Founder of Chrisland Engineering (Lebanon, PA), a small civil engineering firm which specializes in subdivisions, land development, and municipal engineering.
By Liisa Andreassen
When Weaber founded Chrisland Engineering, Inc. in 2017, it consisted of him and his bulldog, Goose, and was located in the upstairs offices of the family business, Miles T. Weaber & Son – a steel fabrication business. Three years later, his wife, Valarie came on board and today they have 15 employees, a new office location, and a commitment to serving the community at large. Goose still helps out with light office duties.
“I’ve pretty much done everything there is to do in this business, so I like to think I have a good amount of knowledge to share,” Weaber says. “I show people how to do things they may not be familiar with and then let them loose. People need to learn by doing and I’ll be here to support them every step of the way.”
A conversation with Josh Weaber.
The Zweig Letter: As a husband and wife co-owned firm, how do you divide the responsibilities? Who focuses on what and why?
Josh Weaber: Valarie has a degree in business administration and I have a civil engineering degree. She handles more of the day-to-day financial management of the firm along with PR and marketing. She’s active in the Rotary as well as the Chamber of Commerce. I focus more on employee and project management.
TZL: You launched the firm in 2017. Since then, what are you most proud of in terms of company accomplishments?
JW: I’m most happy with the slow and steady growth that the business has made over the past six years. I’m also very pleased with our ability to give back to our community.
TZL: In reference to your recent acquisition of Matthew & Hockley Associates – what was the main impetus behind that move? How did the transition go?
JW: We’ve worked with Matthew & Hockley Associates, a 75-year-old surveying firm, for several years now. We had sort of an unofficial partnership that developed over time. At the end of 2022, we acquired them and made it official. The greatest challenge has been merging the two cultures. We had different ways of doing things, different processes, etc. We’re sorting it all out and overall, the transition has gone well.
TZL: How has COVID-19 permanently impacted your firm’s policy on telecommuting?
JW: I’m not a big fan of telecommuting. During the initial COVID-19 shutdown, everyone worked from home for the first three months. It was not efficient. Our business needs that face-to-face time. Right now we have two people who have the option to work from home one day a week – a structural engineer and a surveyor. We don’t have a policy on telecommuting, because it just doesn’t work for us.
TZL: Have you had a particular mentor who has guided you – in school, in your career, or in general? Who were they and how did they help?
JW: I come from a long line of family members who have worked in the industry. Growing up, I watched my grandfather and father work together in the family business and I observed their two different management styles. My grandfather was more of a risk taker, while my father tended to lean toward the conservative side. I think I picked up a little from each one of them. Their business has been around for more than 100 years, so I think I have some pretty good role models. I’ve learned when to be conservative and when to take calculated risks. There’s a fine balance there when it comes to growing a business.
TZL: What role does your family play in your career? Are work and family separate, or is there overlap?
JW: This is a tough one. When my wife first came on board, we shared a 12-foot by 14-foot office. Today, we have our own, but there’s still overlap and I have to work on trying to balance that every day. I admit – it’s a challenge that I’m constantly aware of. Our two boys understand that there will be nights when we have to attend meetings or tend to other business obligations, but we really try to turn it off at home as much as we can. We’re about to take a family vacation because the boys will be off to college soon and we want to make the most of the time we currently have together.
TZL: What do you hope to professionally accomplish in the next five years? Where would you like to see Chrisland by then?
JW: For now, I’d like to stay around this size and really hone in on making us as efficient as possible. Perhaps somewhere between the next five and 10 years, we’ll make a move to add a second facility.
TZL: What type of leader do you consider yourself to be?
JW: I guess if you really want an honest answer, you should ask my wife. I really try to lead by example. I’ve pretty much done everything there is to do in this business, so I like to think I have a good amount of knowledge to share. I show people how to do things they may not be familiar with and then let them loose. People need to learn by doing and I’ll be here to support them every step of the way. I’m more of a passive leader, I guess. If someone needs help, I encourage them to ask.
TZL: What led you to focus specifically on churches and non-profits? What do you enjoy most about working with that niche?
JW: Valarie and I both grew up in this community and have raised our two – now high-school aged boys – here. We’ve always been entrenched in the community and have had the desire to give back to it. Churches and non-profits rely on outside funding and we felt this was a good way to help give back to those sectors. We give them reduced rates and put 10 percent of in-house billings back into the community in multiple ways. Over the last three years, we’ve given more than $100,000. For example, in our local school district, the sports teams needed shirts with student names. We provided those and also included our logo on them. We’ve also sponsored fundraisers for the local prison ministry and have done projects with our local dog rescue organization.
TZL: What benefits does your firm offer that your people get most excited about?
JW: Hands down it’s our four-day work week. We came out of the COVID-19 shutdown with the idea of doing this and we’ve never looked back. It helps to provide a better overall work-life balance. Employees can come in anytime from Monday through Thursday between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. – as long as they get their 40 hours in. And, if something comes up where an employee needs to take a half-day off during those days, they do not have to use PTO. They can make it up by coming in that Friday. It’s not something we encourage too much, but it’s an option if nothing else can be worked out. Our staff really appreciate this flexible work schedule.
TZL: In one word or phrase, what do you describe as your number one job responsibility?
JW: Communication – internally and externally. Internally, we try to meet as a firm at least twice a week to ensure everyone is moving together in the right direction. We make sure everyone has the resources needed to get their jobs done and add more resources when we need to. Externally, I work to maintain positive client communication. I stress that with staff as well. It’s easy to send a quick text or email to let a client know you haven’t forgotten about them. Even if a project is going slower than expected, just let them know. People are much happier when they know where things stand. You don’t want clients to have to chase you down. They’re more understanding when you’re open, honest, and communicate often.
TZL: A firm’s longevity is valuable. What are you doing to encourage your staff to stick around?
JW: I think our laid-back environment is attractive to many. We encourage people to dress casually because when you’re physically comfortable, you’re more comfortable working. We also ask them what’s important to them and what they like doing professionally. If there’s a niche that means something to them, we’ll try to figure out a way to work it into our projects and service areas. There are always opportunities to build on and we want our employees to know that they should feel free to make suggestions and bring new ideas to the table.