Hot Firm 2002

Oct 28, 2002

We just ended our most successful Zweig Letter Hot Firm conference ever. It was successful from three points of view— attendance numbers, attendance quality, and speaker quality. I won’t bore you with the numbers but it was the biggest group we’ve had yet. We had a great attendee list, too, with most of the Hot Firms represented by their CEOs and in some cases, other principals and CFOs. The energy and optimism level was great—these people were not sitting around griping about their professional liability insurance rates going up or who was charging less than their firm for the same services and driving prices down. Here are a few tidbits that I got out of the program: Tony Francsechini, CEO of the top-ranked Zweig Letter Hot Firm for 2002, Stantec, gave an inspiring talk that made parallels between running a successful firm and running an automobile race (any guy who says if he was in a different job he’d like to own Ferrari can’t be all bad!). What I liked best about Tony’s presentation was that Stantec clearly has a strategy they are following to grow. That’s based on fostering teamwork, serving underserved markets, and separating themselves in the public market from construction companies and environmental firms. They also have a very straightforward vision— to be a top-10 global design firm by 2008. People can understand that kind of vision. It wasn’t hard to see why Stantec has been successful. George Gendron (just retired after a 20-year run as editor of Inc magazine) talked about some of the characteristics of growing companies that keep them growing. The Q&A afterward was equally enlightening as Gendron shared some data that may have surprised some of the audience, including the fact that companies that grow rapidly during their first 10 years have a much lower failure rate in the years that follow than slower growth firms. He also said that Inc determined growing companies had higher customer satisfaction, not lower, and I think many people expected to hear the opposite (growth is commonly thought to reduce quality). And finally, he confirmed our data that growing companies are more profitable than those that aren’t. Joseph Badaracco, a Harvard Business School professor and expert on business ethics kept the crowd charged with his stories of common ethical quandaries people in our business often face…what he calls “right versus right” decisions. He told us that we are smart enough to answer “right versus wrong” decisions but the real quandaries are “right versus right” decisions where either could be considered a good or bad decision. He then gave a simple four question framework that one could use to make a decision when faced with these kinds of choices. Dan McNichol gave what has to be the highest energy presentation on a project that I have ever seen. The author of the best-selling book “The Big Dig,” McNichol gave a slide show at the awards dinner Thursday night of the conference that was masterful. He gave us the whole evolution of the project and showed that despite its critics, the job has really pushed the bounds of engineering farther than any project of its type so far. I think many of us agreed that if we had McNichol making our presentations we could sell one heck of a lot of design work! There were many more excellent speakers at this event that I don’t have time to get into. More details are in the rest of this issue of The Zweig Letter. But the point is, there’s something to be learned from the successes of firms that are beating the odds and continuing to grow year after year. Not everyone has the same formula, for sure, but they all do have a formula that they are following and one that works for them. Originally published 10/28/2002.

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.