It’s a Wacky Business

Mar 15, 1999

While I have been and continue to be bullish on the A/E/P and environmental consulting business, I must say that we see some wacky things out there when it comes to how firms manage and how some of their people do things. Here are a few good examples (all are true): A founder of an internationally known architectural firm showed his disapproval of a concept model that had been put together for a client by smashing it with a hammer! The executive vice president of a mid-sized engineering firm threw a pair of scissors at another principal who said something he disagreed with! The president of a firm, when questioned about changing his position for the umpteenth time on whether or not the firm should operate a national network of offices, screamed, “If I get up today and say we’re going to run east, then we’ll run east. And if I get up tomorrow and say we’re going to run west, we’ll run west. Are you with me or not?” The president of an environmental consulting firm, frustrated over problems with arranging a telephone conference call among their office managers, ripped the conference room phone cord out of the wall. Then he took the phone off the table and dropped it in the trashcan, saying to those in the room, “They’ll just have to hear about this later.” The founder of a famous lighting design firm went through a period where all (and I mean all) correspondence sent out of the firm had to be reviewed by him for grammar and typos! One of the founders of a large engineering and surveying firm would insist that survey crews work well into the night using flashlights, then drive hundreds of miles to the next job site the same evening. When they got to the new location, they would have to search for a boarding house or sleep in their car or truck, because he was too cheap to buy a motel room! An internationally known architect would call Central Casting for bodies to put at unoccupied drafting boards when clients were going to visit so they appeared to have more staff than they actually had! A large, international engineering firm allowed employees to buy and sell company stock any time they wanted! As a result, employees cashed in more than $4 million in stock one year, then started buying it back after the price went down the next year! An outside CEO for a captively owned firm pitched a fit about giving away free coffee to all employees, then went to lunch daily at the most expensive restaurants in town on the company’s nickel! One of two partners in a successful planning firm went months without sending out any bills because he was “too busy.” At the going-away party for an employee who was changing to another company, the human resources director for a mid-sized environmental firm lit the fellow’s last paycheck on fire while holding it out to him! The newly hired human resources director’s first job at a 200-person, multi-discipline firm was to write his own offer letter and then accept it! The partners of an internationally known design firm snuck bizarre sexual toys into the briefcases of other partners just before they left on a business trip to embarrass them at airports or in front of clients! The marketing director for a large, international engineering firm took naps on the fire escape outside his office window! The branch office manager of a Midwestern engineering and environmental firm, known for his hearty appetite, would go into a restaurant and order an entire menu page! There are many more stories, but they aren’t fit to print! It is, indeed, a wacky business. Fun, rewarding, challenging— but wacky! Originally published 3/15/1999

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.