Fisk Corporation

4400 Post Oak Parkway
Houston, Texas 77027-3421
Telephone: (713) 868-6111
Fax: (713) 599-1066
Web site:

Private Company
Founded: 1913
Sales: $250 million (2004 est.)
NAIC: 235310 Electrical Contractors

Houston-based Fisk Corporation is one of the largest specialty contractors in the United States, providing electrical, communications, security, audiovisual, and network services. Fisk's original focus, electrical contracting, remains a major part of the company's business. This unit provides a complete package of services—from pre-construction planning to execution and close-out—serving a wide range of commercial, industrial, and government clients. The Fisk Technologies unit is devoted to the design and installation of structured cabling systems, in addition to electronic security, audiovisual, networking, telephony, wireless LAN/WAN, and management services. Fisk maintains regional electrical division offices in Houston, Dallas, Las Vegas, San Antonio, New Orleans, Miami, and New York. Regional Fisk Technologies offices are located in Houston, Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Miami, Phoenix, and New York. Major projects in recent years include the Marathon Oil Building in Houston; the Bridgeport Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut; the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas; two additions to the Texas Children's Hospital in Houston; and the New Boston Garden arena in Boston.

A Turn-of-the-20th-Century Electrical Pioneer

Fisk Corporation was founded in Houston in 1913 by John R. Fisk, less than 15 years after electricity first arrived in the area. The young man borrowed $25 to start an electrician's business, working out of a shed in his father's backyard in The Heights, a neighborhood northwest of Houston's downtown. Early on he had to rely on the streetcar, hauling a ladder, roll of wire, and tools to his various worksites, as he wired up homes to the city's widening electrical system. To grow the business, known in the early decades as Fisk Electric Company, he successfully advertised his services. At the time, electricity was primarily used as an illuminant, replacing kerosene and gas lighting. But as electricity found additional applications, Fisk expanded his services to keep pace. Because of electricity, office building construction began to change, as the height of a structure was no longer limited to how many flights of stairs tenants were willing to climb. Not only did Fisk begin to install elevators but also did receptacle wiring to service the new household and office appliances that relied on electricity for power. In 1935 he completed the electrical installations—lights, air conditioning, and elevators—for the 570-feet high San Jacinto Monument, dedicated a year later to commemorate the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto, the final encounter in the war that severed Texas from Mexico.

By this time Fisk was a union electrical contractor, having become a signatory to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in the 1920s. During the 1930s Fisk worked on a number of municipal projects in Houston, including the Jefferson Stadium, for which he was the onsite contractor. Funded by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the project was one of many public works projects sponsored by the government during the Great Depression to create jobs for the unemployed. Municipal projects remained a mainstay for Fisk until the economy began to rebound with the entry of the United States into World War II, spurred on by massive amounts of defense spending.

Postwar Change in Leadership

Shortly after the war, in 1946, Fisk took on his nephew, Lloyd K. Davis. With a degree in electrical engineering from Rice University, Davis quickly emerged as the company's heir apparent. During the eight years the two men worked together, the company was involved in a pair of major projects, providing the electrical work for the eight-story Foley's Department store and the 44-story skyscraper Humble Building. In 1954 Fisk, according to family lore, on his deathbed charged his nephew to continue to grow the business he founded.

Under Davis's ownership, Fisk Electric began to expand beyond the Houston area. In 1956 it acquired a company to establish a Dallas office, and then in 1969 additional acquisitions led to branches in San Antonio and New Orleans. But the bulk of the company's business remained tied to the growth of Houston. The selection of the city in the early 1960s to serve as the home of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's center for manned space flight projects led to a great deal of work for Fisk. Over the years, the company worked on about a third of the buildings that comprised the space center campus. The NASA presence also helped to spur the growth of Houston into a major city, leading to additional work for Fisk. In 1962 it won the electrical contracting bid for the Houston Astrodome, which opened in 1965 as the world's first indoor sports stadium.

