Now in its fourteenth year, The Zweig Letter Hot Firm List recognizes the 100 fastest-growing architecture, engineering, planning, and environmental consulting firms in the United States and Canada. These firms have outperformed the economy and competitors to become leaders in their chosen fields. Rankings are based on a survey of industry firms conducted by ZweigWhite, the publisher of The Zweig Letter, CE News, and Structural Engineer. The 2013 final rankings (see Table 1) were announced in August and the winners recognized during a black-tie dinner and awards ceremony during the annual Hot Firm Conference in October.
Hot Firm List eligibility is limited to firms based in the United States and Canada that derive the majority of their revenue from the practice of architecture, engineering consulting, or planning. Interior design, landscape architecture, and design-build firms that provide design and construction services are also eligible. Firms are ranked according to their three-year growth rate in gross revenue, with 50 percent of the ranking based on percentage growth and 50 percent based on dollar growth. Revenue numbers for 2010 and 2012 were used to determine the growth rate for the 2013 Hot Firm ranking. Firms' revenue for the first year must have been greater than or equal to $1 million. Only firms that were in business for the entire three-year period and that were still in business as of January 1 of the previous year were eligible. Additionally, firms paid a $275 entry fee to participate.
The #1 Hot Firm: Cardno
How does Cardno, a professional infrastructure and environmental services company and the number one firm on The Zweig Letter Hot Firm List for the third year in a row, achieve so much growth and manage to continue it? As general manager of Cardno's Americas Region, headquartered in Portland, Ore., Paul Gardiner leads more than 4,800 staff across 220 offices in North and South America. During his tenure, Gardiner has overseen the growth of operations in Latin America from 150 to 600 staff members and has diversified service offerings to include infrastructure design in the areas of hydropower, transportation, and water/wastewater. In the United States, he strengthened Cardno's capabilities in the oil and gas, mining, and natural resource management sectors.
Cardno has grown primarily through acquisitions and specifically targets markets the firm's leaders think will be particularly successful. "Some people think that growth is quite scary and that you must become a big bureaucratic beast. We've proved that growth can be quite positive. There's fear associated with growth, and we spend time helping people see that it doesn't have to be that way," said Gardiner, who presented a keynote address at the 2013 Hot Firm Conference.
Cardno's growth strategy employs a good deal of merger and acquisition activity, presenting some unique challenges. The firm's success in this area is dependent on careful vetting of potential partners to ensure they will be compatible, then later providing "responsible autonomy." Cardno also has a "no wanker rule," which basically means they don't want to deal with people they feel will not be reasonable.
"We learn things from each deal. Things have gone well financially, sometimes not so much financially but brought other things to the firm. ...I could count on one hand the deals out of 50 that I wish we hadn't done," Gardiner said.
Gardiner said the few acquisitions that haven't gone well each have a specific reason. "We broke the 'no wanker rule' with one of them, one of them I inherited. Sometimes you misjudge how much good will is with the leader. There's been few failures, but each time we have learned a valuable lesson. As we get larger, we are doing larger and larger acquisitions – that will get more difficult, but so far we have gotten pretty lucky."
Other keys to success include a system infrastructure that connects information among staff and also between staff and clients. Additional opportunities for staff are available through the firm's education program, Cardno University; the firm also has special groups including "Women in Cardno."
In 2013, Cardno achieved an improvement in its Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate and Total Recordable Injury Frequency Rate as a part of the Zero Harm program. The program responds to the changing needs of the business and clients, and provides managers and staff with resources to fulfill their roles and responsibilities with regard to safety.
The commitment to be socially responsible extends beyond the firm's growth and internal strategy. A large cultural aspect underpinning Cardno's success is the firm's unwavering commitment to improve both the physical and social environment. Be it by sporting moustaches for the month of November (to support Movember, a charity for men's health) or a design project in Maputo, Mozambique, the firm puts forth a good deal of effort to support outside causes that benefit society.
In Maputo, Cardno is establishing a new city development vision to leverage rich historic and historical assets, and raise the livability and economic vitality of the 2.5 million-person city. Cardno is also responding to violence against women in the Porgera Valley (Olgeta Meri Igat Raits) of Papau New Guinea. The firm deployed a team of project officers and legal expertise experienced in dealing with gender-based violence and human rights.
Despite its large size – 8,000 people in 290 offices in 85 countries – Cardno has a remarkably close-knit culture, emphasizing that everyone "owns" the outcomes of the whole company. Gardiner said the company always tries to include and not alienate people, provide a great work environment, and create excitement through growth opportunities. Above all else, Gardiner said that people at Cardno understand "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
The 100 fastest-growing architecture, engineering, planning, and environmental consulting firms in the United States and Canada.
More information about The Zweig Letter Hot Firm List is available at www.zweigwhite.com/awards/the-zweig-letter-hot-firm-list/index.php