Thirteen Going on Fourteen

Aug 06, 2001

July 13th marked the thirteenth anniversary of the founding of ZweigWhite. We’ve done O.K. We’ve gone from the balloon-wallpapered playroom in my asbestos-shingled house in downtown Natick to a $200 a month office above a coffee shop a month later to a 10,000 square-foot Class-A office (along with four other locations throughout the U.S.) today. Where did the time go? It seems like just yesterday that Fred White and I were planning to do the first-ever Valuation Survey of A/E/P & Environmental Consulting Firms. I can remember stuffing the original Zweig Letter (two pages, typewritten) at the dining room table. We even had a machine that folded 8.5” by 11” sheets into letters and another machine that literally stuck an individual stamp from a stamp roll on the envelope! Ah, the good old days…. But given the choice, I wouldn’t go back. It’s a lot more fun now. Lots of good projects, so many products, and so many different kinds of talent to provide to our clients. Not to mention the fact that I no longer have to live in that asbestos-shingled house…. Our mission at ZweigWhite hasn’t changed since day one. We exist to make our clients more successful. To do that, we feel it’s imperative that we are successful. We have to demonstrate that our management philosophy actually works in our firm. So I thought I would share with you all some of the key ideas that have allowed our firm to grow each year by close to 30%, always make a profit, and have a great cash flow (average collection period of 25 to 30 days). Here they are, in no particular order of importance: A good business plan. We do business planning every year before the year starts. The individual managers prepare their own plans and present them to the whole firm. Everyone participates. The meetings are fun. Everyone sees how we are doing throughout the year as it relates to the plan. We set high goals that we rarely achieve, yet each year is better than the previous one. Fair compensation practices. We look at employee salaries four times a year. While most people don’t get a raise every quarter, it is possible to do so. My salary and those of the other top people are the slowest growing ones in the firm. We pay 25% of profits out to all employees monthly. We have a great benefits program. We give free food and drink to everyone all day. We sell stock to key employees and finance up to 100% of the purchase price on stock sold through the treasury. We pay profits out to owners monthly. We aren’t afraid to offer ownership opportunities to young people (two of the four last shareholders added were 23-years-old.) Effective recruiting. The business planning process lays out the anticipated hiring needs for the year to come. Every job opening is posted on our Internet and intranet sites. We hire people who are smart and energetic and have a good work ethic. Our staff is diverse in terms of age, race, and gender. And we promote from within whenever possible because we have committed to being a continuously growing firm. Great information technology. We didn’t jump on every new technology, but we’ve never skimped either. Our accounting systems are first rate with everything available online. We have central electronic project files. We have a well-developed intranet. We have a super Internet site with secure ordering. We have a wide area network. We have a customer relationship management system used by every employee. We have remote access. We have remote handhelds for key staff. We have PDF versions of all of our brochures so they can be e-mailed to anyone who wants one. Continuous marketing. We plan all of our marketing a year in advance, too. We outspend all of our competitors in direct mail and PR. We use e-mail marketing. We know the response to every single marketing initiative. We track marketing expenses to new sales and report that monthly. We report every proposal made to every employee as it is made. We report every new job sold as it is sold. We send out literally thousands of press releases each month. We do periodic checks on client satisfaction. All of these things help keep us at the forefront of the audience we are trying to reach. Focus on cash flow. Owner and employee bonuses alike are tied to monthly cash basis profits. Cash flow reports go to all owners daily. Cash flow forecasts are performed weekly. All accounts receivable are tracked on Outlook. Accounting handles the collection efforts instead of consultants. We get a retainer on most every job. Originally published 8/06/2001

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.