Giving back: Bob Mora

Jul 27, 2020

Owner and managing partner at Batture, LLC (New Orleans, LA), a firm dedicated to delivering outstanding results while creating powerful social and environmental change.

By Liisa Andreassen Correspondent

Batture is dedicated to the idea that a highly-inspired team can deliver outstanding results while also creating powerful social and environmental change. Mora leads the charge with his partner, Jennifer Snape. Mora talks about how making a positive impact on the industry and being of service to others are top of mind.

“It’s very humbling to gain perspective on how much we take running water and infrastructure for granted,” Mora says. “I often wonder how our industry would be different if part of the requirement for professional licensure was working on a pro bono project helping a community in need.”

A conversation with Bob Mora.

The Zweig Letter: I see that you are an active member of Engineers Without Borders. Can you tell me a bit about your experience there? How do you go about helping engineers to identify pro bono opportunities locally and around the globe?

Bob Mora: I became involved with the New Orleans EWB chapter in 2011 and have been part of project teams in Guatemala and New Orleans. I’ve served in various official positions, but I view my role as recruiting new members, getting them involved, and identifying new project opportunities for the group. It’s really exciting to see people get on board with the idea of engineering being in service of others. I think if more engineers took steps to cultivate a mindset of service it would have a positive impact on our industry.

TZL: How has COVID-19 impacted your firm’s policy on telecommuting/working remotely?

BM: We went from remote work being optional for 90 percent of our firm (with people working remotely to varying degrees) to remote work being required for 100 percent of our firm. Our company’s infrastructure is set up for remote working, but there was still a learning curve for us. The 25 percent of our staff who have always worked remotely were awesome during this time. They had no lag in production and carried us in the beginning. Everyone else has adapted quickly, and the conversation is now centered around how to safely start working at the office again while still allowing people the flexibility to work remotely.

TZL: How much time do you spend working “in the business” rather than “on the business?”

BM: I’m roughly 60 percent in the business, 40 percent on the business.

TZL: What type of leader do you consider yourself to be?

BM: An authentic leader. I try to be honest and direct with our employees.

TZL: What, if anything, are you doing to protect your firm from a potential economic slowdown in the future?

BM: We don’t take the current market for granted. We look for opportunities to work in varied markets and with a variety of different clients. We hire people who are natural learners so we can easily capitalize on new opportunities.

TZL: Are you using the R&D tax credit? If so, how is it working for your firm? If not, why not?

BM: Yes. It is working really well for our firm.

TZL: Giving back to the community seems to be at the heart of the Batture mission. Can you tell me about a particular project that you were/are especially proud to be a part of? Why?

BM: It’s really hard to pick just one project, but working on projects in Guatemala has been especially gratifying for me. A number of our employees have provided support on these projects and three of us have had the opportunity to travel to Guatemala at different times. It’s very humbling to gain perspective on how much we take running water and infrastructure for granted. I often wonder how our industry would be different if part of the requirement for professional licensure was working on a pro bono project helping a community in need.

TZL: It is often said that people leave managers, not companies. What are you doing to ensure that your line leadership are great people managers?

BM: We work with a consultant who is assisting in these efforts. He works directly with our project managers, employees, and ownership to improve communication and leadership within our firm.

TZL: What measures are you taking to protect your employees during the COVID-19 crisis?

BM: Primarily, we’re requiring staff to work remotely. The office is closed. We are grateful to have work and clients right now. Our work is minimally impacted by remote employees, and we feel obligated to work remotely as a small thing we can do to help our community. We are currently looking into a product that would be installed in our A/C system which purifies the air and sanitizes hard surfaces in the building. This is the same system installed in hospitals. We want to have a solid plan in place and upgrades complete to our office, so employees can return with a feeling of safety.

TZL: How are you balancing investment in the next generation – which is at an all-time high – with rewards for tenured staff?

BM: This has always been a challenge, but seems heightened as investments in development have increased. Every company decision we make is about future generations. We don’t believe in the concept of tenured staff. We greatly appreciate employees who decide to stay at Batture, but if an employee is done learning then they aren’t a cultural fit anymore. Every employee needs to have desire to improve whether they are a young engineer learning how to design or an experienced engineer learning how to better mentor and teach young engineers.

TZL: Is change management a topic regularly addressed by the leadership at your firm? If so, elaborate.

BM: Yes. We often discuss how our company is changing and how it needs to change as we grow. A three-person firm is vastly different than a 16-person firm. Our goal is to be transparent on how we see the business evolving and keep an open dialogue within the company. We often remind employees that we are novice business owners and ask for their patience with us and ask them for feedback and ideas on how to improve.

TZL: How has COVID-19 affected your business on a daily basis?

BM: We have gotten so much better at communication and not interrupting each other throughout the day. I still call people out of the blue more than anyone (and they answer because I’m an owner), but most of us are sending a message first to see if the other person is available. We are developing the habit of setting our status in Slack (in a meeting, walking the dog, do not disturb, etc.) and checking people’s status before messaging them. We are spending more time on video chats and phone calls. There are lots of virtual screen shares within our company and with clients to walk through our design process.

TZL: What unique or innovative pricing strategies have you developed, or are you developing, to combat the commoditization of engineering services?

BM: For private developments, we offer land surveying, landscape architecture, civil engineering and structural engineering. While we do make exceptions, we try our best to offer all those services or none of the services to a client. The idea is that we can offer the services at lower fees when we do everything because our risk is spread thinner. There is a cost savings for the client and time savings on coordination meetings between disciplines. By offering the services together it also limits the client’s ability to shop for other prices. Most importantly, this scenario allows our employees to work together and to achieve more than they can individually.

TZL: Batture has two owners and managing partners. How do you and Jennifer divide your duties? How did you come together to create Batture?

BM: When the firm was smaller, we both literally did everything, but as our company has grown our roles are starting to refine. My current role is CFO/HR and Jenny’s is CEO. We’re both involved in marketing and business development and are hands-on with developing employees and working on projects.

I opened Batture in 2014 with the goal of bringing in a business partner pretty quickly. Jenny and I originally met through EWB and got acquainted working on projects while employed at different firms in New Orleans. Around the same time, Waggonner Ball (a local architecture and planning firm) started the “Living with Water” movement in New Orleans with the publication of the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan. Jenny and I were constantly crossing paths as two engineers who were passionate about water management and the ideas presented in the urban water plan. In 2016, Jenny wanted to open a firm and we both had the same idea of teaming up as partners.

As trivial as it sounds, a big reason for us partnering was so we could each take vacations while the other one took care of the business. We shared the same vision for what an engineering firm could be and the same desire to build a New Orleans firm specializing in water management. Jenny is one of the best engineers I know. We get along really well as friends, and we have a high level of trust between us.

TZL: In one word or phrase, what do you describe as your number one job responsibility as CEO?

BM: Listening.

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