Leading by example: Manik Arora

Sep 13, 2020

President and CEO Arora Engineers, Inc. (Chadds Ford, PA), a firm that meets the evolving needs of its clients through more intelligent, sustainable, infrastructure solutions.

By Liisa Andreassen Correspondent

Arora is the chief visionary and leader at Arora Engineers. He loves to be challenged and has a strong penchant for winning. As president and CEO, his most important responsibility is to Arora’s clients, ensuring their needs are met and exceeded. Within the firm, he promotes the company’s values of innovation, collaboration, and hyper-responsiveness to its 200+ professionals, nationwide. On a personal note, Arora is a motorcyclist and when the weather is nice, you can find him de-stressing by riding back roads.

“Communication is vital to productivity,” Arora says. “I’ve always believed that it’s not about correcting someone, it’s about connecting with someone. If you do not connect, they may not be there for you when you need them. I also make it a point to personally visit people, sit in their offices, and have discussions about what’s going on.”

A conversation with Manik Arora.

The Zweig Letter: You started your career as in intern with the city of Philadelphia’s Division of Aviation. Is there anything you learned there that you still carry with you today?

Manik Arora: As an intern, I learned that the practicality of what happens in the field can be very different from what we perceive when we’re in an office environment. The chief engineer at the time taught me about the importance of quality and proper communication to ensure a well-executed project. I’ve carried that with me, always considering, “How do we ensure we provide the quality needed for a project?” I also learned that understanding the construction in the field has its own way of making you a better designer. Once you understand that what happens in the field is much more complex, you can bridge the gaps to design. I also learned that I was passionate about aviation.

TZL: How far into the future are you able to reliably predict your workload and cashflow?

MA: The good news is that from a workload standpoint and from revenue projections, we can actually see out to mid-year 2021. With regards to cashflow, we look at our accounts receivable daily, but with a cashflow analysis we can see out to nine months.

TZL: What role does your family play in your career? Are work and family separate, or is there overlap?

MA: My parents have played a big role in my career. I grew up in the business and have worked with them for about 28 years. Even though they are retired, they still play a role and come into the office to work. I learned how to work hard for them and how to be genuine and sincere in our work.

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

MA: I walk the walk and work as a change agent. I believe my role is not only to administer the entire firm and to set us up for success, but it’s my job to lead by example.

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

MA: We have set up our firm and diversified ourselves into five lines of business: Planning and design, program and construction management, facilities management, information technology, and asset management. This allows us to not only deliver a wide range of services to clients, but provides us with different sources of income to take us through any turbulent times to come.

TZL: The firm was founded in 1986. What’s been the most challenging evolution to take place at Arora? How did you meet it?

MA: My father, Manohar (Mike) Arora founded the company shortly after immigrating to the United States. His first office was in our family’s basement with my mother, Adarsh, who handled the accounting and human resources. Originally, Arora only provided electrical engineering services, however additional services were added quickly as they grew. Those services included: mechanical, plumbing, fire alarm and suppression and security/special systems engineering. The most challenging evolution, we’ve encountered was migrating from a family firm to a corporation of about 230+ employees. While we are still a wholly-owned firm, it has been a challenge to make sure that our growing number of employees fully understand our culture, core values, and business philosophies. As a team, we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the communication of these aspects through the use of DISC assessments and properly recruiting and managing the firm. We believe it’s very important that everyone has the same understanding and focus on our brand, why we do what we do, and making sure that that message is consistent.

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?

MA: To ensure the success of our leadership staff, our managers meet quarterly to assess financial impacts, employee engagement, and the breadth of production across all our offices. Also, we have established a Leadership and Talent Development group that focuses on the growth of communication across our firm, making use of DISC assessments and communication exercises that help us work more efficiently within our teams and across teams.

TZL: How often do you valuate your firm and what key metrics do you use in the process? Do you valuate using in-house staff or is it outsourced?

MA: We valuate our firm annually and the key metrics we employ are looking at EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization), applying a multiple that we feel is tied to our industry, as well as looking at our year over year revenue growth, all of which we outsource. We also do a benchmarking analysis to evaluate where we stand in the industry compared to our peers.

TZL: They say failure is a great teacher. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve had to learn the hard way?

MA: Early in my career I learned that you cannot be nervous to pay for extensive experience. I discovered that the amount you put toward a less experienced employee and the subsequent turnover would have equated to what you would have paid for the right, qualified senior employee in the first place. I also learned that we cannot allow our firm to become lopsided with too many managers and not enough skilled workers on our team to efficiently complete all aspects of our projects.

TZL: How do you maintain a culture of collaboration and “hyper-responsiveness?”

MA: We combine face-to-face interactions with the use of technology. I believe in the lost art of, “If someone calls you, you must at least call them back.” Also, if you cannot get something done, communicate that to your colleague. Communication is vital to productivity. I’ve always believed that it’s not about correcting someone, it’s about connecting with someone. If you do not connect, they may not be there for you when you need them. I also make it a point to personally visit people, sit in their offices, and have discussions about what’s going on, instead of just reading an email.

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

MA: Growth is not an option, it’s required.

TZL: Diversity and inclusion are lacking. What steps are you taking to address the issue?

MA: Internally, 48 percent of our firm is made up of minority and female employees. We are proud of that fact and we consistently look for ways to improve and create diversity across the firm. Externally, as a diverse business, we work with multiple equal opportunity agencies to promote diverse primes in the marketplace.

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