Outperforming their peers

December 2013 » Exclusive
The Zweig Letter Hot Firm List recognizes North America's fast-growing AEP and environmental consulting firms.
Bob Drake

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."

Table 1

The 100 fastest-growing architecture, engineering, planning, and environmental consulting firms in the United States and Canada.

  1. Cardno, Portland, Ore.
  2. Surveying And Mapping, Inc. (SAM, Inc.), Austin, Texas
  3. SfL+a Architects, Raleigh, N.C.
  4. O'Neal, Inc., Greenville, S.C.
  5. Humphreys & Partners Architects, L.P., Dallas
  6. WSP Genivar, Montreal, Quebec
  7. Watermark, Lowell, Mass.
  8. Hunt, Guillot & Associates, LLC, Ruston, La.
  9. Hargrove Engineers + Constructors, Mobile, Ala.
  10. Harrison French & Associates, Ltd., Bentonville, Ark.
  11. EN Engineering, LLC, Warrenville, Ill.
  12. Buckland & Taylor, North Vancouver, B.C.
  13. Braun Intertec, Minneapoli
  14. Pond & Company, Norcross, Ga.
  15. Anderson Engineering Co. Inc., Salt Lake City
  16. Core States Group, Ambler, Pa.
  17. HBA/Hirsch Bedner Associates, Santa Monica, Calif.
  18. SEPI Engineering & Construction, Raleigh, N.C.
  19. GATE, Inc., Houston
  20. Gateway Engineers, Pittsburgh
  21. Apex Companies, LLC, Rockville, Md.
  22. JLG Architects, Grand Forks, N.D.
  23. EHS Support LLC, Pittsburgh
  24. I&S Group, Inc., Mankato, Minn.
  25. Ware Malcomb, Irvine, Calif.
  26. Klohn Crippen Berger Ltd., Vancouver, B.C.
  27. Array Architects, King of Prussia, Pa.
  28. Landpoint, Inc., Bossier City, La.
  29. KSQ Architects, Tulsa, Okla.
  30. Testengeer Inc., Port Lavaca, Texas
  31. A. Morton Thomas and Associates, Inc., Rockville, Md.
  32. exp Global Inc., Montreal, Quebec
  33. Hatch Mott MacDonald, Millburn, N.J.
  34. M&S Engineering, Spring Branch, Texas
  35. BSI Engineering, Inc., Cincinnati
  36. Matrix Technologies, Inc., Maumee, Ohio
  37. Thrasher Engineering, Inc., Clarksburg, W.V.
  38. FRCH Design Worldwide, Cincinnati
  39. Trihydro Corporation, Laramie, Wyo.
  40. Maser Consulting P.A., Red Bank, N.J.
  41. Ehlert/Bryan, Inc., McLean, Va.
  42. Haynes Whaley Associates, Houston
  43. Pennoni Associates, Philadelphia
  44. T.Y. Lin International, San Francisco
  45. LHB, Inc., Duluth, Minn.
  46. JBA Consulting Engineers, Metairie, La.
  47. Hart Crowser, Inc., Seattle
  48. Integral Consulting Inc., Seattle
  49. Great Ecology, La Jolla, Calif.
  50. BrightFields, Inc., Wilmington, Del.
  51. LAI Engineering, Marietta, Ga.
  52. Sanderson Stewart, Billings, Mont.
  53. GEI Consultants, Inc., Woburn, Mass.
  54. MacKay Sposito, Vancouver, Wash.
  55. Bartlett & West, Inc., Topeka, Kan.
  56. HDR, Omaha, Neb.
  57. ACAI Associates, Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
  58. Advantage Engineers, LLC, Mechanicsburg, Pa.
  59. Hnedak Bobo Group, Inc., Memphis, Tenn.
  60. ECS, Chantilly, Va.
  61. Moye Consulting, Irving, Texas
  62. Process Plus, LLC, Cincinnati
  63. WRK Engineers, Vancouver, Wash.
  64. TerraTherm, Inc., Gardner, Mass.
  65. Tectonic Engineering & Surveying Consultants, Long Island City, N.Y.
  66. Slater Hanifan Group, Las Vegas
  67. Hammontree & Associates, Ltd., North Canton, Ohio
  68. Viridian, Little Rock, Ark.
  69. Environmental Management & Planning Solutions, Boulder, Colo.
  70. Sam Schwartz Engineering, New York
  71. Bowers + Kubota Consulting, Inc., Waipahu, Hawaii
  72. Bolton & Menk, Inc., Mankato, Minn.
  73. Mead & Hunt, Inc., Madison, Wis.
  74. Cobb Engineering Company, Oklahoma City
  75. SWCA Environmental Consultants, Phoenix
  76. Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, Waltham, Mass.
  77. Hill International, Inc., Marlton, N.J.
  78. Marstel-Day, LLC, Fredericksburg, Va.
  79. Chambers Group, Inc., Santa Ana, Calif.
  80. Crafton Tull, Rogers, Ark.
  81. Garver, North Little Rock, Ark.
  82. BL Companies, Inc., Meriden, Conn.
  83. Michaels Energy, La Crosse, Wis.
  84. The Cadmus Group, Waltham, Mass.
  85. HR Green, Inc., Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  86. Miyamoto International, West Sacramento, Calif.
  87. Hall & Foreman, Inc., Tustin, Calif.
  88. CRB, Kansas City, Mo.
  89. Wight & Company, Darien, Ill.
  90. MMM Group Ltd., Thornhill, Ontario
  91. Hoefer Wysocki Architecture, Leawood, Kan.
  92. Hanson Professional Services Inc., Springfield, Ill.
  93. Hillmann Consulting, LLC, Union, N.J.
  94. Shea, Inc., Minneapolis
  95. Larson Design Group, Williamsport, Pa.
  96. Integrated Design Group, Boston
  97. Sullivan International Group, Inc., San Diego
  98. Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (VHB), Watertown, Mass.
  99. Butler, Fairman and Seufert, Inc., Indianapolis
  100. LJA Engineering, Inc., Houston

