The Zweig Letter 2011 Hot Firm List

November 2011 » 2011 Hot Firm List
In a bleak economy, 2011 hot firms share many traits, but none of them is unusual.
Julie Kyle

The Zweig Letter 2011 Hot Firm List shines a spotlight on the top-performing architecture, engineering, planning (A/E/P) and environmental consulting firms in North America. In its 12th year, the Hot Firm List has become the benchmark for success, with firms that demonstrate the highest percentage growth over a three-year period earning top placing.

This year, the list identifies 176 rising and established stars – firms that not only managed to outperform their peers, but also managed to outmaneuver a troubled economy. The Hot Firm List ranks the top firms based on a combined equal rating of dollar growth in gross revenue and percentage growth in gross revenue. This dual weighting system creates a level playing field between large and small firms.

Winners were recognized at a special reception and dinner at the Hot Firm Celebration & Conference at the Montage Laguna Beach resort Oct. 26 and 27 in Laguna Beach, Calif.

What are these firms doing differently that has allowed them to outperform their peers? And, how have they succeeded during such trying economic times?

Beyond aggressive marketing and no-nonsense business development, these firms are taking care to hire and develop the right people. They're using technology to help them be more efficient. This year's list reflects that although they wear the Hot Firm title, they still face the same challenges other firms have, said Christine Brack, a principal with ZweigWhite specializing in strategic business planning and project management optimization.

"Seeing a lot of new firms on the list is encouraging to me," she said. "The level of growth is astounding for some firms on the list. Growing revenues by 225 percent or 174 percent – to have such phenomenal growth during such a disparaging time is impressive."

But these firms are not doing anything extraordinary that's out of reach of any particular firm, Brack said. They're doing things that would fall under normal business definitions as simply smart planning. These firms are collaborating in a way that's noncompetitive; they're courageously offering new services and entering new markets. They are investing in recruitment and retention of talented employees. "And it's obviously showing them rewards," Brack said. "While there's phenomenal growth, these aren't phenomenal practices."

Hot firms have challenges, but they make it look easy. "The numbers make it look like there is just gobs of work out there, for which firms are charging really high fees," Brack said. "But that's not the case. They're looking for answers just as the rest are. They are relying on consultants to help guide them; they get together and talk about their performance as a management group. They worry just as much as the next guy, but they have found ways to mitigate that worry by doing these simple things."

Top Three:

  1. Cardno USA Inc., Portland, Ore.;
  2. exp. (formerly Trow Global), Brampton, Ontario; and
  3. HAKS Engineers, Architects and Land Surveyors P.C., New York.

M&A powerhouse
Many firms on this year's list are those that have grown exponentially through mergers and acquisitions. A prime example is the No. 1 Hot Firm, Cardno USA, the American arm of the Brisbane, Australia-based Cardno Limited, a global infrastructure services firm.

Michael Renshaw, president and CEO of the American operation, said that when he began his tenure with the firm eight years ago, Cardno USA had only 350 employees, and work outside Australia made up only 5 percent of the firm's revenue. Today, Cardno USA boasts more than 4,200 employees and delivers services in more than 70 countries from more than 150 offices. Work outside Australia now accounts for 65 percent of the firm's revenue.

Such explosive growth has occurred partly as a result of strategic acquisitions. Two of Cardno's largest mergers were completed within the last three months, adding engineering companies BEC Engineering and Roadtest to its family.

"We have assembled a very dynamic and talented leadership team in a relatively short time – a team that brings a depth of experience and an entrepreneurial spirit," Renshaw said. "For me, personally, it has always been a goal to make the Hot Firm List." Ultimately, the growth Cardno USA has achieved is directly attributable to the expertise and capabilities of its employees, Renshaw said.

Cardno is relatively new to the American market. "Before entering this market, we understood that we could not bring an Australian way of doing business," Renshaw said. "It was essential that we tapped into local expertise to help make us a great company. We do this by utilizing external mentors, fostering internal discussion and ideas, reviewing the pros and cons of strategies of our peers, and looking at what makes other professional service industries successful."

exp. (formerly Trow Global) ranked at No. 2 this year. In 2010, the Canadian firm acquired X+nth, then a 390-person consulting engineering firm, and Teng & Associates, then a 500-person design, engineering, and program management consulting firm for major infrastructure projects. These acquisitions more than doubled exp.'s U.S. presence – also aiding a 184-percent revenue growth since 2007.

