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HR | FINANCE S U P P L E M E N T S Pages 9 - 12
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HR spending down
Notice to all those stuck in the past You likely didn’t see ‘it’ coming, but you’d better take advantage of it, Mark Zweig writes. I t’s kind of funny. There’s always something “new” that some principals of A/E/P and environmental firms just don’t see the need for. In the olden days of the ’80s, it was a computer on every desk. “We don’t want our expensive engineers (or architects, or whatever) doing word processing. That is the job of a word processor,” is what they used to say. Or, “We’ve done a study. The average person uses a computer only six hours a week, therefore six people should be able
to share one.” Of course, eventually we all figured out everyone needs a computer to work. Another good one from the past: “We don’t want all of our people to have Internet access. They’ll just browse the web all day and get nothing
F I R M I N D E X AECOM Technology Corporation......................... 12 Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture, PC.................. 9 BasePoint Design Corporation. ........................... 12 Bioengineering Group............................................ 6 Burns & McDonnell Engineering Co...................... 8 CHA Consulting. .................................................. 12 GEI Consultants, Inc.. .......................................... 12 Gryphon International Engineering Inc................ 12 Michael Baker Corporation. .................................. 5 Perkins+Will. ......................................................... 5 Spectral Services Consultants Pte. Ltd............... 12 TerraTherm............................................................. 3 According to the 2011 Policies, Procedures, & Benefits Survey, human resources spending as a percentage of net service revenue increased slightly this year from – 0.9 percent in 2010 to 1 percent in 2011. However, if one looks at this percentage over recent years, it has been on a steady decline. After climbing to a high of 1.3 percent in 2007, HR spending as a percentage of NSR dropped to 1.1 percent in 2008 and 2009 before falling to 0.9 percent in 2010. – Margot Suydam, Survey Manager follow us on twitter www.twitter.com/zweigwhite
done.” Of course this, too, went by the wayside as we all figured out what an incredible source of information the Internet is. Then there was my favorite: “We don’t need a cellphone for each of our people. We cannot afford it.” Sure. The $100/ mo. will break you, plus who cares about having your people available to you or your clients when they aren’t in the office? Thankfully, resistance to widespread adoption of company cellphones died, too. Today, it is social media that the old timers don’t understand or see the need for. “We need to block access to that time- wasting Facebook,” they say. “What do we need Twitter for?” they wonder. “No one is going to hire us from a YouTube video.”
See Mark Zweig, page 2
Twitter is much more than a marketing tool. It is a great news source. Sign up for SMPS, AIA, SCUP, ULI, CNN and so many other professional societies and news sources for up-to-the-minute happenings in your field or those of your clients. “Meet” people or form electronic work relationships with clients and others you may never interact with in any other way. It’s fantastic!
Study reveals U.S. firms dabbling overseas Page 5
I N S I D E
xz top player: Insight into market makes them Hot. Page 3 xz best firm: Inspiring people, communities and their spaces. Page 9
T H E V O I C E O F R E A S O N F O R A / E / P & E N V I R O N M E N TA L C O N S U LT I N G F I R M S
THE ZWEIG LETTER | NOVEMBER 14, 2011, ISSUE 935
A/E BUSINESS NEWS
Mark Zweig , from page 1
CALENDAR Mergers & Acquisitions Summit: Since 2003, ZweigWhite has been bringing together leaders of architecture, engineering, planning, and environmental consulting firms for two days, focusing on M&A strategies and logistics. Attendees come to identify new business opportunities and to share their transaction and integration experiences – as buyers and/or sellers. The presenters are A/E firm leaders and advisors with recent and real- world knowledge that will help you make smart deals that work in the long run. Scheduled for Dec. 1 and 2 in Palm Beach, Fla., the AEC M&A Summit is for all owners and principals and features informational sessions for both buyers and sellers. Attendees will get the opportunity to hear in-depth case histories, information about the industry’s most recent deal activity and best practices for M&A logistics. Don’t take chances with your firm’s future! If you are leading an AEC firm today and want to not only survive – but thrive – in this volatile economic environment, you need to know all about the options for sustainability, including: ownership transition; maximizing shareholder return; expanding resources (managerial, marketing, financial, personnel), and other growth strategies. For more information or to register, call 800-466-6275 or log on to www.zweigwhite.com/event s/ mergers/ index.asp. $56 million for repairs and $280 million for new construction. The president’s budget requested $840 million for new construction. The federal building fund – the revolving pool of funding GSA uses to maintain property, pay rent and manage its construction and renovation portfolio – was cut from $9.1 billion in 2010 to $7.6 billion in 2011. Legislation passed by the House would cut it still further, to $7.2 billion, the lowest level since 2007, the report says. Budget cuts over the past year have forced GSA to postpone or cancel projects across the country and threatened its ability to provide basic services for its federal tenants. GSA announced in October it is indefinitely abandoning further renovations and a planned expansion of its headquarters in Washington. Employees who have been working in temporary leased offices during the renovation will move back to the headquarters building by February 2013 – 18 months ahead of the original move-in date.
