From Dust to Dallas: The Nexus PMG Origination Story

“Why would I hire three twenty-somethings to advise me when I have work boots with more experience than all three of you combined”? This was the response from a fortune 500 company CEO following the conclusion of our very first pitch. Not exactly how we envisioned it. Fast forward 7 years and we (now thirty-somethings) are proud to have built Nexus PMG into a formidable infrastructure advisory and project development firm with a mission to better the planet. But it’s the odd, erratic, and humbling global journey that makes our story interesting.

It was 2010 and the worst recession in modern history had caused a spike in precious metal prices leading to an international mining boom. Domestic projects were few and far between which meant taking on international hardship assignments if you wanted job security. Consequently, we found ourselves living on a man-camp in the middle of the Ras Al Khair desert in Saudi Arabia constructing an $11B aluminum refinery. Just your everyday run of the mill job.

For 3 years we worked together closely, battling the harsh work environment while forming a strong personal and professional bond. In 2013, as the project was nearing completion and our next assignments were hanging in the balance, we gathered in a small temporary office trailer and mutually agreed we had developed a combined skillset unique enough to build a business around.

Quantitative and qualitative risk management. Complete nerd status.

We formed the idea of establishing a comprehensive process for identifying, quantifying and assessing project risk by leveraging statistical modeling and business intelligence (BI). We believed that leveraging technology to modernize an age-old process of evaluating and managing risk would allow for greater control over important decisions during the lifecycle of a project. If one could offer a niche service to global EPC firms and large-scale operators that would lead to projects being executed on schedule and under budget, how could it fail?

With an executable business plan, a small amount of startup capital (the upside of living in Saudi Arabia), and a burning desire to eat a cheeseburger at will, Nexus Program Management Group (Nexus PMG) was formed. We opted to set up shop in Dallas, Texas where extra office space was made available to us by my father who operated his own business down the hall. I miss free office space. We proceeded to develop our proprietary risk assessment technology, created marketing material, and perfected our pitch.

How could we fail?

Side note, our marketing material was atrocious. It is now framed in our HQ to remind of us of our roots.

It didn’t take long for the unforgiving realities of starting your own business, and the perception of youthful inexperience, to hit like a Saudi Arabian sandstorm. We knew it would take considerable time, dozens of pitches, and a bit of fortunate timing to sign our first client. This meant maintaining extremely low overheads until the company generated suitable cash-flows to sustain overheads and ultimately pay ourselves a salary. So, we piled into Roshans 2001 hand-me-down Mini-Van (shout out to Roshan’s Father in Law) and hit the road for our first round of official pitches.

It did not go well.

We had underestimated the importance of having gray hair when you are marketing yourself as an expert in any subject matter, let alone risk management. It was falsely assumed that most global EPC firms and large-scale operators would not only welcome, but also pay for, the type of service being offered. Yet, after 30 hours on the road and numerous unsuccessful pitches, we arrived back in Dallas with the same number of clients we had when we departed (zero for those counting). But, how could we fail?

Months went by. Roshan filled out an application for a night job at Starbucks. Paul and I moved in together to split bills. We had hit the inflection point that most newly self-employed business owners ultimately do. To accept there was no market for our services, give up and go back to a stable corporate job, or find an alternative way to generate business. Out of sheer ignorant pride, a flicker of remaining confidence, and a contagious entrepreneurial spirit, we chose the latter.

It is well known that doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. Fortunately, we were not insane (many will disagree). We quickly recognized the importance of changing our sales strategy if any form of traction was to be expected. We needed to establish a more appropriate target market that did not view our service offering as a simple luxury, but rather a true need. We needed clients that would repeatedly depend on our services in order to conduct business.

The answer was in front of us the whole time. Technically, it was down the hall a few dozen feet.

Remember that office we were sharing with my Fathers company? Well, that company happened to be a capital management advisory firm representing prominent New York-based infrastructure funds and private equity firms. Nexus PMG could conduct pre-investment due diligence on behalf of institutional investors with an emphasis on evaluating and defining the project execution risk profile. By using my father’s network of strong relationships in New York, there was a means of accessing prospective clients.

Once again, we hit the road. This time with a little more humility and preparedness. However, this time we did not come back empty-handed. GSO Capital, one of the world’s largest credit-oriented alternative asset managers, were looking for an advisor to help assess the risk associated with two wood pellet production facility projects in Ontario, Canada. A scope of services was agreed to and Nexus PMG officially signed its first contract with a financial institution.

Another side note, we had a few intermittent clients in between that were tremendously important in keeping us afloat. A special shout out to @Ben Humphries for having the utmost confidence in us.

That was the turning point. It was no longer, “we want you to be our first client”. We could trade off our own resume, albeit brief, as opposed to the partners’ personal resumes. It was the foundation of trust needed to establish confidence with other large financial institutions.

Over the next 5 years, Nexus PMG would rapidly expand its client base and suite of services. By adding two additional managing partners, Chris Hart, a highly experienced process engineer with a deep sales background, and Steve Roberts, a forest products industry veteran, Nexus PMG expanded into new industries and new geographies including Europe and Asia. Opening an additional office in Abilene, Texas, followed shortly by another office in Greenville, South Carolina allowed us to attract top talent from leading Engineering & Construction firms.

Today, Nexus PMG has earned the trust of more than 50 clients in the infrastructure investment advisory and project development services business. This is something we are incredibly proud of and never take for granted. Quality of work and our passion to build a better world is the essence of the Nexus PMG brand. There is one consideration that Paul, Roshan and I whole-heartedly agree allows us to remain grounded, disciplined and motivated. Flying to see clients is much easier than cross-country trips in a minivan.

Ben Hubbard