On the road to success

December 2012 » Exclusive
2012 Hot Firm leaders share their journeys.
Christina Zweig

In an event to remember, final rankings of The Zweig Letter 2012 Hot Firm List were announced at The Zweig Letter Hot Firm black tie dinner and awards ceremony Oct. 25 in Aspen, Colo. Just as in 2011, Cardno USA Inc. topped the ranking, followed again by exp Global Inc.; Surveying and Mapping Inc., number 20 in 2011, completes the 2012 top three (see below).


1 Cardno USA, Portland, Ore.

2 exp Global Inc., Brampton, Ont.

3 Surveying and Mapping, Inc., Austin, Texas

4 gkkworks, Irvine, Calif.

5 Sullivan International Group Inc., San Diego

6 Vanir Construction Management Inc., Sacramento, Calif.

7 Allen & Shariff Corp., Columbia, Md.

8 HAKS Engineers, Architects and Land Surveyors, P.C. New York

9 Nobis Engineering Inc., Concord, N.H.

10 Dade Moeller, Richland, Wash.

11 MMM Group Limited, Thornhill, Ont.

12 HR GreenInc., Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

13 Klohn Crippen Berger Ltd., Vancouver, BC

14 Buckland & Taylor Ltd., North Vancouver, BC

15 Engineering/Remediation Resources Group, Inc. (ERRG), Martinez, Calif.

16 Watermark, Lowell, Mass.

17 EN Engineering, LLC, Woodridge, Ill.

18 T.Y. Lin International, San Francisco

19 Finley Engineering Company Inc., Lamar, Mo.

20 JBC Associates, Inc., King of Prussia, Pa.

21 Golder Associates, Redmond, Wash.

22 Mabbett & Associates Inc., Bedford, Mass.

23 SEPI Engineering & Construction Inc., Raleigh, N.C.

24 Environmental Standards Inc., Valley Forge, Pa.

25 MTE Consultants Inc., Kitchener, Ont.

26 BSI Engineering Inc., Cincinnati

27 Sovereign Consulting Inc., Robbinsville, N.J.

28 Hill International Inc., Marlton, N.J.

29 GATEInc., Houston,

30 Harrison French & Associates, LTD. Bentonville, Ark.

31 Woodard & Curran Portland, Maine

32 M&S Engineering Spring Branch, Texas

33 Tectonic Engineering & Surveying Consultants P.C. Mountainville, N.Y.

34 Hatch Mott MacDonald Millburn, N.J.

35 Pond & Company Atlanta

36 Larson Design Group, Williamsport, Pa.

37 S&ME Inc., Raleigh, N.C.

38 TEAM Integrated Engineering, Inc. San Antonio, Texas

39 Tobolski Watkins EngineeringInc., San Diego, Calif.

40 Environmental Management & Planning Solutions, Inc. San Francisco

41 Gateway Engineers, Pittsburgh,

42 Cobb Engineering Company, Oklahoma City

43 SSE, Poplar Bluff, Mo.

44 Sam Schwartz Engineering, New York

45 Trihydro Corporation, Laramie, Wyo.

46 Weston & Sampson, Peabody, Mass.

47 Bartlett & WestInc., Topeka, Kan.

48 Tetra Tech, Inc. Pasadena, Calif.

49 Houston Engineering Inc., Fargo, N.D.

50 Infrastructure Engineers Inc., Saint Cloud, Fla.

 