All of this, of course, is ignorance speaking. Facebook fan pages may end up as the company website for some smaller firms – maybe larger ones as well. They are just so easy to maintain and update! On top of it is FB advertising. Have you tried buying any of that recently? It is so easy to target, so easy to buy – and the weekly status report is incredibly helpful to see how effective it is. Twitter is much more than a marketing tool. It is a great news source. Sign up for SMPS, AIA, SCUP, ULI, CNN and so many other professional societies and news sources for up-to-the-minute happenings in your field or those of your clients. “Meet” people or form electronic work relationships with clients and others you may never interact with in any other way. It’s fantastic! Maybe the reason for this resistance is that it’s coming from people who haven’t used these tools, therefore they don’t see the benefits. Try ‘em out. It’s never too late to learn. I’m 53 and just had my fourth child. I’m still learning! Mark Zweig is the founder and CEO of ZweigWhite. Contact him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Megapolitan America: Ten clusters consisting of 23 “megapolitan areas” – networks of metropolitan centers fused by common economic, physical, social and cultural traits – are the emerging economic engines of the U.S., with substantial growth predicted in population, construction and jobs in the next 30 years. Those are among the promising findings of Megapolitan America: A New Vision for Understanding America’s Metropolitan Geography, a book published by the American Planning Association, and authored by Arthur Nelson, professor at the University of Utah and founding director of the Metropolitan Research Center; and Robert Lang, professor at the University of Nevada – Las Vegas, and director of the Brookings Institution Mountain West. Megapolitan America is a new way of looking at the changing face of the United States. It is the first comprehensive book on the full extent and importance of U.S. megapolitan regions based on 2010 census data and proprietary analysis. The authors say that “the sooner the United States recognizes it has evolved into a nation of 20-some very densely settled economic engines, the better able it will be to sustain long-term economic development to mid-century and beyond.” Census figures from 2010 show that since 1970, megapolitan areas absorbed 70 percent of the 48 states’ growth. By 2040, the 10 megapolitan clusters will, as a group, form the world’s third most populous country, behind China and India. The authors say, “the U.S. is the only developed country that is on track to add substantial population.” The U.S. is also “the fastest-growing industrialized nation in the world.” GSA may halt construction: The General Services Administration may have to halt new construction if proposed budget cuts become reality, Administrator Martha Johnson said in a report published in Federal Times. GSA saw its funding for new construction drop 91 percent from $894 million in fiscal 2010 to $82 million in fiscal 2011, and saw a 32 percent cut to its renovation budget from $414 million to $280 million over the same period. Proposals for fiscal 2012 are bleaker, the report says. The House Appropriations Committee provides no money for new construction and $280 million for repairs. The Senate legislation provides
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Online: www.thezweigletter.com Twitter: twitter.com/zweigwhite Blog: zweigwhite.blogspot.com Published continuously since 1992 by ZweigWhite, Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA. ISSN 1068-1310. Issued weekly (48 issues/yr.). $475 for one-year membership, $775 for two-year membership. Article reprints: For high-quality reprints, including Eprints and NXTprints, please contact The YGS Group at 717-399-1900, ext. 139, or e-mail TheZweigLetter@TheYGSGroup.com. © Copyright 2011, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.
© Copyright 2011. ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.