David and Goliath
Although this year's Hot Firm List names some rather large firms, many small and mid-size firms made this list as well. Bioengineering Group, a 50-person, woman-owned environmental planning and restoration firm based in Salem, Mass., rose one spot on this year's list to No. 24. The firm's leaders attribute its success to taking an effective leadership role in promoting, defining, researching, practicing, and measuring high-performance sustainable design methods for water and energy conservation.

PK Electrical, Inc. (Reno, Nev.), a 19-person (also minority-owned) electrical engineering firm, made the No. 158 spot in this year's Hot Firm List. PK Electrical has positioned itself with diverse services so it can support many project types, and has maintained aggressive marketing through the downturn.

Much like a national championship can help a college recruit talented players and bright students, being named to the Hot Firm List helps winning firms improve their talent pool through recruiting because of name recognition the Hot Firm status brings. Morale among existing employees improves because of the mention, as well. "It is an honor to be recognized for our everyday work. Our clients perceive us with more value. From a marketing standpoint, it is an eye-catcher for recruiting new clients," said Karen Purcell, PK Electrical president.

The success of small and mid-size firms has helped debunk some myths associated with the competition, said ZweigWhite's Brack. She noted that you don't have to be a huge firm with a lot of mergers and acquisitions to achieve a place on the list. "Many firms say, ‘We can't compete with a URS or a Kleinfelder,' or whatever. But Bioengineering Group ranked at No. 24; they beat out Hill International (No. 26), which is (comparatively) a huge firm," Brack said.

Surveying and Mapping Inc. (No. 20), a 150-person surveying, land mapping, and engineering firm based in Austin, Texas, also placed ahead of many other larger firms.

"How do you do that? That's astounding. It's like David and Goliath," Brack said. "Look at what the small guy did. You don't need all the cash and talent that the big guys have to make it happen. It's surprising and encouraging."

Julie Kyle is newsletter editor for ZweigWhite. She can be contacted at jkyle@zweigwhite.com. This is an abridged version of an article published in The Zweig Letter.

Recipe for success
What has Cardno USA done differently that has allowed it to outperform others in the industry? The one thing that continues to impress President and CEO Michael Renshaw is the quality, professionalism, and talent that exists across the majority of firms in the industry. "As a result, there are many successful firms, and to say that we were more successful than them would be misleading," he said.

Here's the recipe for the firm's internal success:

  1. A common aspirational vision.
  2. An emphasis on attracting and retaining the best talent.
  3. A focus on long-term repeat client relationships where Cardno USA aims to become their trusted advisor.
  4. A culture of growth and entrepreneurship fostered both organically and via mergers – but avoiding the pitfalls associated with overlapping mergers.
  5. A commitment to quality and safety in everything Cardno USA does.
  6. "The knowledge that if we get the first five of the above right, we will have a sustainable profitable business that creates value for our shareholders," Renshaw said.

Other elements that differentiate Cardno USA include a global outlook, footprint, and service offering far greater than most firms its size; combination of physical infrastructure, social infrastructure, and economic expertise; continuous-learning, "can do" corporate culture; and a commitment to ongoing employee participation in the ownership of the company.

 

