Conference call: Mary Josenhans

Jul 10, 2017

President of WestLAND Group, Inc. (Best Firm #41 Multi-discipline and Hot Firm #45 for 2017), a full-service civil engineering and land surveying firm based in Ontario, California.

By Liisa Andreassen Correspondent

“It’s important to identify and develop future company leaders so that they’re able to gradually assume greater levels of responsibility,” Josenhans says.


The Zweig Letter: What’s your philosophy on fee/billing and accounts receivable? How do you collect fees from a difficult client?

Mary Josenhans: We typically bill clients on a monthly basis. Invoices are delivered via email to avoid potential mail delays. We always confirm the preferred email address for each customer which usually means directing the email to accounts payable with a copy to the approving project manager. We will extend credit (e.g., net 30 days) depending on the specific requirements of each customer. If there are none, we ask for “payment due upon receipt.” Customers also have an option to pay using electronic funds transfer, which deposits directly to our bank account. EFT enables more timely and reliable payment of invoices. We also analyze a customer’s general credit-worthiness prior to performing work to minimize the risk of under-collection and/or payment default. We also track aging receivables on a weekly basis, and follow-up on any accounts that are past due. We email and attempt to engage more difficult customers via phone, particularly those who are routinely lax in paying on time. We keep a log of emails and/or conversations with customers. We’re willing to provide limited credit to key customers. Our goal is to preserve good customer relationships. If all else fails, we’ll consider turning over severely delinquent accounts to a collection agency.

TZL: What’s the recipe for creating an effective board?

MJ: Board members need to fully understand and actively engage in virtually all aspects of operations plus provide strategic overview and guidance. Board members need to work as a group on roles, mission, succession planning, acquisitions, and capital allocation. Board members must be willing to take appropriate risks, make tough decisions, or play proactive operational roles. Traits of a strong board include:

  • Diversity of backgrounds, expertise, and experience
  • Alignment and agreement on company strategy
  • Clarity on roles and responsibilities
  • Excellent communication skills and ability to work effectively together as a team
  • Decisiveness
  • Appropriate board composition in order to attract the best and the brightest

TZL: Is there a secret to effective ownership transition?

MJ: It depends a lot on individual circumstances such as the goals and needs of the current owners. For instance, owners seeking a quick exit will likely want to pursue a buyer who offers them a decent amount of cash and the ability to conclude the transaction quickly. Owners who have the luxury of time and who care deeply about the business will try to find strategic buyers with similar values, respect the existing employees, and have unique skills/energy to grow the business. Such owners might also be willing to provide more flexible terms on the purchase of the business in order to further entice the right set of buyers. Owners and buyers must be able to communicate clearly and be patient as parties work through terms and conditions of the contract.

TZL: How do you go about winning work?

MJ: We have a reputation of competitive rates, professional engineering deliverables, and quality customer service. This has led to customer loyalty and repeat business. We’ve recently begun the process of developing strategic partnerships with other companies to help expand our customer base, core capabilities, and new business opportunities. We also routinely solicit feedback from existing customers about quality and timeliness of deliverables and customer communication skills. Continuous improvement is critical towards maintaining a healthy, growing company.

TZL: What is the greatest problem to overcome in the proposal process?

MJ: There are a few:

  • Complying with the specific requirements embedded in the RFP
  • Figuring out what to offer and at what price
  • Effectively articulating the unique value that the company brings to the table

TZL: Once you’ve won a contract, what are the marching orders for your PMs?

MJ: Assemble a team that can deliver according to customer specifications and standards in a timely manner.

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

MJ: Success rate is driven primarily by reputation and reputation is driven by consistently delivering on quality, schedule, and price. We are ramping up our marketing efforts in the form of developing existing and new relationships, identifying and pursuing new key clients and business sectors, and expanding services and resources via strategic partnerships.

TZL: What has your firm done recently to upgrade its IT system?

MJ: We continuously invest in leading-edge technology, from the field to the office, to improve productivity and increase accuracy for various engineering products and services. Technological excellence stems from investment in advanced systems and continuous training on how to use these tools effectively and efficiently. Clients benefit from more flexible, reliable, and cost competitive engineering, surveying, and mapping services.

Recently, we developed a robust project database/portal for interactive use by the company and customers to help better track the status of projects and improve communications with customers. The company has also standardized the use of Microsoft Office products across all personal computing applications. We’ve procured significant computing resources needed to support our ever expanding use of stationary and UAV data scanners. Finally, we continue to upgrade to the latest CAD software packages including Microstation, AutoCAD, and AVEVA platforms.

TZL: What is the best way to recruit and retain top talent in a tight labor market?

MJ: We recognize that highly-skilled personnel are critical to project success and client satisfaction. As such, we continuously recruit top engineering talent from the industry and local universities, especially Cal-Poly Pomona. We encourage ongoing training and employee development, provide career development options, and instill growing levels of responsibility and accountability for delivering leading edge solutions and quality work products. This long-term commitment to developing excellent engineers and surveyors has enhanced the company’s depth of talent and lowered employee retention to levels which are unmatched within the industry.

TZL: What is the key benefit that you give to your employees?

MJ: We offer an opportunity for challenging work and professional growth along with a generous compensation package relative to industry standards in Southern California. Employees receive a competitive base salary and managers have an opportunity for quarterly bonuses. We also provides employees with an industry-leading benefit package (e.g., 401(k) with a matching element, health, vacation, sick, etc.) and flexible working schedule.

TZL: How do you raise capital?

MJ: From company lending partners/banks and/or the owners.

TZL: What is your preferred strategy for growth, M&A or organic?

MJ: The company has always grown organically. Growth in the past has always been accomplished by:

  • Developing and maintaining a solid reputation for providing quality professional services at competitive rates.
  • Seeking out new customer and business opportunities using existing personnel. Our latest strategy is development of strategic partnerships to increase exposure to new business opportunities.

TZL: What is the greatest challenge presented by growth?

MJ: Growing requires the need to continuously hire new engineers and professional staff which can be challenging in a tight labor market. Other challenges for a growing company like us is to consistently maintain quality standards across all work products, meet customer expectations, and ensure solid communications with customer project managers. New organization adjustments are also needed to manage a growing workforce. It’s important to identify and develop future company leaders so that they’re able to gradually assume greater levels of responsibility.

TZL: What is the role of entrepreneurship in your firm?

MJ: In the industry, we’re viewed as an aggressive, professional services company with a culture that champions entrepreneurial behavior including:

  • Continuous process improvement
  • Team approach to problem solving
  • Progressive delegation of responsibility for individual development
  • Continuous recruitment and retention of key employees
  • Strong leadership across all management levels
  • Adoption of the latest technologies and tools
  • Opportunity to increase the company’s bottom line and be rewarded financially

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

MJ: We have tremendous growth potential. Revenue is expected to grow by an average of 15 to 20 percent per year between 2017 and 2021. We also plan to expand on existing business (e.g., energy and land development) and to pursue new markets such as water, transportation, and education.

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.