Growth and great firms

April 2010 » Departments » COMMENT
Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.

Ever wondered just how large some of the firms you deal with really are? In our inaugural CE News Top Civil Engineering Firms list, we report on many firms with $100 million or more in revenue. It’s an eye-opening review of the industry’s “big fish,” and besides just being an interesting read, it could be a useful resource for mid-size and smaller firms looking to team with firms that have a large presence. Next year we plan to expand the article to include firms with more than $75 million. Read the list and learn more on page 18.

Many business experts believe that “if you aren’t growing, you’re dying,” and numerous civil engineering firm leaders abide by such a mantra. Even in hard economic times, they are staying focused on their long-range plans to achieve stated revenue goals, service line diversification, or geographic expansion. Many of these aim to be included on The Zweig Letter Hot Firm List, a list of the fastest growing firms in the AEC industry. This year’s deadline to apply is May 3; go to www.zweigwhite.com to learn more.

Other firms take a very different view. These firms are more focused on reaching the “sweet spot,” where they are just the right size to work with reputable clients on interesting projects, are able to offer a great workplace for their employees, and, of course, are profitable. While these are goals all firm leaders (should) share, regardless of their aggressiveness in the growth arena, the firms I categorize here guide their decision making with these less tangible goals in mind.

Matthew Malozi, executive vice president with Traffic Planning & Design, the No. 1 ranked CE News Best Civil Engineering Firm To Work For in 2009, said, “While we recognize that company growth creates opportunities for staff professional development and advancement, we are careful to expand at a sustainable rate that will enable us to maintain a ‘best places’ environment, including avoiding layoffs even in the toughest times.”

For those that emphasize a great workplace on their goal list, our annual Best Firms To Work For program is now accepting applications. The deadline is April 23, 2010. Learn more at www.cenews.com/bestfirm Also, we’ve recently announced that the annual Best Firms To Work For Summit will take place on Sept. 28-29, 2010, at The Palazzo, Las Vegas. Go to www.bestfirmssummit.com to learn more.

Firms come in all shapes and sizes, with different philosophies, cultures, and goals; some can be great, some mediocre, and others, well, lousy. If I was asked generally, “What makes a civil engineering firm great and what should a firm do to be even better?” I think it boils down simply to people and technology. A firm needs people leading it (not just managing it), a talented and motivated staff, and a culture that supports a positive work environment. Secondly, firms need to be progressive and innovative in the use of technology. If you reason that most firms have technically capable staff, a firm’s use of technology is what can really set it apart, yielding efficiencies and enhancing profits, and creating opportunities for new business and types of projects, and all the good stuff that comes with these outcomes such as growth and staff retention. (There’s a great example of this in this month’s Progressive Engineering on page 30.)

The Best Firms To Work For Summit and AEC Technologies Strategies Conference are the two live events that CE News sponsors, and with good reason. With these two stellar conference programs, we deliver comprehensive learning and networking opportunities to support two of the most essential, fundamental aspects of a successful firm — people and technology. (Learn more on page 13 about the AEC Technologies Strategies Conference, May 20-21 in Las Vegas.)

Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.,

sfauerbach@stagnitomedia.com


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