In support of practice builders

February 2006 » Columns » VIEW FROM THE TOP
Kimley-Horn sustains its practice builder culture by a simple, elegant process that the founders implemented when they opened for business in 1967.
Michael N. Byrd, P.E.

Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc.

Headquarters: Cary, N.C.
Number of branch offices: 54
Total number of employees: 1,950
Year firm was established: 1967
Total billings for last fiscal year: $310 million

My father, a statistics professor at Clemson University, was a great role model in the way that he mentored students. His influence helped mold me in a way that fits well into the practice builder structure at Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc., in Cary, N.C. Mentoring is what I like to do best for the firm. Fortunately, with Bachelor's and Master's degrees in civil engineering from Clemson University and 22 years of service, I'm old enough to do it.

What really makes my day is the opportunity to take a talented professional—it doesn't matter what age—put them in front of a client and say, "I would like for you to meet so-and-so. I'm going to teach them to be better than me." That is one of the goals of Kimley-Horn's practice builder structure.

The practice builder structure is a simple concept that was set in motion the day Kimley-Horn opened for business in 1967.

From the beginning, the firm's founders thought that engineers should practice in a manner similar to physicians and attorneys.

Therefore, they established practice builders, who are technically excellent at their profession, deliver exceptional client service, possess great bed-side manners, win work, instill confidence, and make money. Practice builders do everything by the book, with an emphasis on quality—this is not a stretch if you have the right people doing the right things in an organization.

Kimley-Horn is a "flat" organization where practice builders are rewarded more for the technical knowledge and relationship savvy they bring to the table than for their ability to climb the corporate ladder. Practice builders have autonomy and self-direction.

An organizational chart of Kimley-Horn looks like the U.S.

Department of Agriculture's nutrition pyramid, except upside down. Management is on the bottom and doesn't take up much space in the pyramid. We have a diverse management committee that consists of only 13 members. The management committee supports the regional teams, which are the band above the management committee. Regional teams support the practice builders and their project teams, which are the broad top band of the inverted pyramid.

Within Kimley-Horn's management committee I am the firmwide "voice" for all of our practice builders. Outside of the management committee, I work with practice builders to facilitate their success as it pertains to the established goals of the firm. In short, I make sure that practice builders' goals and firmwide goals are aligned. Kimley-Horn management doesn't base its decisions on what is most convenient and expeditious for management, but on consideration of the practice builders' and firmwide goals.

Kimley-Horn is organized into six geographic regions; however, to promote teamwork and function as a unit, there is only one profit center. For example, if a client needs a particular skill set on a project, it's up to the regional team to search across the company and find that person or persons. It doesn't matter where they are or what they're doing. The regional teams' major purpose is to help practice builders deliver excellent client service.

Each team includes a team leader who oversees project production, human resources, and administration. Among this group there is a regional practice builder representative. There must be practice builder representation across the firm because everything we do is in support of the practice builder.

Much emphasis is placed on the regional teams to support practice builders in their respective regions. This may sound somewhat Orwellian, but the regional teams are always "watching" and "waiting" to lend a hand. Sometimes, practice builders don't know they need help until the regional team points out the fact that they do. The help is always rooted in delivering exceptional client service and helping the practice builder succeed.

The beauty in all of this is that the founders of the firm had the wisdom to put the right people in the right positions so that the practice builder structure could flourish and become self-sustaining.

Currently, Chairman Bob Wright has an undergraduate degree in civil engineering and a graduate degree in accounting.

He has been with the firm since 1979. Our CEO, Mark Wilson, has undergraduate and graduate degrees in business and has a financial background. He has been with the firm since 1989.

Human Resources Director Barry Barber had nine years of Big Six experience before he joined Kimley-Horn in 1994. Likewise, our practice builders have undergraduate and graduate degrees combined with years of technical experience in their given fields.

There aren't a lot of titles at Kimley-Horn. However, the most coveted title is that of practice builder. At the end of the day, it's about the practice builder, who is supported by the regional teams, which are, in turn, supported by the management committee.

Kimley-Horn sustains its practice builder culture by a simple, elegant process that the founders implemented when they opened for business in 1967: Practice builders are duty-bound to serve their clients with exceptional client service while serving and meeting the high expectations of the firm. They also are responsible for recruiting, training, and spinning off their practice to upand- coming practice builders. They do this by continually winning work and by repeat business.

To learn more about the practice builder structure, visit us at www.kimley-horn.com.

Michael N. Byrd, P.E., is the executive vice president, principal, and firmwide practice builder representative of Kimley-Horn and Associates, Cary, N.C. He can be reached at mike.byrd@kimley-horn.com or 1-919-677-2000.


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