You need to make more money

May 20, 2015

A/E owners should consider whether their ‘average’ income is contributing to a culture of mediocrity.

It’s interesting to me to see how the owners of A/E firms seem to fit into one of two categories: A few make a tremendous amount of money – high six figures or, in some cases, millions, annually. Then there are the rest, people who are happy IF they can pay themselves whatever a salary survey says is “normal” for someone in their position in a similar sized firm, located in the same geographic area. Obviously, this is a whole lot less than the first group. What I am going to say may seem odd to many of you, but I will go ahead and say it, just the same: You need to make more money NOW, and it will actually be good for your firm and the other people in it if you do. You and your fellow principals are the role models for everyone else in your company. If they see you being successful in this business, there’s a chance that they will believe that they, too, can be successful in it. That will hopefully inspire them to work hard and stay with the company, in contrast to believing it is futile to do so and that one has to leave the company or worse, leave the industry, to be successful. Many years ago (about 30?), I was giving a seminar at the NSPE National Convention in Austin, Texas. I was the overall moderator for a group of engineer speakers, each from a different industry, who were talking to student representatives from all 50 states. Represented on the panel were speakers from academia, government, industry, and consulting. When the consulting guy got up there – I remember he was a high-level guy from one of the larger national firms at the time – he started out his by saying: “If you ever want to drive a Cadillac, don’t go into the A/E business.” I thought: “What a terrible thing to say to these young people!” And, when I had my opportunity to address the audience, I made sure to let them know that I worked for an A/E firm and had, in fact, driven there that night in my then-new Porsche. That got a few laughs, but I was serious. The opportunities for financial success in this business are fantastic. When you examine the psyches of the big money-makers versus all the rest, there are some major differences. First and foremost, they think they deserve it. They know if they can run a business that is so profitable that it can afford to pay them that well, then they must be doing something pretty fantastic. Those who are paid the “industry average” for someone in their position are, by and large, not unhappy with it. And the longer it goes on, the more likely it is that they will just give up on the idea that making serious money in this business is even possible. That, in turn, affects every decision they make and lowers their overall expectations, which reduces the company’s performance. Their firm may become one that actually demands less from everyone working there as a result, and the low performance expectation becomes the reality of the situation. I’m not advocating that you turn into a greedy person who loots the company and squanders the money on personal luxuries. But I am saying that your success – as measured by how much your business pays you over the course of the year – is actually important for creating a culture of success in your company. And that culture will help you and everyone else working there be more successful over the long haul. Think about it! Mark Zweig is president and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at

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.