President and founder of Calibre Engineering, a national civil engineering firm based in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
By Liisa Andreassen Correspondent
“As a Federally-Certified Service Disabled Veteran company we do work on contracts that are specifically set aside for Service Disabled Veteran-owned companies. If I were to leave, Calibre would lose the certification and those contracts,” Murphy says. “In order to transition this work to a new owner I have to find, mentor, and gain trust in another Service Disabled Veteran and then work on the financial side of ownership transition.”
A conversation with Greg Murphy.
The Zweig Letter: Do you tie compensation to performance for your top leaders?
Greg Murphy: No, not directly, but bonuses are larger as profit increases.
TZL: How many years of experience – or large enough book of business – is enough to become a principal in your firm? Are you naming principals in their 20s or 30s?
GM: I look for four years with the company and $2 million in revenue.
TZL: When did you have the most fun running your firm, and what were the hallmarks of that time in your professional life?
GM: Now. What makes it fun is the success of the company and the dedication of the younger employees. I enjoy helping them with their careers.
TZL: How do you promote young and new leaders as the firm grows?
GM: We have a personalized program for each person. We have a pretty extensive CAD training regimen, including a “CAD Mentor” for younger staff.
TZL: In one word or phrase, what do you describe as your number one job responsibility?
GM: Planning for diversification and developing business.
TZL: What happens to the firm if you leave tomorrow?
GM: We would lose all of our government contracts. As a Federally-Certified Service Disabled Veteran company we do work on contracts that are specifically set aside for Service Disabled Veteran-owned companies. If I were to leave, Calibre would lose the certification and those contracts. In order to transition this work to a new owner I have to find, mentor, and gain trust in another Service Disabled Veteran and then work on the financial side of ownership transition. I’m at ground zero right now and looking for someone to bring in who fits that bill.
TZL: With technology reducing the time it takes to complete design work, how do you get the AEC industry to start pricing on value instead of hours?
GM: I don’t know that you can do this. Free market economy dictates that price is a factor.
TZL: If the worker shortage continues, do you see wages increasing to encourage more talent to enter the AEC space, or will technology be used to counter the reduced work force?
GM: I see wages paralleling the overall economy. Technology will eventually reduce the workforce, but software manufacturers drive the technology, and they have no interest in robotizing the industry by making it too easy to design, so they gate-keep the software to ensure that users need to interact. Eventually, though, 90 percent of civil engineering will be programmable, so there will have to be a drop-off in labor demand. However, I don’t see there being a drop in demand for project management over the next 20 to 30 years.
TZL: Engineers love being engineers, but what are you doing to instill a business culture in your firm?
GM: We work to engage the mid-level engineers in some of the executive decisions and also do coaching.
TZL: A firm’s longevity is valuable. What are you doing to encourage your staff to stick around?
GM: We are working to make sure that there is a revenue split at the end of the year so that overall compensation makes it in the employees’ best interest to stay. It’s all about addressing their needs and their interests. People will always move in the direction of their best interest.
TZL: Benefits are evolving. Are you offering any new ones due to the changing demographic?
GM: Most of the effort is toward getting staff more time off. I’m a big believer in quality of life and more time off. We have a PTO policy that I like to think is in the top quartile in the industry. The additional time off I’m talking about would be pretty radical.
I got this idea when the economy tanked in 2008, and we had to lay people off. After the lay-offs started impacting really great employees I had enough. I decided that we would do no more lay-offs, but we would split the work hours evenly among everyone. What I found was that when we all worked 20 hours, it was a huge financial burden on everyone, but when we worked say 30 to 36 hours, everyone really appreciated that additional time off, to the point that it was worth the reduction in income. It occurred to me that going to a 36-hour week would give people an additional 52 days off. When I did some calculations, I found that those four hours that I would be giving up could be offset somewhat by tweaking a few things financially (for example an uptick in rates and a down-tick in “holidays”) and provide far more days off at a fairly small sacrifice in overall revenue. My sense was that the increase in morale/productivity during those 36 hours would probably get us back to even. I’d like to implement the 36-hour week; I haven’t done it yet, but am still contemplating. It’s not something you can step back from once implemented.
We also offer perks such as paid gym memberships, tuition reimbursement, a transit program, snack bar, monthly events, and more. Annually, we request feedback from our staff about ideas for future events and give everyone an opportunity to contribute ideas to the program.
TZL: What scares you about the geopolitical environment today?
GM: Isolationism scares me. The desire to halt immigration scares me – civil engineering thrives on population growth, just ask an Italian civil engineer how much work there is in Italy, where population growth has been stagnant for 50 years. We need more immigrants, not fewer. The construction industry has been impeded greatly by political crackdowns and, as a result, has inflated construction costs. The myth that things need to go back to “when they were great” is ridiculous. I’m 60 years old and everything is better today than it was in the 1960s. Any effort to resist change scares me.