51 KCCT Architects, Washington, D.C.

52 MBP, Fairfax, Va.

53 Landpoint Inc., Bossier City, La.

54 MacKay Sposito, Vancouver, Wash.

55 Butler, Fairman & Seufert Inc., Indianapolis

56 Pennoni Associates, Philadelphia

57 Patterson & Dewar Engineers Inc, Norcross, GA

58 SRP Environmental LLC, Shreveport, La.

59 Coffman Engineers Inc., Seattle

60 Clark Nexsen Architecture & Engineering Norfolk, Va.

61 HRP Associates Inc., Farmington, Conn.

62 Walker Partners LLC, Waco, Texas

63 A. Morton Thomas & Associates Inc., Rockville, Md.

64 Bowers + Kubota Consulting Inc, Waipahu, Hawaii

65 Garver LLC, North Little Rock, Ark.

66 CTL Engineering Inc, Columbus, Ohio

67 Marstel-Day LLC, Fredericksburg, Va.

68 Mead & Hunt Inc., Madison, Wis.

69 Bernardin Lochmueller & Associates, Evansville, Ind.

70 Michaels Energy, La Crosse, Wis.

71 HSA Engineers & Scientists, Tampa, Fla.

72 R&M Consultants Inc., Anchorage, Alaska

73 Fagan Engineers, Elmira, N.Y.

74 Nederveld, Grand Rapids, Mich.

75 PDC Inc. Engineers, Fairbanks, Alaska

76 Enviro-Safe Consulting LLC, Germantown, Wis.

77 Shea Carr Jewell, Olympia, Wash.

78 Gunda Corp., Houston

79 Delta 3 Engineering Inc., Platteville, Wis.

80 CobbFendley, Houston

81 Integrated Design Group, Boston

82 Maser Consulting PA, Red Bank, N.J.

83 Westwood Professional Services, Eden Prairie, Minn.

84 Crawford Architects LLC, Kansas City, Mo.

85 Hammontree & Associates Ltd, North Canton, Ohio

86 Aquaterra Environmental Solutions Inc., Overland Park, Kan.

87 Bowman Consulting Group, Chantilly, Va.

88 Degenkolb Engineers, San Francisco

89 Integral Consulting Inc., Seattle

90 Slater Hanifan Group, Las Vegas

91 Cherokee Enterprises Inc., Miami Lake, Fla.

92 Shive-Hattery Group Inc., Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

93 Miyamoto International Sacramento, Calif.

94 Apex Companies LLC, Rockville, Md.

95 Calvin, Giordano & Associates Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

96 Hanson Professional Services Inc., Springfield, Ill.

97 Structural Integrity Associates Inc., San Jose, Calif.

98 Binkley & Barfield Inc., Houston

99 All4 Inc., Kimberton, Pa.

100 CME Associates Inc., Woodstock, Conn.


Hot Firm leaders are a special breed. They never lose sight of possibility. Here they share their firms' tales and how they became success stories. Matt Moeller, CEO of Dade Moeller (Richland, Wash.), ranked 10 on the The Zweig Letter 2012 Hot Firm List, talks about branding. The firm provides government and commercial nuclear clients a full range of professional and technical services in environment, safety, health, and quality assurance. The firm was founded in 1994 by Dade Moeller (Matt Moeller's father), a preeminent scientist and educator in the fields of health physics and environmental health. Two decades later, the firm still stands for Dr. Moeller's principals.

"When we founded the company it was all about the brand; it was all about Dade Moeller… it was about education, good science, the environment… it was about creating more than what we started with," Matt Moeller said. "Being disciplined, being focused, and never forgetting our niche is key to success."

He attributed most of the firm's growth to relationship building. More than 95 percent of the firm's growth has been organic, though Moeller noted that acquisition of a four-person company in December 2009 resulted in landing an important project.

CEO's role in growth
When asked what he thought was the most important thing he does as a leader and how this has contributed to firm growth, Moeller said, "My work is intended to be on behalf of the company rather than about me. My job is to set the vision and direction of Dade Moeller, with particular focus on positioning our company for medium and longer-term opportunities and markets."

Moeller puts great effort into fostering a corporate culture based on relationship building. "This relates to how I present Dade Moeller to our many clients, current and potential teaming partners, and companies representing new markets," he said. "I also focus a lot of my efforts in support of those who are delivering on our vision through projects or internal activities and interactions with clients, teaming partners, and other colleagues. Without solid relationships, growth is impossible in our industry."

C.K. Satyapriya, president and CEO of CTL Engineering Inc. (Columbus, Ohio), a full-service consulting engineering, testing, inspection, and analytical laboratory services company, also believes in the power of being a client-focused organization. To keep his firm growing when they were doing poorly, Satyapriya said he focused and increased marketing effort. Though it was a tough decision to allocate resources to these areas when the firm was not doing well, he called this, the "best action we took."

With this newfound client focus, Satyapriya said principals must visit their top 10 clients regularly. "They must know the color of their eyes, names of children, etc.," he said, adding that this action has led to a 30- to 40-percent increase in work that has been maintained.

