2011 Best Multidiscipline A/E Services Firms To Work For

October 2011 » BEST FIRMS TO WORK FOR
Firms excel in caring for employees and their families, as well as establishing cultures based on teamwork and respect.
Christina Zweig

Defined as firms that provide work in a minimum of two disciplines, such as mechanical, electrical, plumbing, industrial, systems, lighting, process, landscape architecture, communications, and/or planning, these multidiscipline firms go above and beyond.

Employees from MBP's Columbia, Md., branch take time out for a group photo.

Superior workplace practices, employee benefits, employee retention rates, and other incentives make the following this year's Best Multidiscipline A/E Services Firms To Work For.

Ranging from 15 to more than 1,200 full-time employees, the sixth annual Best Multidiscipline A/E Services Firms To Work For ranking saw participation from 24 firms, with huge variations in services offered.

Corporate questionnaires and CEO, human resources, and employee surveys all were compiled into a numerical score. Three judges – Tim Cooper, senior vice president, Employee Benefits at Beecher Carlson; Bernie Siben, CPSM, principal consultant at The Siben Consult LLC; and Carol Metzner, president, The Metzner Group LLC – were responsible for analyzing the qualitative responses and the ultimate decision on the top three Best Multidiscipline A/E Services Firms To Work For.

First place: McDonough Bolyard Peck Inc.
McDonough Bolyard Peck Inc. (MBP) specializes in program/project management, constructability review, construction inspection, cost estimating, CPM scheduling, disputes resolution, project closeout, commissioning, training, facilities portfolio management, and FHA/ADA inspection services. It has 10 offices on the U.S. East Coast. Established in 1989, MBP now has 293 employees, and has been on The Zweig Letter Hot Firm list.

According to the corporate survey, MBP's senior leadership is committed to keeping the company going and growing to ensure their employees have a great place to work, are fairly compensated, and have good benefits to help provide for their families. This level of commitment has certainly trickled down to employees, who express a strong pride in their company's values. Six core values – teamwork, quality, hard work, integrity, forward looking, and community involvement – were mentioned in a number of employee responses.

One employee said, "They truly care about their employees and their families and go above and beyond to help us stay healthy, happy, and motivated. Hard work is openly and frequently appreciated here, which is not something you see at most firms. They actually believe and enforce their core values every single day."

Another employee said, "This is a value-based company that acts on its values. There is a culture of teamwork. The company is equally focused on the customers and the employees."

Julie Detwiler, human resources director said, "I have a friendly, fun, and respectful relationship with my coworkers. I show a genuine interest in each member of my team's professional and personal lives, and provide every opportunity for each of them to be successful."

A variety of traditional benefits complement the positive culture, including a very generous employee benefit plan, 401k, stock option, and paying 100 percent of the premium cost for the employee and family member medical, dental, and vision plans.

The company also strives to provide an atmosphere that allows its employees to define, develop, and reach their potential. Other educational incentives include 100-percent reimbursement for graduate and undergraduate studies.

Judge Siben noted: "MBP had good answers regarding diversity, sharing of strategic plans, and periodic sharing of financial metrics."

Charles E. Bolyard, Jr, chairman and CEO, said, "We encourage people's suggestions. My COO and I always say we're good for about one idea a week – we need 325 good ideas a week in order to be successful."

In one of the most heartfelt responses of all, one employee seemed to summarize the essence of what it means to be a Best Firm To Work For. "I love working for MBP. I recruited one of my friends to work for MBP, and he loves it. I don't ever want to have to change jobs."

Employees give GATE LLC high marks for fair treatment, a dedication to improve, diversity, and respect among employees and between employees and management.

Second place: GATE LLC
Youngster GATE LLC, an oil and gas technical consulting firm, was only established in 2000, but quickly established itself as a Best Firm To Work For. It has risen up from the number four spot last year.


Judges
Tim Cooper
Senior vice president
Beecher Carlson
Portland, Ore.

Carol A. Metzner
President
The Metzner Group LLC
Myersville, Md.

Bernie Siben, CPSM
Principal consultant
The Siben Consult LLC
Austin, Texas

All GATE employees who responded to the survey felt it was a "Best Firm to Work For." The employee survey also revealed that 100 percent of respondents felt that management is leading the firm well through this challenging economy. Other high remarks were received on fair treatment, a dedication to improve, diversity, and respect among employees and between employees and management. An impressive 100 percent said, "I am proud of my work," and "I would recommend the firm to a friend seeking work."

Judge Siben said, "GATE seems to get that loyalty between firm and staff must flow in both directions."

GATE LLC is known for a solid foundation of traditional benefits, and matches 4 percent of salary in 401k retirement plans, pays 100 percent of health insurance, and offers a variety of other insurance options. Additionally, the firm has full tuition reimbursement for both technical and business classes, and also provides a range of in-house training.

"We benchmark ourselves against ZweigWhite's surveys and we found that we spend almost three times as much time on training than the average. The training objective is to make our engineers aware of the ‘bigger picture' and understand our clients' projects from an overall systems perspective, not a microscope," said Managing Principal Grant Gibson, Ph.D.

This firm's management approach is refreshingly candid. "Instead of a statement written and copied or memorized by everyone, we say, ‘Just do what it takes to get it done,'" said Marla Perez, finance and compliance manager.

This approach is hardly careless or neglectful, but rather empowers each employee to create an environment where they can succeed. "Any member of staff can challenge any process that we follow, whether administrative or technical," Gibson said. "No one has to live with the status quo. Other companies answer such questions with ‘because we say so' or ‘but that's the way we have always done it.' At GATE, the response is, ‘how would you change it?' or ‘make it happen!'"

The employee survey revealed comments such as, "Firm leaders have a genuine interest in fostering growth of the employees and the company as well as succeeding economically."

