Hot Firm Review

Nov 10, 2003

After a brief stop in Las Vegas for a quick family wedding, I just returned from The Zweig Letter Hot Firm 2003 Conference and Celebration in San Francisco. And let me tell you that while I could not go to every session, it was one of our best events EVER. Approximately 250 people— multi-year Hot Firm winners, first-year winners, and those who just wanted to learn from the winners— were there in attendance. And as our number one Hot Firm CEO, Dick Ellison of TRC Companies, Inc. (Windsor, CT), said in his brief award acceptance speech, the contrast between the optimism of this group of people and those who were at another industry event he attended a week earlier was noteworthy. The event started out with a bang when Norm Brodsky, Inc. Magazine columnist and Inc. 500 CEO, gave his talk on three keys to a better business and a better life. Brodsky told a bunch of old-time jokes related to his growing up in New York— the guy clearly could have had a second… or third… or fourth career as a Borscht Belt comic. But the best point made by Brodsky was that it’s not good enough to have a strategic plan for your company— you also need a strategic plan for your life. He cited one of his consulting charity cases involving a guy who thought his business needed to be ten times larger than it was to make a certain salary, get some more time off, and move to a better house. He showed the guy what he really needed to do was a lot less than that and that if he hit those business goals, his personal goals may have been jeopardized. The point made a lot of sense, and I heard many of the attendees refer back to it throughout the rest of the conference. Then we heard from industry “nice guy” Kevin McMahon, chairman and CEO of Edwards and Kelcey (Morristown, NJ). Kevin described the meteoric growth of Edwards and Kelcey fueled in large part by the telecom industry as well as the impact of that industry’s rapid decline on his firm. And while he didn’t shout at us like Norm did during his presentation (maybe it was just my no-caffeine-induced headache), something Kevin said really resonated with me. As quickly as Edwards and Kelcey was in dealing with their downturn in revenue (and they dealt with it quickly), he wished they had confronted it even faster. Dr. Tapan Munroe, our resident economist, gave his take on the world economy. The bottom line to his presentation was that the recovery is well under way and has been for a year or more, but an increase in interest rates could be devastating. He also sounded the alert that more and more jobs in architecture and engineering are moving overseas to places such as India, no doubt a hot topic that you will be hearing more from us at The Zweig Letter on shortly. I then had my chance to share 20 ideas for how to stay motivated. These ranged from getting a personal trainer to cleaning out your garage to calling on five clients you had never met before. I got a few laughs at what many thought were jokes… when in truth, I was completely serious about ALL 20 of my suggestions. Thursday night, we had a wonderful dinner and awards presentation in the beautiful ballroom of the Palace Hotel— one of the nicest old hotels in which I have ever stayed, in San Francisco or anywhere else, for that matter. A near crisis resulting from the bar being shut down during the awards presentation was fortunately averted by having the dinner wine poured earlier than originally scheduled. On Friday morning, Charlie Fleetham was our first speaker of the day. He had us write poems and attempt to tap into the hidden rainmaking power within all of us. I heard afterward from principals of several companies who swear by Fleetham’s training and claim that it really does make a difference in getting technical and design staff to be more effective as sellers. Then, my old friend, Bob Brustlin, president and CEO of Watertown, Massachusetts-based VHB/Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (Watertown, MA) walked us all through an exercise comparing what he calls the “open firm” to the opposite firm type— a “closed firm”— and got us to reconsider some of the assumptions that we might have about both firm types. The conclusion is that neither approach is inherently right or wrong but each has a predictable outcome when it comes to retaining your performers and bridging the gap between leadership generations. Our lunch speaker on Friday was the truly amazing and inspirational Bill Strickland, Jr., president and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation (Pittsburgh, PA). Strickland is a classic rags-to-success story… with his success built by teaching other inner-city kids art and pottery. He used that as a springboard to a providing a wide range of educational opportunities to adults and children from the inner city… in everything from building trades, to computer training, to cooking, to more. He opened his own recording studio, and they produced three Grammy-winning records after being nominated four times. His award-winning architectural masterpiece of a school is filled with original art. Strickland laid out his plans to use the spirit of entrepreneurism as a way to take back our cities from crime, drugs, and poverty. My only regret with Bill Strickland is that we didn’t place him earlier in the program. He is a dynamo! There were also a lot of great breakout sessions that we don’t have room to talk about! All told, it was an exciting affair that I am proud to be a part of. Next year’s conference will be in Boston on October 27-29, 2004. We’ll have an all-new program of thought-provoking and entertaining speakers. The conference is open to Hot Firm winners and non-winners alike, so I hope to see all of you here next year! Originally published 11/10/2003

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.