Conference call: Mike Kulka

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CEO and principal of PM Environmental, Inc. (Hot Firm #99 for 2016), a 145-person environmental and engineering services firm based in Lansing, Michigan.

By Liisa Andreassen
Correspondent

Recruiting due diligence is just as important as landing the next big client,” Kulka says.

A CONVERSATION WITH MIKE KULKA.

The Zweig Letter: What is the role of entrepreneurship in your firm?

Mike Kulka: We try to encourage our team members to take ownership of their work and its results. Entrepreneurship is a part of our culture and we try our best to maintain it by recognizing employees who really “own it” and challenging them to take a more active role in the company. PM team members have recommended new service lines and products based on their experience and predictions.

TZL: The talent war in the A/E industry is here. What steps do you take to create the leadership pipeline needed to retain your top people and not lose them to other firms?

MK: We have invested a tremendous amount in our LEAD (Learn Enhance Advance Develop) program with the goal of providing mentoring and a clear career path for our team – from entry level team members to senior managers. We also focus on our recruiting efforts and take the time to make sure a person is a good fit for the team and vice versa. Recruiting due diligence is just as important as landing the next big client.

TZL: In the event of failure, how does your firm react?

MK: We try to avoid failures through strategic planning, but they can be inevitable. For the worst case scenarios, we have developed quick action plans. However, in the event that there is a real or perceived breakdown in a process, we jump into solution mode, stop for a moment and understand the problem, and then find where the weak point was. In some cases, we may need to retool the process; that’s fine. We certainly don’t dwell on failure. We learn from it and move on.

TZL: Monthly happy hours and dog friendly offices. What do CEOs need to know about today’s workforce?

MK: There is more to having a successful team than just financial compensation. Positive business culture, career development opportunities, social events like BBQs, and flexible schedules are critical to getting the most out of your professionals.

TZL: The A/E market is great right now. What are you doing to cushion your firm in the event of a downturn?

MK: We are monitoring deal flow daily, diversifying our client base further, and focusing on sectors that are not as reliant on the economic cycles. We have a good number of steady, long-term federal, state, and municipal contracts that help in the event of a downturn.

TZL: How do you deal with underperforming employees? What are your steps for removal after they have proven to be ineffective, or even counterproductive, to your firm?

MK: Without going into great detail, we a have a method to identify underperformance and work hard to build the right “get well” plan to put the employee back on track. We also offer mobility within the company to give an employee opportunities in different departments or areas that may be more attractive to them, and where they can better serve our mission.

TZL: Firms that have principals and firm owners who lower their compensation and invest back into the firm perform better, grow quicker, and have higher valuations. How do you balance owner compensation with investment in the firm?

MK: We have a hybrid model and it works quite well.

TZL: How does marketing contribute to your success rate? Are you content with your marketing efforts, or do you think you should increase/decrease marketing?

MK: Marketing is critical to our success and we have a strong focus on brand awareness. Our marketing and business development teams allow us to maintain long-lasting and ever-present relationships with our clients. Marketing also helps educate and inform our prospects with relevant content in different formats to reach them. We are satisfied with our investment in marketing and plan on maintaining our current efforts.

TZL: If there was one program, course, or degree program that you could take or recommend before becoming a principal or owner, what would it be?

MK: Industry-specific principals’ academies are a great way to learn things they just didn’t teach us in our technical course work.

TZL: What’s the greatest challenge presented by growth?

MK: Finding talent. There’s also the challenge of growing quickly, as PM Environmental has, and creating processes and formalizing tasks that were second nature to a smaller team.

TZL: What’s your prediction for 2017 and for the next five years?

MK: I envision continued moderate growth with plans for a subtle dip.

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