Rank
Name Headquarters Website
1
Cardno USA Inc. Portland, Ore. www.cardno.com
2
exp (new identity of Trow Global) Brampton, Ontario www.exp.com
3
HAKS Engineers, Architects and Land Surveyors P.C. New York www.haks.net
4
EMR Inc. Lawrence, Kan. www.emr-inc.com
5
Allen & Shariff Corporation Columbia, Md. www.allenshariff.com
6
GENIVAR Inc. Montreal, Quebec www.genivar.com
7
Sullivan International Group Inc. San Diego www.onesullivan.com
8
Binkley & Barfield Inc. Houston www.binkleybarfield.com
9
Dade Moeller Richland, Wash. www.moellerinc.com
10
The Cadmus Group Inc. Watertown, Mass. www.cadmusgroup.com
11
Merrick & Company Aurora, Colo. www.merrick.com
12
Stantec Inc. Edmonton, Alberta www.stantec.com
13
TerraTherm Inc. Fitchburg, Mass. www.terratherm.com
14
MMM Group Limited Thornhill, Ontario www.mmm.ca
15
MBP Fairfax, Va. www.mbpce.com
16
Hunt, Guillot & Associates LLC Ruston, La. www.hga-llc.com
17
HR Green Cedar Rapids, Iowa www.hrgreen.com
18
PARS Environmental Inc. Robbinsville, N.J. www.parsenviro.com
19
T.Y. Lin International San Francisco www.tylin.com
20
Surveying And Mapping Inc. Austin, Texas www.saminc.biz
21
Nobis Engineering Inc. Concord, N.H. www.nobiseng.com
22
Vanir Construction Management Inc. Sacramento, Calif. www.vanir.com
23
Dennis Corporation Columbia, S.C. www.denniscorporation.com
24
Bioengineering Group Salem, Mass. www.bioengineering.com
25
Hargrove Engineers + Constructors Mobile, Ala. www.hargrove-epc.com
26
Hill International Inc. Marlton, N.J. www.hillintl.com
27
Berger Devine Yaeger Inc. Overland Park, Kan. www.bdyinc.com
28
Bridgefarmer & Associates Inc. Dallas www.bridgefarmer.com
29
Tetra Tech Inc. Pasadena, Calif. www.tetratech.com
30
AK Environmental LLC West Trenton, N.J. www.ak-env.com
31
Chambers Group Inc. Santa Ana, Calif. www.chambersgroupinc.com
32
Finley Engineering Company Inc Lamar, Mo. www.fecinc.com
33
Project Time & Cost Inc. Atlanta www.ptcinc.com
34
ERRG Martinez, Calif. www.errg.com
35
Omega & Associates Inc. Lisle, Ill. www.omegaassociates.com
36
Mabbett & Associates Inc. Bedford, Mass. www.mabbett.com
37
GATE LLC Houston www.gatellc.com
38
J. M. Waller Associates Inc. San Antonio www.jmwaller.com
39
Calvin, Giordano & Associates Inc. Fort Lauderdale, Fla. www.calvin-giordano.com
40
Garver LLC North Little Rock, Ark. www.garverusa.com
41
Clark Nexsen Architecture & Engineering Norfolk, Va. www.clarknexsen.com
42
Klohn Crippen Berger Ltd. Vancouver, B.C. www.klohn.com
43
HDR Omaha, Neb. www.hdrinc.com
44
Global Engineering Solutions Rockville, Md. www.theges.com
45
Weston & Sampson Peabody, Mass. www.westonandsampson.com
46
EN Engineering LLC. Woodridge, Ill. www.enengineering.com
47
Golder Associates Sunnyvale, Calif. www.golder.com
48
Tectonic Engineering & Surveying Consultants P.C. Long Island City, N.Y. www.tectonicengineering.com
49
aether dbs LLC Naperville, Ill. www.aetherdbs.com
50
Harrison French & Associates Ltd. Bentonville, Ark. www.hfa-ae.com
51
Butler, Fairman and Seufert Inc. Indianapolis www.bfsengr.com
52
Environmental Standards Inc. Valley Forge, Pa. www.envstd.com
53
H&A Architects & Engineers Glen Allen, Va. www.ha-inc.com
54
Schultz & Summers Engineering Poplar Bluff, Mo. www.schultzandsummers.com
55
BANC3 Princeton, N.J. www.banc3.com
56
Infrastructure Engineers Inc. Spartanburg, S.C. www.infrastructureengineers.com