Business in Houston only accelerated in the 1970s, with the area enjoying a commercial building boom, and Fisk won a large percentage of the electrical contracting jobs. During the 1970s Fisk also grew on other fronts. It became an international contractor, doing work on some hotels in Cairo, Egypt, and completing all of the electrical work for the University of Petroleum Oil in Saudi Arabia. With the deregulation of the telephone industry, Fisk in 1971 formed subsidiary Fisk Telephone Systems to take on Southwestern Bell and AT&T. The business grew rapidly, then in 1980 was acquired by Centel, eventually becoming part of Sprint Corporation.

Ownership of Fisk changed hands in 1982 when Davis sold the business to William Press Group PLC for a base price of nearly $16 million. The plan was to use Fisk as a foundation for other U.S. acquisitions, but in that same year, London-based William Press changed directions somewhat by merging with another U.K. company, Fairclough Group, to form an international construction and engineering giant named AMEC PLC. Davis stayed on as Fisk's president and chairman until 1984, then quit to found a new Houston company, HTS, which installed telephone systems. During the 14 years it was owned by AMEC, Fisk opened a Las Vegas office in 1989, which became involved in the construction of several major casino resorts, including the Luxor, The Venetian, and the MGM Grand. In the early 1990s, to keep pace with changes in the world, Fisk formed Fisk Technologies to help clients with new and quickly changing technology needs. This new unit concentrated on the installation and design of structured cabling systems, which integrated voice, data, video, and other building management systems, such as safety alarms, security access, and energy control.

In 1996 AMEC sold Fisk to a former Fisk employee, Larry Brookshire, and Fisk Perseus L.L.C. The business thrived under his ownership over the next four years. In 1997 the company opened a Miami office. The following year Fisk expanded its Las Vegas business by acquiring Rodan Inc., a telecommunications infrastructure contractor specializing in voice and data communications cabling solutions. The deal not only helped Fisk to forward a long-term goal of expanding into the network communications field, it brought with it an immediate influx of business, because Rodan was already contracted to do telecommunications installations at The Venetian and another new hotel, the Paris Las Vegas. In 1998 Fisk moved into two new areas, electronic security and audiovisual. As a result, by the end of the 1990s Fisk Corp. was generating $240 million in revenues.

Ownership Change in the New Century

Fisk changed hands once again when in November 2000 Tyco Electronics Corporation acquired the company. Tyco Electronics was one of five operating groups of Tyco International Ltd., a company that started out in the early 1960s as a research laboratory, making its mark with the silicon carbide laser, but over time evolved into a multibillion dollar conglomerate, involved in the fire and security industry, healthcare, engineered products, and plastics and adhesives, in addition to electronics. Tyco International enjoyed tremendous growth in the 1990s, led by CEO Dennis Kozlowski, who went on an acquisition binge. He beefed up the electronics group in 1999 by acquiring Alarmguard Holdings, Inc. and Entergy Security Corporation, followed by Tyco's largest acquisition to that point: the $11.3 billion stock swap for AMP Incorporated, the largest manufacturer of electrical, electronic, fiber-optic, and wireless connection devices and interconnective systems in the world. Also in 1999 Tyco paid $3 million for Raychem Corporation, maker of electric and electronic components used in a variety of industries. By the end of the year Tyco emerged as the world's leader in electronic security and fire protection systems. Despite growing concerns about the way Tyco was accounting for its acquisitions, Kozlowski continued to pick up assets at a furious rate. In 2000 Tyco bought the electronic OEM operations of Thomas & Betts and the Power-systems division of Lucent Technologies Inc. A week after the $2.5 billion Lucent deal was announced, Fisk was brought into the Tyco fold with little fanfare. Generating nearly a quarter-million dollars in annual sales, Fisk may have been one of the largest electrical and technology infrastructure companies in the world, but it was overshadowed by Tyco's other higher-profile and costlier purchases.

