Sound Off!

May 24, 1999

I don’t mind telling our readers that it’s a great feeling to have a vehicle such as The Zweig Letter to share my thoughts so widely. Along with that comes a certain responsibility not to waste the time of our readers with useless trivia or information that will not help them do their jobs better and be more successful. On the other hand, there are so many things to say and so little opportunity to say them! Here are a few items that have been getting to me lately: Firms with low professional and technical staff to support staff ratios. The norm is about 4.5 to 1. If a firm has a ratio of much less than that (let’s say 3 to 1), they sure as heck ought to have a better than average collection period, be doing more in the way of direct marketing, have a recruitment capability that delivers candidates on demand, have perfectly organized and complete project files, and more. But when firms with this much support staff are instead below average in any or all of these areas, I have to wonder. What do all these support people do? Most of the time, I find that they are personal servants to principals who have gotten a little too fat. Drivers who come to a complete stop on merge ramps. What is it with these people? They need to take an elementary course in physics because they don’t understand that it’s much harder to accelerate a car from 0 to 50 miles-per-hour than it is to do it from 20, 30, or 40 miles-per-hour! Our office is on a four-lane, divided thoroughfare with a 45-50 miles-per-hour speed limit. We have two merge ramps coming out of the development. As long as no one is in front of me, I have never had to stop for traffic when coming out of our lot. I accelerate and merge smoothly. Yet, most of the time, someone who is afraid of his or her gas pedal has stopped halfway down the ramp! Nail it, I say! Those who act as if the proverbial egg is between their foot and the accelerator cause more accidents than they avoid. I just wish I could take a ride with every job candidate to see how he or she drives. It’s telling! You can learn a lot about how meek (or overly aggressive) someone is by how he or she drives. Owners who think staying small is smart. That’s like saying that being a subsistence farmer is smart. I’m not saying small can’t offer certain satisfactions (just like subsistence farming), but the fact is, being large can offer all of those satisfactions and more, if you do it right! Size does not necessarily mean you do less of what you like— it means that you can do more of what you like! There are other people there. When you are small, you are the receptionist, project manager, project engineer, bookkeeper, HR manager, marketing director, company picnic planner, and every other darn thing! Management consultants who cannot manage. That’s just about all we see, with a few rare exceptions. Their companies don’t grow. They rely on subconsultants to deliver services with no commitment to a long-term employment relationship. They have terrible cash flow. Their balance sheets stink. They can’t get credit because they don’t pay their bills. Their web sites haven’t been updated in years. And if they decide to get into the products business (like us), they just copy everyone else’s stuff and don’t come up with anything new. You could count the number of these people who make six figures on one hand. How can these people help you be more successful? They can’t. A/E industry software companies who deliver products that don’t work. We just heard about a user conference where the newest version of a firm’s software product was introduced. The problem is, it didn’t work! Most of the attendees were angry and went home early. How can these companies get away with stuff like this? If they were in the design business and their projects didn’t work, they would be sued out of business! It’s crazy! I thought these days were over, but apparently they aren’t. There better be more than money (to your job). Making money is good. There’s not much wrong with it. I find that most of those who disparage the idea of making money are people who don’t make it and are rationalizing that they don’t even want it. But no matter how much you make, someone else makes more. No matter how much you have, someone else has more. Therefore, you better have something beyond money driving you to be a success. I find that most successful people in this business are motivated by a desire to build, to create something from nothing, as well as a desire to help and to make things better than they were Originally published 5/24/1999

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