2012 Best Multidiscipline A/E Services Firms to Work For

August 2012 » Features » BEST FIRMS TO WORK FOR
Practices at the top three firms provide ideas for improving employee —€“ and client —€“ satisfaction and retention.
Christina Zweig

GATE participated in the 2011 Walk to End Alzheimer's in Houston. This walk was particularly special because some employees' family members are facing the disease.

The 2012 Best Multidiscipline A/E Services Firms to Work For rankings includes both newcomers and veterans on the list this year (see table on page 23). Flexibility and ingenuity have allowed these firms to survive a rough economy while excelling in caring for employees and their families, as well as establishing cultures based on teamwork and respect.

Multidiscipline A/E Services Firms are 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. To determine the ranking, corporate questionnaires and CEO, human resources, and employee surveys all were compiled into a numerical score. Two judges were responsible for analyzing the qualitative responses and the ultimate decision on the top three Best Multidiscipline A/E Services Firms to Work For.

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.

First place: GATE Inc.
Based in Houston, this 32-person firm specializes in oil and gas industry technical consulting and project management. Last year GATE placed second in the Best Multidiscipline A/E Services Firms to Work For rankings. With a client-focused, team-oriented, and family-style atmosphere, GATE's management style is all about "just doing what it takes to get it done."

Employees are trusted and valued at GATE. Marla Perez, finance and compliance manager, said, "I much prefer having everyone's input and ideas than making 'robots' out of my team."

When asked if there was anything she would like to change about the firm, Perez said, "There is nothing I would like to change about our firm because management takes to heart the best of the employees and continues to leap forward in making everyone feel valued and important to all operations."

GATE has all the traditional perks and benefits and is working on developing an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) to start in January 2013 so that all staff can be a part of the ownership experience.

According to Perez, GATE's goal is an open-book management concept that will keep morale as high as possible and minimize mystery within the organization. GATE received the best employee satisfaction survey results by having the highest employee score in all five categories.

The level of respect shown to all grades of staff, as well as the level of information that is provided regarding company performance, goals, and objectives are large differences that Lee Jordan, operations manager, sees when comparing GATE with other firms. "Respect means many things, from providing a great working environment; an excellent benefits and health care package; interesting, novel, and challenging work; a route for professional and personal development; the sharing of company performance in regular monthly updates; and a culture that listens and responds to staff feedback and ideas and uses them as a springboard for continuing growth and improvement," he said.

"GATE understands that employee development is not just about offering workshops. The firm is committed to cross-training their staff, and they are keenly aware of the need to provide challenging assignments for their younger workers. The firm's management and decision-making structure has been flattened, which should provide enhanced learning opportunities for emerging leaders," said Best Firms to Work For judge, Larry Gard, Ph.D.

Best Firms to Work For judge Jeremy Clarke noted GATE's "solid health care benefits and excellent training programs." In addition, the "tuition reimbursement program appears to be an esteemed feature among employees," Clarke said.

"We have very high standards in terms of acceptable behavior, work ethic, ability to teach, and desire to learn, said Jordan. "However, we still maintain an open, friendly, and communicative working atmosphere that is based on community effort rather than individual attainment. There is a feeling that the people at GATE and GATE as an organization are something special that sets us apart from the ordinary and further drives our sense of togetherness and mutual support."

Second place: Bowers + Kubota Consulting
Bowers + Kubota Consulting (Waipahu, Hawaii) is a 120-person construction management, program and project management, civil site design (pavement design, water distribution, fuel distribution), aviation planning, and architectural design firm. Brian Bowers, president and CEO said, "We have built our firm on the principles of flexibility, individual attention, fairness, and rapid decision-making."

Management-employee relationships are a big part of what makes Bowers + Kubota such a great place to work. Amy Matsushima, human resources manager, said of her own experience coming to work for Bowers + Kubota, "I have worked in a few different-sized companies, but this is the first time the new-hire transition has been so easy and short." She attributed the ease of this transition to the fact that all new hires are assigned a coach to guide them "through the learning curve."

Bowers + Kubota highly values employee well-being. As part of the firm’s wellness program, employees participate in a Yoga session to calm their minds and bodies.

The firm truly cares about the whole life of employees. Dexter Kubota, vice president, said he wants to improve employees' behavior toward wellness. "We are on the right glide-path but we need to continue to emphasize the importance of healthy life choices and the link between wellness, happiness, and performance," he said. The firm currently pays 100 percent of the cost for each employee and the family medical care to include dental, drug, and vision.

"It's not difficult to see why they've garnered such robust employee loyalty/morale," said Best Firms judge Clarke. "Bowers + Kubota is a very health-focused firm that gives cash incentives for employees that pursue healthy habits/activities."