Established in 1927 as a privately held independent engineering and testing laboratory serving the local community, CTL now has locations around the world and is owned by more than 200 employees. The firm is number 66 on The Hot Firm List this year.

Moeller doesn't act as a solo star and is a huge advocate of empowering others in the firm, supporting their effort and still providing necessary feedback to ensure "consistency of vision."

"Every leader's goal should be to work oneself out of a job; that is, mentor another to take your place so that you can do other activities to initiative and sustain the company's growth," he said.

Dade Moeller also has leadership and management teams and a very active board of directors.

Satyapriya also has an employee-focused approach to leading. He said that allowing people to utilize their strengths and establishing a vision for the company are among the most important things he does as a leader. When times got tough in 2008, the strong ownership culture fostered by Satypriya was a major player in keeping the firm successful.

"Since the ownership culture is great, employees willingly took a cut in pay (I led by example by announcing a cut in my pay first) and rolling furloughs for about six months in 2009," he said.

Developing 'the plan'
"The first plan was put together in 1992-1998 and updated every year. In 1999 CTL became a majority ESOP and that required a change in the direction," Satyapriya said. The company at the time also created a board of directors composed mostly of external participants.

"In 2005, we adopted the balance scorecard approach to the strategic plan and also instituted a plan for the project managers to establish the strategic plan, which improved buy-in," Satyapriya said. Since 2007, a major portion of the firm's growth has been through careful acquisitions.

Moeller said his firm definitely had a plan for success, though it didn't have an official start date. "We did not begin. Rather, we evolved and matured by refining and improving our business development processes and business operations to support the growth objective," he said.

The firm develops and updates its five-year plan routinely, a practice that has helped focus business development activities and prioritize the most costly growth efforts. "That said, our plan was not just about attaining a specific dollar value by a particular time. The growth objective was one of numerous goals we set to help us identify our internal needs, target opportunities, and develop relationships with those with whom we needed to partner to be successful," Moeller said.

Satyapriya has had to refine criteria and make tough decisions. "I recognized that by establishing specific metrics to decide on the continuation of a branch, I closed poorly performing branches. That helped me focus resources on other branches and help them grow," he said.

Flexibility has certainly been a key to Dade Moeller's success, a characteristic that has been applied to the business development organization, which Moeller describes as "changing and maturing." Business development is directly related to how the firm feels it is doing in terms of client perception, backlog, workload, etc. "Interestingly enough, at times it's been larger, then got smaller, more distributed, less distributed," Moeller said.

Overall, Moeller said this flexible approach has led the firm to not have a discernible "worst decision," something he attributed to "having contingency plans when conditions or decisions do not go our way." The firm focuses on what it can control, but recognizes that in business (especially during recent years) there are many factors that can't be controlled. Strong relationships minimize surprises.

"When conditions falter, we try not to focus on what has happened to us, or assign blame. Rather, we focus our attention on how we will respond. We believe the latter is the mark of our character and corporate culture. The bottom line is that when something does not go well, we need to try to fix it, learn from it, and move on," Moeller said.

Ingredients of success
At The Zweig Letter 2012 Hot Firm Conference, Hot Firm leaders sat around a table and shared challenges and success tips candidly. Following are excerpts from the Hot Firm CEO roundtable led by Ed Friedrichs, ZweigWhite principal.

Q: What are the key ingredients of an A/E/P or environmental firm leader and how do they deal with challenges?

During a general discussion preceding the roundtable, organizers and firm leaders said that it is of utmost importance for a leader to understand what they do really well. But no leader acts alone; second to the ability to understand strengths is the ability to surround oneself with other people who can help. Especially in a growing firm, new partnerships and adding new people to the firm while keeping the core values of the firm strong is a chief concern, they said.

"Change is a constant, that's one thing I pride myself in," CTL Engineering's Satyapriya said. "Be observant of the environment and see what change is coming. Come up with potential solutions."

Firm leaders agreed that some of the most important jobs that leaders face are articulating the vision, explaining why the firm needs to grow, and finally getting everyone to buy into it. As the firm grows, people have to grow as well.

"Every leader's goal should be to work oneself out of a job; that is, mentor another to take your place so that you can do other activities to initiative and sustain the company's growth." – Matt Moeller, CEO, Dade Moeller

Tom Hayden, president at Shive-Hattery Group Inc. (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), a 350-person architectural and engineering firm, said, "Leadership is about creating change. Build the organization that builds the business. We embarked on a change strategy. We wanted a highly collaborative, open book policy… [We wanted to] distribute decision making to the whole management team."

