Conference call: Mark Smolinski

May 14, 2018

Principal at G2 Consulting (Hot Firm #67 for 2016), a 75-person geotechnical, geo-environmental, and construction engineering firm based in Troy, Michigan.

By Liisa Andreassen Correspondent

As long as the clients are pleased and the revenues and profits are good, we don’t watch the clock of our staff,” Smolinski says.


The Zweig Letter: 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?

Mark Smolinski: First and foremost is the firm’s culture. G2 provides opportunity for key people to pursue the projects they wish to work on and provides them the people and tools needed to succeed. Additionally, a great benefits package, strong bonus system, and potential for ownership are important pieces for retention.

TZL: As you look for talent, what position do you most need to fill in the coming year and why?

MS: In Michigan during the Great Recession, many talented young engineers either left the region or the industry. As a result, we’re seeking geotechnical engineers with five to 10 years’ experience.

TZL: While plenty of firms have an ownership transition plan in place, many do not. What’s your advice for firms that have not taken steps to identify and empower the next generation of owners?

MS: Ownership transition is a long process that requires planning over a period extending up to a decade. Start early and engage the firm’s future leaders.

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

MS: Millennials are hard workers and desire to learn and collaborate. G2 has initiated a recognition program that allows all employees to reward staff that act and contribute in sync with the firm’s core values. Rewards are as simple as coffee with the boss to donations to our favorite charities.

TZL: Zweig Group research shows there has been a shift in business development strategies. More and more, technical staff, not marketing staff, are responsible for BD. What’s the BD formula in your firm?

MS: Each year our project managers develop a business plan with approximately three specific goals. Many goals are geared toward business development and client maintenance. They work closely with our marketing staff to affirm those goals and make sure they have the appropriate tools to succeed.

TZL: Diversifying the portfolio is never a bad thing. What are the most recent steps you’ve taken to broaden your revenue streams?

MS: G2 has initiated new areas of expertise that we believe provides us with opportunities to generate additional revenue with existing clients and also give us entry to new market sectors. One example is using drone technology in a variety of applications. From initial site investigations to maintenance inspections, the potential is endless.

TZL: The list of responsibilities for project managers is seemingly endless. How do you keep your PMs from burning out? And if they crash, how do you get them back out on the road, so to speak?

MS: This is a good question. Our theme for this year is “Collaboration.” We believe working together more effectively with better communication is essential. Sharing and mentoring of staff are two pieces of the puzzle. Through mentoring and training we hope to develop a deeper bench for the firm. As for crashing, our aim is to prevent that from happening. Part of the firm’s culture has always been “family first.” As long as the clients are pleased and the revenues and profits are good, we don’t watch the clock of our staff. Many key people work from home when necessary.

TZL: In the next couple of years, what A/E segments will heat up, and which ones will cool down?

MS: In our geographic regions and our market sectors, we expect mixed-use, energy, and the research and design for autonomous vehicles to remain strong. Additionally, infrastructure will remain an ongoing concern.

TZL: With overhead rates declining over the last five years and utilization rates slowly climbing back up to pre-recession levels, how do you deal with time management policies for your project teams? Is it different for different client?

MS: G2’s philosophy will remain the same for all staff and clients – exceed the clients’ expectations and “family first.” It’s definitely a balancing act, but one we remain successful at implementing.

TZL: Measuring the effectiveness of marketing is difficult to do using hard metrics for ROI. How do you evaluate the success/failure of your firm’s marketing efforts when results could take months, or even years, to materialize? Do you track any metrics to guide your marketing plan?

MS: As with most firms, we track all of our social media metrics. I know our efforts are bearing fruit because of our significant growth and feedback from clients and competitors alike.

TZL: The last few years have been good for the A/E industry. Is there a downturn in the forecast, and if so, when and to what severity?

MS: There’s always the potential for a downturn, mostly due to factors over which we have no control. I don’t see any slowdown in the near future.

TZL: They say failure is a great teacher. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve had to learn the hard way?

MS: G2 has had several years of strong growth and with growth comes the addition of staff, many of whom lack significant experience. We have instituted several processes to address the issues such as training, mentoring, and better oversight.

TZL: While M&A is always an option, there’s something to be said about organic growth. What are your thoughts on why and how to grow a firm?

MS: Organic growth has been our primary method in gaining greater revenues. Relationships between our people and our clients are key. Finding the opportunities provided by the relationships and offering great solutions to their problems has been most effective. As our tag line intimates: Smart. Results. Fast.

TZL: Do you use historical performance data or metrics to establish project billable hours and how does the type of contract play into determining the project budget?

MS: G2 uses a proprietary database to develop work and budget scope for all proposals. That database allows us to feel comfortable submitting on projects, knowing we have something we can live with when we win the project.

TZL: What’s your prediction for 2018?

MS: We anticipate another strong year. This past January and February were our best months ever in terms of revenue and profits. The backlog for the rest of the year is looking great.

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.