Company Perspectives:

At Fisk, we take pride in our past, are committed to our present and look forward to our future. During our storied history, we have gained experience on virtually every building type or unusual site condition in every region of the country. We've brought our expertise in electrical and low voltage systems to numerous notable buildings including the Astrodome, Dallas Galleria, Bank of America Building, MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, Minute Maid Park, Dow Chemical and the Chase Tower. In order to maintain industry leadership, we've been expanding our services to such fields as: structured communication cabling, audio/visual, electronic security, wireless LAN/WAN, network services, VoIP Telephony and managed services.

Nevertheless, Fisk held a significant place in the plans for Tyco Electronics, which was striving to become a one-stop provider of electrical, data, audio/video, sound, lighting, and heating, air conditioning, and ventilation control systems and services. Fisk was tucked into AMP Netconnect, a company that had always been involved in the electrical market but was seeing a rekindling of the business because of a new demand for cabling and systems integrations in buildings. Fisk was one of the missing pieces, a "portfolio niche," in AMP's strategy to offer complete voice, data, and electrical services to its major international accounts. According to a Tyco Electronics' spokes-person, the Fisk acquisition marked "a major milestone in our strategy to balance revenue generation between product sales and expanded system integration services." It was also a good fit because Fisk already installed and serviced a large number of Tyco Electronics products.

Under the control of Tyco Electronics, Fisk enjoyed some initial growth. In 2001 it formed OneSource Building Technologies to provide integration services for the design, installation, and service of structured cabling systems, network services, IP telephony, distributed video, wireless LAN/WAN, audiovisual, sound, and lighting. The unit was then given international scope with the acquisition of United Kingdom-based Pinacl Communications and Australia-based Heyday Group. Domestically the subsidiary opened offices in Texas, New York, Ohio, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Another seven offices were maintained in the United Kingdom and Australia. It was also in 2001 that Fisk's current president and CEO, Bruce F. Davis, assumed the helm. A certified public accountant, he entered the construction industry in 1980, serving as an accountant for a sheet metal contractor. He then accumulated 18 years of financial and operational experience in the electrical contracting field as well as mechanical and heavy industrial general contracting before joining Fisk in 1998 as chief financial officer.

Fisk's corporate parent became caught up in the corporate scandals that punctuated the early years of the new century. The controversial Kozlowski put a halt to further acquisitions in early 2002, and to prop up Tyco's sagging stock price floated the possibility of splitting the conglomerate into four separate public companies, an idea that received a cool reception from investors. In June 2002, he resigned, not because of Tyco's declining fortunes but due to a criminal probe regarding New York sales tax he was alleged to have evaded on the purchase of a painting. He and his CFO, Mark H. Swartz, were later indicted on a variety of grand larceny, securities fraud, and enterprise corruption charges, accused of stealing some $170 million from Tyco as well as garnering $430 million in illegal stock sales. A new CEO, Edward D. Breen, swept house and began to shed assets in order to pare down the massive debt Kozlowski had incurred during his acquisition spree.

In September 2004 Larry Brookshire reacquired Fisk. Independent once again, the well-respected company embarked on the next chapter in its history.

Principal Subsidiaries

Fisk Electric Company; Fisk Technologies; OneSource Building Technologies; Pinacl Solutions.

Principal Competitors

MMR Group, Inc.; The Newton Group, Inc.; Red Simpson, Inc.

Key Dates:

John R. Fisk becomes an electrical contractor.
Fisk's nephew, Lloyd K. Davis, joins company.
Lloyd assumes ownership after Fisk's death.
Offices open in San Antonio and New Orleans.
William Press Group acquires the company.
A Las Vegas office opens.
Former employee Larry Brookshire acquires the company.
Tyco Electronics acquires the company.
Brookshire reacquires the business.

Further Reading

"Fisk Nets 90 Years of Electrifying Growth," Houston Construction News, October 2003, p. 1.

Stromberg, Laura A., "Fisk Electric Enters New Business Line with Las Vegas Buy," Houston Business Journal, June 8, 1998.

"Tyco Buys Electrical, Technology Infrastructure Co.—Fisk Deal Furthers Company's Push to Become Full-Service System Integrator," Electronic Buyers' News, November 27, 2000, p. 14.

—Ed Dinger

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