Making a difference: Terry Ruhl

Oct 22, 2023

Board chair and CEO of Lochner, a firm that specializes in planning, environmental, design, construction engineering and inspection, and right-of-way services.

By Liisa Andreassen

As a people-centric company, Lochner (Chicago, IL) is differentiated in its purpose – to empower its people to make a difference in the communities it serves and to foster impactful and meaningful careers. With the recapitalization of Lochner in 2021 and Terry Ruhl’s appointment as board chair and CEO, making the employee value proposition has topped Ruhl’s action list. The company has made significant investments in HR staffing and employee-focused programs, from industry leading professional development and training to the establishment of an alumni program that allows former employees and retirees to maintain connectivity.

No. 1 focus. Like many AEC companies, attracting and retaining talent is Lochner’s No. 1 priority.

“There’s simply not enough engineers to do all the infrastructure work being planned and delivered over the next five to 10 years,” Ruhl says. “At the same time, the post-pandemic expectations that employees have of employers are undergoing unprecedented change. Staff is more focused on their individual experience and work-life harmony than ever before; we need to adapt accordingly.”

To that end, company purpose and reputation, employee benefits, work policies, autonomy and flexibility, learning and professional development, internal mobility, opportunities for career advancement, diversity and inclusion, ESG and community involvement, and identifying with the company’s mission, vision, and values all play a part in in attracting and retaining talent.

To accelerate individual and organizational talent development, Lochner has partnered with DePaul University’s Driehaus College of Business on a Leadership Foundation Certificate Program. It’s somewhat equivalent to a mini-MBA. The 12-month program is designed to advance evidence-based management skills by helping professionals learn not just another set of tools or best practices, but how to effectively think about leadership and leading people.

M&As in a competitive marketplace. Implementing a growth agenda, with an emphasis on M&As also tops Ruhl’s agenda. He says that Lochner differentiates in this competitive marketplace by:

  • Having a long-term mindset. There’s no set “hold period” for its investments, as the firm is looking to build long-term value in an industry that has proven margin sustainability.
  • Offering liquidity opportunities coupled with ownership. Lochner can deliver liquidity to shareholders while offering ownership opportunities to key management who want to be part of the long-term value creation process.
  • Providing access to unparalleled resources. Lochner has access to a multi-billion-dollar capital pool to invest and grow an A/E platform, and access to global relationships that can open new business development avenues.

Lochner’s acquisition strategy is guided by a vision of evolving to a full-service infrastructure platform, capitalizing on opportunities in the highway, bridge, rail and transit, aviation, ports and maritime, water, environmental, and energy markets, and the federal client sector.

“Our investment thesis is to broaden our portfolio with long-term clients in a sustained win-win relationship,” he says.

Client portfolio, leadership, culture, geographic expansion, and the opportunity for new service offerings all factor into its decision equation.

“We made two acquisitions in December of 2022 that illustrate this strategy,” he says.

With KOA Corporation, Lochner now has a solid foundation for expanding its transportation business in a thriving Southern California marketplace; and Armstrong Consultants essentially doubled its successful aviation practice and gained entry to airport clients in the western U.S.

For close to eight decades, Lochner focused exclusively on transportation infrastructure. With the May 2023 acquisition of Texas-based K Friese + Associates, it now adds water and wastewater to its service portfolio, and expands capabilities in drainage, surface transportation, aviation, and municipal services.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion. Lochner has also built DEI measures into its overall investment thesis, focusing a significant portion of M&A funding toward small business enterprises seeking to transition their company and explore growth prospects, beyond where its certification limitations have been able to take them.

“We’ve found that some of the most passionate leadership teams emanate from these companies as they look to foster new professional development opportunities for their staff,” Ruhl shares.

K Friese + Associates was a WBE, DBE, HUB, SBE certified business. With the acquisition, the company founder, Karen Friese, still runs the business, and she has joined Lochner’s BOD, offering insights into how Lochner can better diversify its organization and expand its service offering in the water, wastewater, and municipal services markets.

Lochner’s DEI is a work in progress, but so far it’s taken these steps:

  • Fostering a culture of belonging in the workplace by establishing and supporting affinity groups.
  • Empowering an Environmental, Social & Governance Committee to independently assess company practices.
  • Promoting an employee referral program, recognizing the value of a diverse workforce and providing a higher bonus for the referral of disabled, veteran, minority, and/or women candidates.
  • Supporting WTS International as a national sponsor and encouraging staff participation in learning and other peer-to-peer networking opportunities designed to elevate professional and career development.
  • Participating in MobilityXX, a partnership between ITS America, The Ray, and WTS International, with a goal of increasing the number of women in the transportation workforce by 10 percent over the next 10 years (#10in10).
  • Joining the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials.
  • Volunteering as a mentor through localized programs that pair DBE/HUB firms with mentors to work together to identify business needs and support the development of additional company capacity and best practices through a mentor-protégé relationship. 

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.