From this philosophy, the firm began a change toward open doors, creating work stations, eliminating offices, and eventually developing the compensation plan enabling collaboration across the organization.

Many firms echoed the sentiment that it is often difficult to manage growth and new leadership but still continue the firm's founding philosophy.

Q: Consistent values and statements are vital to the success of any firm, but how can a firm leader keep these the same while a firm inevitably changes as it grows and expands?

Friedrichs said that parables often are prevalent in successful firms. "Firms that are about to have a consolidated view of who they are use common stories to unite. That's why we tell stories at board meetings. These stories are a way of transmitting a 'tribal' lore, a 'tribal' culture, about who we are and why we do what we do."

Many leaders feel like the firm is a direct reflection of themselves.

"I feel like my company is me in a way," said June Jewel, president and CEO of Acuity Business Solutions, a Reston, Va.-based firm that helps project-based businesses find opportunities, win business, deliver projects, and manage their organizations.

"Your role and view of yourself changes overtime," said Harrison French, CEO and founder of Harrison French & Associates Ltd. (Bentonville, Ark.), a 150-person architecture and engineering firm.

Paul Greenhagen, president and CEO of Westwood Professional Services (Eden Prairie, Minn.), a 230-person multidiscipline firm, said his firm has gone through many changes during the last six years. The biggest challenge: "Bringing people from all different cultures together, and merging."

Royce Conlon, president, PDC Inc. Engineers (Fairbanks, Alaska), an 80-person multidiscipline firm, has been in her role for only a short time, though she has been with firm for 20 years. She said, "I am now in a position to try to make some changes. I had to ask myself, 'Why was I elected?'" Sometimes leaders are characterized as assertive or pushy, but Conlon put it another way: "I challenge people to do their best and do their best for their clients."

A challenge for Conlon is financial accountability. "Some of our past people are focused on doing the job and doing the job right and I don't want to lose that," she said, "but I think we can also be financially successful."

Some of the most important jobs that leaders face are articulating the vision, explaining why the firm needs to grow, and finally getting everyone to buy into it. As the firm grows, people have to grow as well.

While a great leader can start and develop a firm, at some point the firm may become too large to successfully manage alone. A challenge firm leaders often have in growing firms is learning to let go and let others lead. "Often the growth throttle and the choke throttle to growth are based on the leadership team working in sync," Friedrichs said.

"I want my job and position to be expendable. It's the sign of a strong company that no one person is indispensible. Giving everyone in the company the tools they need to succeed," said Charles Hammontree, president and CEO of Hammontree & Associates, Limited (North Canton, Ohio), a 53-person consulting firm that offers civil engineering services.

Tim Schauer, president and CEO of MacKay Sposito (Vancouver, Wash.) said, "Sitting back and being the last to talk instead of the first to talk is a big challenge. We want people to think for themselves."

While the above is true, it's also the leader's job to step up and say something if things are getting off track. This can be a common program among creative types who often work and lead in design firms. "A lot of people who are dreamers, who are futurists, who come up with great ideas, don't have the discipline to keep everyone in check," Friedrichs said.

"One of my weaknesses is holding people accountable," Jewel said.

Keith Sampson, president and CEO of SRP Environmental LLC (Shreveport, La.), 25-person full-service environmental consulting, health and safety consulting, and environmental services firm, agreed. He said that his weaknesses are "human resources and holding people accountable."

Many of the other CEOs present offered similar statements about making "tough calls" and keeping employees doing their jobs properly. A hard-line approach isn't always the best solution, nevertheless. "If someone is having trouble, instead of looking at them and saying they 'need to go,' I try to see if maybe they are in the wrong job… I want to play up their strengths," Sampson said.

Satyapriya said, "We are quick to criticize but not as quick to recognize achievements."

Friedrichs said, "You get what you reward… and in a way a criticism is a reward too because it's attention. The more things you can identify that someone is doing well, the more often they will repeat it."

This article is reprinted from the The Zweig Letter. More information about The Zweig Letter 2012 Hot Firm rankings is available at www.zweigwhite.com/conference/hotfirm/2012hotfirm-list.php.


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