Building a business

July 2011 » Columns » FROM THE PUBLISHER
Mark C. Zweig

This July 13 will be the 23rd anniversary of the founding of Mark Zweig & Associates (which about six years later became ZweigWhite). It is hard for me to believe sometimes because I can remember it like it was yesterday.

I was working as executive vice president in another company that does some of the same things ZweigWhite does today. It was a smaller family enterprise —€” the owner had a number of relatives working there. Without going into all the details, let—€™s just say that in spite of the fact that I was doing my job well, I suddenly found myself unemployed.

It was the first and only time that had ever happened to me. I was pretty depressed. My then-wife and I had just purchased a house in the Boston area 13 days before. It was a really rough, lime green, asbestos-sided, two-family, originally built in 1870. It had a chain-link fence surrounding the yard and most of the yard had been paved with asphalt. I was gutting it on my first week off since I had relocated from Texas to take this job when the boss—€™s secretary (she was mine, too) told me I had to come into the office.

What happened to me that day was transformational. It was hard to see at the time, but it turned out to be a real blessing. My life was instantly on a completely different trajectory —€” one that would be far more exciting and have more opportunity for me in so many different ways. After a long walk that afternoon, I decided to start my own firm. I had developed a business plan for it several years earlier, and now was the time to put it into effect. Never again would I allow myself to be so vulnerable and dependent. I would live by my own wits come hell or high water.

I immediately got some work —€” from all of my former employers including the firm that just fired me. Then I set about building a business instead of just worrying about making a living. Fred White joined me —€” he had skills I lacked —€” and made an excellent business partner. We committed to growth. That meant not consuming all the income we brought in but instead reinvesting it in the business in the form of creating new products, marketing, hiring, and IT. And grow we did. We got on the Inc. 500 list two years in a row and maintained an average 30-percent annual growth rate for 13 years in a row. It was fun and rewarding, and I felt like we were doing some good.

That experience is one that I have in common with many CE News readers who started their own businesses. It seems risky at the time you do it, but in reality, the real risk is working at a company where you can do a good job and still lose it. I always say that working at a job is like being self-employed and having only one client!

Civil engineers, by and large, are a pretty satisfied group when it comes to what they do every day. The work is intrinsically satisfying; it helps people and you get to see the results of your efforts. Those are good things. Those who start or become owners in their own civil engineering firms get a double dose of satisfaction. In addition to the projects, there is the pride of ownership in the business. Nurturing it and seeing it grow can be every bit as rewarding (or more so) than the projects themselves.

That—€™s why CE News has a dual focus. We are all about the business and technology of civil engineering. We—€™re lucky we can make it what we want and don—€™t have some big corporate parents telling us what kind of content or ads we need in here. I hope we are being helpful to you. Enjoy this month—€™s issue —€” and let me know what you think!

Mark C. Zweig,
mzweig@zweigwhite.com


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