Success secrets
In a series of articles in The Zweig Letter, some Hot Firm leaders shared with correspondent Liisa Sullivan what they consider the reasons for their growth and success. Following is a summary of some of the comments:

  • Pierre Shoiry, president and CEO, WSP Genivar: "We aim to provide a supportive work environment where we encourage each other to become the best at what we do locally and globally, focus on excellent knowledge sharing across our company, and continue to invest in our people through training and development."
  • Mac Farr, Savannah operations leader, Hargrove Engineers + Constructors: "We provide opportunities for teammates to realize their career goals and to create a team atmosphere that recognizes their hard work. One of the key statements we use is, 'What we build best are relationships.' That not only applies to our clients, some of which have been around since Hargrove was founded, but with our teammates."
  • Jason Jesso, COO, Gateway Engineers, Inc.: "We attribute our success to adhering to project management fundamentals, the diversification of our market segments, and the emphasis we put on continual improvement throughout the company. We believe the passion of our employees, coupled with our proven systems, tools, and processes keep us moving forward in a direction that helps us to achieve our goals."
  • Jon Carlson, CEO, Braun Intertec: "This accomplishment reflects the dedication of our employees and their commitment to meeting the needs of our clients. We believe in the power of relationship excellence with our clients, and we are grateful to have achieved this growth, which allows us to better serve them."
  • Jorge Garduno, engineering manager, GATE, Inc.: "We believe that our unique GATE culture, coupled with a management team that is focused on delivering quality products and internal professional development to all seasoned and young staff members, most definitely makes us a Hot Firm."
  • Pam Gower, director of human resources, Pond & Company: "It's our people who set us apart from the competition. We seek new employees who will contribute to the growth while exhibiting the same excellent character our customers and co-workers have grown to rely upon. In return, collaboratively, we provide services, tools and solutions for our employees that will not only help them excel as individuals, but that will help them provide for their personal objectives outside their profession."
  • Chad Surprenant, president and CEO, I&S Group, Inc.: New technologies have helped I&S serve its clients better and maintain open communication between offices.
  • Ruth Brajevich, CMO, Ware Malcomb: Entrepreneurial leadership, long-term growth objectives, sound business practices, and extraordinary team have all contributed to its success. Its geographic, client, and product diversity have also helped sustain them through swings in the economy.
  • Carl Davis, CEO, Array Architects: "There is so much that a combination of bright people, appropriate technology, and lean processes can achieve. We strive to leverage all three in an effort to maximize the value we bring to our clients and their projects."
  • H. Wood "Woody," president, Thrasher Engineering, Inc.: Seek new opportunities on a daily basis and never settle for status quo.

More information about The Zweig Letter Hot Firm List is available at www.zweigwhite.com/awards/the-zweig-letter-hot-firm-list/index.php

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