57
Pennoni Associates Philadelphia www.pennoni.com
58
Digital Engineering Inc. Kenner, La. www.deii.net
59
Marstel-Day LLC Fredericksburg, Va. www.marstel-day.com
60
R&M Consultants Inc. Anchorage, Alaska www.rmconsult.com
61
Gunda Corporation LLC Houston www.gundacorp.com
62
SEPI Engineering & Construction Raleigh, N.C. www.sepiengineering.com
63
TEAM Integrated Engineering Inc. San Antonio www.team-ie.com
64
Jacobs Associates San Francisco www.jacobssf.com
65
Larson Design Group Williamsport, Pa. www.larsondesigngroup.com
66
Cobb Engineering Company Oklahoma City www.cobbengr.com
67
MTE Consultants Inc. Kitchener, Ontario www.mte85.com
68
EYP Architecture & Engineering Albany, N.Y. www.eypae.com
69
Mead & Hunt Inc. Madison, Wis. www.meadhunt.com
70
Snyder Environmental Little Rock, Ark. www.snyderenvironmental.com
71
Finley Engineering Group Inc. Tallahassee, Fla. www.finleyengineering.com
72
Bennett Wagner & Grody Architects P.C. Denver www.bwgarchitects.com
73 (tie)
Wright-Pierce Topsham, Maine www.wright-pierce.com
73 (tie)
Bernardin, Lochmueller & Associates Inc. Evansville, Ind. www.blainc.com
74
Trihydro Corporation Laramie, Wyo. www.trihydro.com
75
R.J.Burnside & Associates Limited Orangeville, Ontario www.rjburnside.com
76
gkkworks Irvine, Calif. www.gkkworks.com
77
GDS Associates Inc. Marietta, Ga. www.gdsassociates.com
78
GEI Consultants Inc. Woburn, Mass. www.geiconsultants.com
79
Horizon Engineering Associates LLP Charlotte, N.C. www.horizon-engineering.com
80
Pond & Company Norcross, Ga. www.pondco.com
81
Degenkolb Engineers San Francisco www.degenkolb.com
82
Integrated Design Group Inc. Boston www.idgroupae.com
83
Walker Partners LLC Waco, Texas www.walkerpartners.com
84
Woodard & Curran Portland, Maine www.woodardcurran.com
85
Croft & Associates Kennesaw, Ga. www.croftandassociates.com
86
Sam Schwartz Engineering New York www.samschwartz.com
87
Bartlett & West Engineers Inc. Topeka, Kan. www.bartwest.com
88
Aquaterra Environmental Solutions Inc. Overland Park, Kan. www.aquaterra-env.com
89
P. W. Grosser Consulting Inc. Bohemia, N.Y. www.pwgrosser.com
90
SCS Engineers Norfolk, Va. www.scsengineers.com
91
Omni Environmental LLC Princeton, N.J. www.omni-env.com
92
CTL Engineering Inc. Columbus, Ohio www.ctleng.com
93
JRS Architect P.C. Princeton, N.J. www.jrsarchitect.com
94
ASM Affiliates Carlsbad, Calif. www.asmaffiliates.com
95
The Gateway Engineers Inc. Pittsburgh www.gatewayengineers.com
96
Structural Integrity Associates Inc. San Jose, Calif. www.structint.com
97
Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Waltham, Mass. www.sgh.com
98
Pettigrew & Associates P.A. Hobbs, N.M. www.pettigrew.us
99
Shea Carr Jewell Olympia, Wash. www.sheacarrjewell.com
100
Primera Engineers Ltd. Chicago www.primeraeng.com
101
M.E. Group Inc. Lincoln, Neb. www.megroup.com
102
Cambridge Systematics Inc. Cambridge, Mass. www.camsys.com
103
Aubertine and Currier Architects, Engineers & Land Surveyors PLLC Watertown, N.Y. www.aubertinecurrier.com
104
Erdman Anthony Rochester, N.Y. www.erdmananthony.com
105
Architects Hawaii Ltd. Honolulu www.ahldesign.com
106
Group Delta Consultants Inc. Torrance, Calif. www.groupdelta.com
107
HSA Engineers & Scientists Tampa, Fla. www.hsa-env.com
108
Smith Seckman Reid Inc. Nashville, Tenn. www.ssr-inc.com
109
