One Hot Firm CEO

Jun 24, 2002

I paid a visit recently to one of the CEOs whose firm is at the top of The Zweig Letter Hot Firm List. His firm is big, and they basically do everything for everyone (you can do that if you are big enough!). Besides the fact that he is an old friend, his company is also a good client of ours. It had been too long since we got together— both of us are always busy— but we had a great talk. I’m not going to tell you who this fellow is out of respect for his privacy. But I can tell you he is one of the best CEOs I have ever known, and I want to share some of my observations of him with our readers: He is ever calm. No matter what is going on inside or outside the firm, “CEO X” never gets frazzled. He maintains his cool and calm demeanor even when he is seething on the inside. And I know he does seethe occasionally because he’s shared that with me. But you would never know it unless he brought you into his confidence. He is an incredibly hard worker. This fellow puts in a long day and a long week. He works hard, and he plays hard too, but most of all, he works hard. Even though he has had some significant health issues to deal with, he didn’t miss work. What an incredible example for others! He is always accessible. You can pick up the phone and get right through. He returns his own phone calls and e-mails. He has a secretary, and she’s nice! He will always make time to talk with an employee who needs him. I don’t know quite how he does it, but he does. He thinks long-term, but never lets short-term problems build up. He always has a long-term vision and a long-term plan for the company. And everything he does— I mean everything— is consistent with that. But he also understands that if you are going to achieve your long-term vision, you have to survive the short haul. As a result, if there are problems that need tending to, he doesn’t let grass grow under his feet. This firm will always make money because the moment things look like they’re turning sour, it acts. He’s a good judge of character. He surrounds himself with competent people. In the rare cases where people don’t live up to his expectations, he deals with the mistake and gets someone else to do the job. And let me add that character is the most important selection criterion for a manager to “CEO X.” That said, he pays a lot of attention to how the person presents himself or herself, how well he or she can communicate, and how intelligent he or she is. He is not overly impressed with super-technical know-how that is not backed up with the soft skills that it takes to be a consultant. He’s not afraid to take a calculated risk. Sometimes these risks have taken the firm in new directions that they would not have gone in had it not been for “CEO X’s” willingness to stray from the company’s historical path. But many of these ventures (not all) have paid huge dividends. And when that’s been the case, it’s a lot easier to get the critics’ support the next time one of these risks comes up! He gets out in front of clients. This fellow always pays attention to where the money is coming from. He injects himself into major client relationships as much as necessary to feel comfortable that the client has a safety valve, and that his firm is not going to face any sudden losses of revenue they aren’t anticipating. This practice has paid significant dividends over the years and helped the firm weather personnel changes and problems with projects very nicely. He is a super-direct communicator. You never get any B.S., any Dilbertesque management speak, or any backpedaling on anything from this CEO. He is completely direct while at the same time respectful of others. All of the above has helped the CEO of this firm drive his company’s growth and profitability more than twenty-fold under his administration. It’s real. Originally published 6/24/2002

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.