Don’t Kid Yourself

Jan 13, 1997

I was thinking about what holds people back from being a success in this industry because I wanted to give you all some good advice to kick off the new year. Then it dawned on me what I needed to cover in this column. The truth is, there are people in our business— engineers, architects, and scientists alike— who will publicly espouse the idea that it’s not important to make money. It’s even more shocking that in some cases there are principals working in A/E/P and environmental firms who actually still believe there is something inherently wrong or evil about a company that operates at a profit or about paying themselves decently. I’d like to know what these people have been smoking. What planet are they from? Do they live in the same world as the rest of us? I don’t see it as much in the World War II or Korean War generations, but maybe some of us who came of age in the 60s and early 70s still carry around some of those crazy notions that we had back then— I don’t know. One thing I do know is that it takes lots of money to live decently today. And it doesn’t much matter where you live in the country, the story is pretty much the same all over. You want a nice home in a safe neighborhood with decent public schools? Get ready to pay. You want your kids to go to a college or university that will help them get a job when they graduate? Get ready to pay. You want cars that are safe to drive, reliable, and economical, for you and each of your family members? Get ready to pay. You want to leave the lights on to scare away the criminals and the heat up high enough so that you don’t catch a cold? Get ready to pay. You want to dress decently so your clients don’t think they are dealing with a loser? Get ready to pay. You want a home that’s furnished well enough that you can invite people over and not be embarrassed? Get ready to pay. You want to fund your retirement so you don’t end up in a trailer park? Get ready to pay. You want dental care for your kids so they don’t have crooked teeth or a mouth full of cavities? Get ready to pay. You want to be able to go out to eat at decent places occasionally? Get ready to pay. You want the decent wine, not the stuff in the cardboard cartons? Get ready to pay. You want the convenience of calling home from the car on your cellular phone to see if you need to stop at the store? Get ready to pay. You want good housecleaning help that does the job well enough so you don’t have to do it over? Get ready to pay. You want life and disability insurance such that your family won’t be left in the cold if something happens to you? Get ready to pay. Do you see where I’m coming from? It takes a lot of money to live in 1997, and that’s not going to change. If you are someone who thinks it’s not important to have a successful, well-managed firm that allows you to pay your employees and yourself decently, please, stop kidding yourself. The cold, cruel, materialistic world we live in today (and have lived in for the past 1,000 years) isn’t going to change. The strong will survive. Part of that strength you need is in the area of financial resources. Unless you’ve got a big inheritance coming, start viewing your company as the opportunity it represents. Because the fact is, the investment you make in your firm is probably going to be a good one. (72% of principals polled in ZWA’s 1996 Principal’s Survey of A/E/P & Environmental Consulting Firms said that they thought their investment in their company was better than an investment in a good mutual fund would have been over the previous five years! That’s a pretty telling statistic). I can’t imagine what it would be like if our industry (some of those who don’t want to make money hate it when I refer to us as an industry; they’d rather practice in one of the professions) were not predominated by firms owned and managed by people who work there. Even the publicly traded firms in our business tend to have a big chunk of their stock owned by employees either directly or through their profit sharing/401(k) accounts. I don’t think it (the A/E/P and environmental consulting business) would offer the satisfactions that we all have available to us, financial and otherwise, if we didn’t have something to gain and something at stake. But to make money and be a financial success, you can’t kid yourself. First you have to acknowledge and accept that making money is important. It won’t happen unless you want it to. My advice is to stop the excuses and rationalizations, and make it happen. Because it isn’t that hard if you just do what it takes. You all have my best wishes for success in 1997. Make your own luck, and make it happen! Originally published 1/13/1997

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.