Houston Engineering Inc. Fargo, N.D. www.houstoneng.com
110
KSA Engineers Inc. Longview, Texas www.ksaeng.com
111
Moody Nolan Inc. Columbus, Ohio www.moodynolan.com
112
JQ Austin, Texas www.jqeng.com
113
Aerosol Monitoring & Analysis Inc. Hanover, Md. www.amaconsulting.com
114
Ross & Baruzzini Inc. St. Louis www.rossbar.com
115
Hinman Consulting Engineers Inc. San Francisco www.hce.com
116
VHB Watertown, Mass. www.vhb.com
117
Acumen Building Enterprise Inc. Oakland, Calif. www.acumentransit.com
118
Van Boerum & Frank Associates Inc. Salt Lake City www.vbfa.com
119
Wilson Associates PLLC Dallas www.wilsonassociates.com
120
Paul C. Rizzo Associates Inc. Pittsburgh www.rizzoassoc.com
121
Johnson & Pace Inc. Longview, Texas www.johnsonpace.com
122
Rincon Consultants Inc. Ventura, Calif. www.rinconconsultants.com
123
LAN Associates Midland Park, N.J. www.lan-nj.com
124
SRP Environmental LLC. Shreveport, La. www.srpenvironmental.net
125
Integral Consulting Inc. Seattle www.integral-corp.com
126
Enviro-Safe Consulting LLC. Brookfield, Wis. www.enviro-safe.com
127
PDC Inc. Engineers Anchorage, Alaska www.pdceng.com
128
EnSafe Inc. Memphis, Tenn. www.ensafe.com
129
CobbFendley Houston www.cobbfendley.com
130
MOA Architecture Denver www.moaarch.com
131
Harper Houf Peterson Righellis Inc. Portland, Ore. www.hhpr.com
132
Shive-Hattery Cedar Rapids, Iowa www.shive-hattery.com
133
Kenneth Boroson Architects LLC New Haven, Conn. www.kbarch.com
134
CME Associates Inc. Woodstock, Conn. www.cmeengineering.com
135
Cherokee Enterprises Inc. Miami Lakes, Fla. www.cherokeecorp.com
136
Wier & Associates Inc. Arlington, Texas www.wierassociates.com
137
EAPC Architects Engineers Grand Forks, N.D. www.eapc.net
138
Arora Engineers Inc. Chadds Ford, Pa. www.aroraengineers.com
139
M/E Engineering PC Rochester, N.Y. www.meengineering.com
140
Passero Associates Rochester, N.Y. www.passero.com
141
Collins Engineers Inc. Chicago www.collinsengr.com
142
Miyamoto International Inc. West Sacramento, Calif. www.miyamotointernational.com
143
Francis Cauffman Philadelphia www.franciscauffman.com
144
Tecton Architects Hartford, Conn. www.tectonarchitects.com
145
Guttmann & Blaevoet San Francisco www.gb-eng.com
146
Maser Consulting P.A. Red Bank, N.J. www.maserconsulting.com
147
Gafcon Inc. San Diego www.gafcon.com
148
Parametrix Auburn, Wash. www.parametrix.com
149
All4 Inc. Kimberton, Pa. www.all4inc.com
150
ESI Consultants Ltd. Naperville, Ill. www.esiltd.com
151
Douglas Wood & Associates Inc. Coral Gables, Fla. www.douglaswood.biz
152
M&S Engineering LLC Spring Branch, Texas www.msengr.com
153
Fleis & VandenBrink Engineering Inc. Grand Rapids, Mich. www.fveng.com
154
Braun Intertec Corporation Bloomington, Minn. www.braunintertec.com
155
BHB Consulting Engineers Salt Lake City www.bhbengineers.com
156
Chen Moore and Associates Fort Lauderdale, Fla. www.chenmoore.com
157
Core States Group Duluth, Ga. www.core-eng.com
158
PK Electrical Inc. Reno. Nev. www.pkelectrical.com
159
Hanson Professional Services Inc Springfield, Ill. www.hanson-inc.com
160
c|a Architects Long Beach, Calif. www.c-aarchitects.com
161
Dudek Encinitas, Calif. www.dudek.com
162
Crafton Tull Rogers, Ark. www.craftontull.com
163
YU & Associates Inc. Elmwood Park, N.J. www.yu-associates.com

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