Another employee stated, "Whenever an area falls below expectations, there is a concerted effort from everyone to fix it. Where expectations are met, there is always an effort to improve it further."

Judge Metzner also noted this tireless commitment to continuous improvement and noted a number of improvements in the past year: "The firm enhanced their IT support and upgraded infrastructure, expanded in-house training provision, commenced employee ownership plan development, formalized their leadership transition process, and provided monthly open-book financial and billing updates to all staff."

Siben said, "The firm shares its strategic plan with all the staff, and regularly shares data on revenue, profit, and project profit. The firm also shares all client feedback with all project team members. I liked this level of transparency, and that the firm trusts its staff with all this information."

Third place: Smith Seckman Reid Inc.
Smith Seckman Reid Inc. (SSR) is another veteran, climbing the Best Firm To Work For ladder and moving up five spots to number three from the number eight spot in the 2010 Best Multidiscipline A/E Services Firms To Work For. Similar to last year, SSR also placed number one in the large-firm category (see "Ranking by size").

SSR describes "fostering the development of entrepreneurial spirit in our people" as a corporate goal, and employees speak of a team-oriented environment that welcomes new staff and embraces diversity.

SSR, established in 1968, is an engineering design and facility consulting firm whose services include civil, environmental, mechanical, transportation, electrical, fire protection/plumbing, and structural engineering. It offers commissioning and sustainability services and has an integrated LEED facilitation, commissioning, and energy modeling service. SSR also has a Communications and Technology Services team and Regulatory Compliance services.

In addition to headquarters in Nashville, other offices are located in Denver; Kansas City, Kan.; Hernando, Miss.; Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Sarasota, and Tampa, Fla.; Knoxville and Memphis, Tenn.; Dallas; and Houston.

Despite its large size (467 full-time employees), an employee responded to the survey with the comment, "I am not a number at SSR; I am a real person."

SSR describes "fostering the development of entrepreneurial spirit in our people" as a corporate goal. To achieve this, it offers a multitude of training programs as well as bonus incentives for successful work.

The company is open with all financials and data. Meetings are held monthly. Revenue/profit and data sharing is done quarterly, and an annual report and bi-monthly newsletter is sent to all employees.

Employees speak of a team-oriented environment that welcomes new staff and embraces diversity. The employee survey had a huge response rate, with 271 employees participating. Employees had strong positive responses in multiple categories and their comments really set this firm ahead of the competition.

One employee said, "We are a family. We have good times and bad times, sometimes we get moody and need our neighbor's perspective. Sometimes we just need a good kick in the pants, and that is provided too. There is no ceiling to your success. You really do matter."

This "family" feeling was echoed in other responses as well. "Even though we are a much larger firm now, we still manage to maintain the feeling of family at SSR. Standardized methods of operations have surely been required and are being implemented, but we still have a one-on-one approach to managing projects and people," said another survey respondent.

Conclusion
The 2011 Best Multidiscipline A/E Services Firms To Work For are all exemplary firms, putting people first and demonstrating that bringing out the best in employees begets success in reputation, quality, and profit.

Ranking by size
Firms on the top 12 list (including honorable mentions) range in size from 27 to 1,212 employees. While these firms share the same fundamental business model, firms of different sizes can offer their staff unique qualities, and gain advantages and disadvantages, dependent on their size. Therefore, the following lists provide a ranking among like-size firms.


The top three small firms
– fewer than 100 employees
– are (number of employees in parentheses):
      1) GATE LLC (27)
      2) Burns Engineering Inc. (95)
      3) E.K. Fox & Associates Ltd. (58)


The top three medium-sized firms
– 100 to 299 employees – are:
      1) McDonough Bolyard Peck Inc. (293)
      2) H&A Architects & Engineers (252)
      3) Pond & Company (175)


The top two large firms
– 300 or more employees – are:
      1) Smith Seckman Reid Inc. (467)
      2) POWER Engineers Inc. (1,212)


Mark your calendar for 2012
If your firm didn't apply this year, if you didn't make the list, or even if you are a ranked firm, you are encouraged to apply for the 2012 Best Multidiscipline A/E Services Firms To Work For. The process begins earlier; the entry period begins in November! To be sure you don't miss out on the 2012 application information, sign up today for our Contact List at http://tinyurl.com/2012BestFirms. We will notify you directly via e-mail when the 2012 applications are posted online. One important note to newcomers: The names of firms that apply but do not make the list will not be revealed. Hope to see you on the list in 2012.


Rank
Name
Number of employees
Year est.
Headquarters Website
1
McDonough Bolyard Peck Inc. (MBP)
293
1989
Fairfax, Va. www.mbpce.com
2
GATE LLC
27
2000
Houston www.gatellc.com
3
Smith Seckman Reid Inc.
467
1968
Nashville, Tenn. www.ssr-inc.com
4
Burns Engineering Inc.
95
1960
Philadelphia www.burns-group.com
5
H&A Architects & Engineers
252
1947
Glen Allen, Va. www.ha-inc.com
6
Pond & Company
175
1965
Norcross, Ga. www.pondco.com
7
E.K. Fox & Associates Ltd.
58
1980
Fairfax, Va. www.ekfox.com
8
Winzler & Kelly
253
1951
Santa Rosa, Calif. www.w-and-k.com
9
M.E. GROUP / design+green
71
1991
Lincoln, Neb. www.megroup.com
10
Allana Buick & Bers Inc.
72
1987
Palo Alto, Calif. www.abbae.com
HM
Nussbaumer & Clarke Inc.
68
1933
Buffalo, N.Y. www.nussclarke.com
HM
POWER Engineers Inc.
1,212
1976
Hailey, Idaho www.powereng.com

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