CE News Top Performers 2009

September 2009 » Exclusive
Growth, profitability, and innovation propelled these firms to peak performances, even in an unstable market
Lynn Petrak

Whether you are a professional athlete, a prized pianist, or an engineer of sustainable structures, a strong performance isn’t always accompanied by accolades. But at a time when the definition of performance is evolving as a result of the ongoing economic crisis, CE News chose to spotlight firms that have maintained, or even improved, their financial performance during these trying times. Some of these notable firms are the nation’s top revenue-producing companies — large, multidiscipline civil engineering service providers — while others are small firms, carving out a healthy business by providing a niche service.

About the list
The inaugural CE News Top Performers 2009 presents a list of firms — in order by revenue — that responded to a public invitation to participate and met financial criteria set by CE News. Financial performance data used for evaluation and presented here was submitted by a representative of each firm.

Click here to view Top Performers list

Firms included on the Top Performers list reported that they achieved at least three of the five criteria set by CE News, including the following:

  • Total revenue from professional services performed in 2008 exceeded the first quartile of participating firms.
  • Average percent growth over the last three fiscal years was 10 percent or more.
  • Average net pre-tax, pre-bonus profit/loss percent for 2007 and 2008 was 5 percent or more.
  • Revenue per employee exceeded the first quartile of participating firms.
  • Description of 2009 backlog as of June 1, 2009, compared with one year ago is higher or about the same. Backlog is defined as work under contract not yet performed.

Diverse perspectives
For their part, the civil engineering firms featured on this list recognize that the measurement of success goes beyond any one number and is increasingly personal.

“The definition of performance changes from firm to firm or individual to individual,” observed Rajan Sheth, president, CEO, and chairman of Mead & Hunt, Inc., Madison, Wis., who added that despite the global financial meltdown, a confluence of factors can lead to a firm’s general stability or success. “There will be firms that are able to grow because of their market mix, strategies, or blind luck.” That fusion was evident in a recent Mead & Hunt project: the restoration of Lake Delton, a popular tourist lake in the Wisconsin Dells that emptied to the basin after severe flooding caused a break in a highway dike wall.

Stantec, Inc., Irvine, Calif., has maintained its presence in the civil engineering field by providing services to clients across diverse geographic regions, through distinct but complementary practice areas, and via all phases of the infrastructure lifecycle, according to President and CEO Bob Gomes. “This three-dimensional, sustainable approach ensures that we do not have to depend on any single geographic region, practice area, or life-cycle phase for our business, helping us mitigate risk while continuing to increase our revenue and earnings,” explained Gomes. One example he noted is the firm’s urban land practice, which through more environmental service offerings, was enhanced during a decline in development in the western part of the country.

Mid-sized and smaller firms also have adjusted to a softer market and are gauging performance in new ways. “I would define it as staying in business — keeping your doors open and keeping current staffing levels,” said James Higday, president of Hardey Engineering & Associates, Inc., Medford, Ore., which is moving ahead on a major community park and other broad-scale civil projects.

Looking forward
As for the future, performance is likely to be tied to areas directly contributing to the economic recovery, namely sustainable design, including Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design programs, and infrastructure improvements funded by stimulus dollars. Higday, for his part, predicts that more government funds will be invested in transportation projects and says he hopes funds will be funneled to local agencies as well.

At Stantec, Gomes indicated that his firm is also focusing on those areas. “Many cities have infrastructure that have exceeded their life expectancy. The additional federal stimulus funding is partially addressing this need and thereby creating opportunities,” Gomes said. “And on the environmental side, we see that federal and state environmental regulations are only getting stricter, and there is a larger emphasis on green design and construction.”

For now, as these top firms turn funding logjams into backlog and completed projects, they are showing that while not everyone is crossing the finish line, moving forward is a feat in itself.


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