More Reasons the Future is Bright

May 18, 1998

I’m convinced that it’s part of the job description for principals and managers of A/E/P and environmental consulting firms to keep reminding their employees and themselves why this is a great business to be in. It’s no secret that I am bullish on our industry. I couldn’t work in it if I wasn’t. It’s not hard for me to say that. I, like many of us who are a part of this industry today, had my non-A/E/P industry job experiences as a young man prior to and during college and graduate school. That exposure to other business types really reaffirmed my choice that this is really the place to be. Here’s some of what I find really exciting about the A/E/P and environmental consulting business: Our future is unbounded. A/E/P and environmental firms (and contractors, too) really have no practical constraints (other than our own imaginations) on what we can do or become. We have clients and we have brains. We can serve our clients in many different ways and do lots of different things for them. An article in the May 10 issue of The Boston Globe mentioned J.C. Zampell Construction, Inc. (Newburyport, MA), a company that provides property management services to big clients such as General Electric Company (Fairfield, CT), Bell Atlantic (New York, NY), and others. In addition to engineering, design, and construction, these guys do snow plowing, janitorial, and building maintenance, and assume all responsibility for scheduling and meeting health and safety requirements. For all of this, they charge one monthly fee! Smart. And I’m seeing more firms that started out as traditional A/E/P or environmental firms providing services such as computer consulting, management consulting, move coordination, training, and so on, all well beyond the traditional bounds of this business. We have a better class of employees than many other business types. I was watching our local news this morning. There was a woman who was identified as “The Career Doctor,” Ginny Rehberg, who was on TV telling employees how to say “no” to their employers when they get asked to do something! She said, “that’s why your voice mail and e-mail systems have a delete key.” After my rage at the horrible advice that this TV news program was providing subsided, all I could think was, “Thank God we don’t have too many employees like that in this business.” The I-don’t-do-windows types are quickly run off in the typical A/E/P or environmental firm, where by and large, the people are motivated, care about the client and the service the client is getting, and are much more connected with the overall enterprise than the people Ms. Rehberg must be advising. I don’t think that someone who just hits their delete key in response to a request from a higher-up would do very well in this industry!! Our firms are grossly undervalued. Some day the financial community will discover the fact that we are a $75-$80 billion annual revenue industry that is pretty darn steady and provides a good return on invested capital, and overnight everyone will see the value of their firm’s stock go up by a factor of two or three. The potential is there to have much more value in just about every firm in this business. Check out what vertical market management consulting firms, or accounting firms, or computer consulting firms, or dental practices are worth. They all bring multiples of two or three times what a similar volume A/E/P or environmental firm would. We, too, can have those multiples (one to two times revenue), and some firms are really starting to examine strategically how to make themselves more valuable. They are doing it by building up shared client and potential client databases; by moving a greater portion of their business into areas that provide recurring revenue streams; by sharing the financial data with everyone; and by investing in process marketing and positioning efforts that contribute toward making their firm a brand name in the industries they serve. These are the things that can be done to drive up the value. We have smart owners and managers. I always come back to this. Maybe I am wrong, but I think that the typical owner/manager (yes, by and large these two are synonymous) in this industry is just plain more intelligent than their counterparts in other industries. This fact leads me to believe that we will adapt more readily to the environment we operate in. I have always found that the clients we deal with will respond to good logic because they are smart. It is apparent to me that, as an industry, we are becoming better business people. Zweig White & Associates is dealing with more people these days who are highly successful, and not just by our industry’s standards, but by anyone’s standards. That’s exciting. I think it is really important that people in the A/E/P and environmental business have successful role models to look up to. They are inspirational to all. And they’re getting easier to find! The industry provides badly needed services to the population of the world. Thanks to A/E/P and environmental firms, we have good water, clean air, transportation systems, schools, and nice places to recreate. That’s great! Now compare this industry with other types of businesses, such as those that make perfume (so what?), sell overpriced clothing (what does that do for anyone?), or market cigarettes (public health enemy number one). You folks are doing something the world needs, and that’s important! So there you have it. Keep reminding yourself and your staff, every day, why they are in this business. It’s a good one, and we can’t afford to lose any good folks to other lines of work. Plus, we have to keep our own heads screwed on straight so we’ll keep doing what’s best for our clients, our owners, and our employees each and every day. Originally published 5/18/1998

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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.