"The benefit that we are most proud of is our profit-sharing/401k plan," Bowers said. "For the past 10 years, the company has contributed 12 percent of payroll into the plan. Many employees now have over $100,000 in their plans and are well on their way to becoming millionaires if they continue their contributions and the firm continues to prosper."

The company does an external survey and also performs internal peer reviews anonymously.

"We have a passion for continuous improvement," Bowers said. "While we are humbled by being selected as one of the best places to work, we are equally interested in benchmarking our firm against other best places to work to see where we can improve our policies, practices, and procedures."

Third place: Pond & Company.
This Norcross, Ga.-based multidiscipline firm with 225 employees provides comprehensive architecture and engineering services for corporate and government clients. J. Al Pond, CEO, said he leads the firm by example, and desires to "give direction and coaching without micro managing."

The firm has maintained many benefits through the recession, including a rich health insurance program with both Point of Service and Health Savings Account options, an employer-paid wellness program for all staff, a flex spending account, 401k match, flex time to accommodate each staff member, summer hours with four and one half work days, college tuition reimbursement, and more.

In addition to the these benefits, the firm has a formal Events Committee of volunteer employees who steer each new event year's activities and planning.

"Our culture is arguably our most redeeming trait, and it's a result of an incredible workforce," said Pam Gower, human resource manager. Events at Pond & Company include a bi-monthly lunch and learn (aka healthy 'y break) on an employee chosen topic, a "happy hour" type bowling outing, and a year-end grand finale event (the 22nd annual Summer Outing) where the firm goes to the lake for house boats, food/libations, field events to win the coveted POND Cup, etc.

At POND's 21st Annual Summer Outing, teams gather at the water's edge for one of several relays during the day. No one knows anything about the events going into game day, which require employees to think quickly, observe others, and assemble and delegate effectively.

"We are always seeking to enhance our benefits – both the big/common ones and the soft unique ones – to ensure that our people feel taken care of and can focus on helping to build the business," Gower said.

Best Firms judge Gard noted, "POND has a robust wellness program that has been quite well received by employees. Among the finalists, employees at POND are the most likely to recommend the firm to a friend who is looking for work."

With all this fun, Gower said, "we also make sure our potential hires fully understand we are intellectually honest, which means

With lots of pride, we do not want to allow folks to become irresponsibly confident. We put equally high stakes on quality assurance at POND and that starts with recognizing we don't always get it right. We just have to be willing to learn from our mistakes so as not to repeat them."

To round out its impressive list of accomplishments, Pond & Company participates in a variety of philanthropic and community service ventures. Recently, the firm expanded its outreach/student program to support high school-level programs that promote the AE industry to younger emerging talent, and Pond said, "This year, we raised over $20,000 to support the Wounded Warrior Project for disabled military veterans."

Rank

Name

Number of
employees

Year est.

Headquarters

Website

1

GATE Inc.

32

2000

Houston

www.gateinc.com

2

Bowers + Kubota Consulting

120

1980

Waipahu, Hawaii

www.bowersandkubota.com

3

Pond & Company

225

1965

Norcross, Ga.

www.pondco.com

4

MBP

247

1989

Faiffax, Va.

www.mbpce.com

5

Burns Engineering

95

1960

Philadelphia

www.burns-group.com

6

Harper Houf Peterson Righellis Inc.

73

1990

Portland, Ore.

www.hhpr.com

7

E.K. Fox & Associates Ltd.

58

1980

Fairfax, Va.

www.ekfox.com

8

GeoDesign Inc.

67

1997

Portland, Ore.

www.geodesigninc.com

9

JBA Consulting Engineers

120

1966

Las Vegas

www.jbace.com

10

Wiley|Wilson

165

1901

Lynchburg, Va.

www.wileywilson.com

11

Allana Buick & Bers, Inc.

89

1987

Palo Alto, Calif

www.abbae.com

12

Michaels Engineering

42

1984

LaCrosse, Wis.

www.michaels
engineering.com

13

Braun Intertec Corporation

467

1957

Minneapolis

www.braunintertec.com

14

USKH Inc.

119

1972

Anchorage, Alaska

www.uskh.com

15 (tie)

Hanson Professional Services Inc.

317

1954

Springfield, Ill.

www.hanson-inc.com

15 (tie)

Hargrove Engineers + Constructors

485

1995

Mobile, Ala.

www.hargrove-epc.com

Judges

Jeremy Clarke

Director,
Executive Search
ZweigWhite
Fayetteville, Ark.

Larry Gard. Ph.D.

Consulting psychologist
Hamilton-Chase Consulting
Chicago

Mark your calendar for 2013
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 2013 Best Multidiscipline A/E Services Firms to Work For. The entry period begins in December 2012!


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