0504.