THE ZWEIG LETTER | NOVEMBER 14, 2011, ISSUE 935
TO P P L AY E R
Insight into market makes them Hot
Firm co-founder’s pursuit of a niche has spelled success over the last decade. R alph Baker credits his ability to see opportunity where others fail to see it as the thrust behind the No. 13 The Zweig Letter 2011 Hot Firm, TerraTherm. Baker co-founded the Fitchburg, Mass.-based environmental consult- ing firm in 2000 after licensing a new technology developed by Royal Dutch to clean up contaminated soil. Today, the 51-person firm provides in situ thermal remediation services and offers the broadest range of thermal re- mediation technologies in the indus- try, Baker says. “We apply each technology, alone or in combination, to provide unrivaled flexibility and fit without prejudice for any technology,” says Baker, chairman and chief scientist at TerraTherm. “Consistently excellent results have been demonstrated in numerous proj- ects on five continents, delivered on time and on budget, with high ROI and an impeccable safety record. We con- tinue to advance the state of the art through research and development, publication and advocacy in industry forums.” In this interview, Baker talks about his background, his ability to tackle complex technical concepts and inte- grate them into the big picture, the fu- ture of the industry and other topics. The Zweig Letter : What does it mean to be a Hot Firm? Ralph Baker: TerraTherm is a Hot Firm today because of the widespread acceptance in the marketplace of the effectiveness of our proprietary in situ thermal cleanup technologies. The strong demand that has brought us for our services throughout the recession has driven our organic growth. TZL: How did you get where you are today? RB: I’m here today through hard work, scientific and technological in- sight, passion for what I do and a great
team of colleagues that share that dedication and passion. TZL: Do you re- member your first paid job? What did you learn then that still influences the way you work today? RB: From the eighth through 12th grades, I
required to do. Moreover, I have tak- en risks when I’ve seen opportunities others didn’t see, which enabled me to leave a good position and co-found Ter- raTherm. TZL: In today’s difficult business climate, what does it take to suc- ceed? Is the spectrum of failure a motivator? RB: One must endeavor to stay abreast of changing conditions and cus-
Ralph Baker, Chairman and Co-founder, TerraTherm.
tomer needs, and be in a position to seize opportunity when it presents itself. That requires discipline and persistence in the face of occasion- al disappointment. Failures do happen, and they teach us that sometimes what seems well-thought- out can still end up
“Failures do happen, and they teach us that sometimes what seems well-thought-out can still end up badly despite our best efforts. From such experiences we learn humility, as well as risk management skills and perspective.”
had a daily newspaper route, delivering papers to about 50 homeowners’ door- steps in the late afternoon in my neigh- borhood inMassachusetts. It taughtme customer service, how to interact effec- tively with all kinds of people, respon- sibility, how to keep accounts and how to be comfortable outside in all kinds of weather. I “inherited” the route from my older brother, and passed it along to my younger brother when I left for col- lege. Although I had many other sum- mer and part-time jobs in high school and college, it was a while before I did as well in terms of hourly compensa- tion! TZL: What is it in your DNA that drives you to success? Is it audac- ity and risk-taking; a can-do at- titude and a relentless pursuit of perfection; something else more abstract? RB: I would say I have the ability to be a shrewd evaluator of complex techni- cal ideas and processes, and am able to draw connections from disparate fields of endeavors to bear on a problem and then plan, develop, implement and communicate the solutions effective- ly. I’ve also always been well-rounded – I’m seldom a fish out of water regard- less of what aspect of business that I’m
badly, despite our best efforts. From such experiences we learn humility, as well as risk management skills and per- spective. TZL: Where do you see this indus- try in 10 or 20 years? What trends are influencing it? What about your company? RB: I feel that the demand for clean water, air and land will not diminish, and that, as a result, the need for our services will remain strong. One lega- cy of industrialization is tens of thou- sands of sites contaminated with toxic chemicals, often occupying valuable lo- cations within urban cores. It’s essen- tial that such sites be safely cleaned up and made available for reuse. TerraTh- erm offers a unique set of technologies proven to make this possible quickly, effectively and with minimal impacts to neighborhoods. TZL: Do hold someone as a special mentor? How did this person influ- ence who you are? RB: Dr. Daniel Hillel, my PhD advisor, is not only a world-renowned scien- tist and author of many books, but he is also considered the poet laureate of
See TOP PLAYER, page 4
THE ZWEIG LETTER | NOVEMBER 14, 2011, ISSUE 935
Boston area firms more profitable; consolidating
Profits jump to 8.7 percent of net fees; utilization rate, working capital also improve. B oston-area architectural firms have increased profitability, im- proved their utilization rate and boost- ed their working capital, according to the 2011 Architectural Study by DiCic- co, Gulman & Company LLP, a CPA and business consulting firm specializing in the A/E industry. DGC’s study also predicts that consol- idation will continue, not only for eco- nomic reasons, but because a growing number of firm principals are at or near retirement age. “The good news is that, on average, firms saw 8.7 percent of their net fees drop to the bottom line, compared to last year, when the average firm real- ized a meager profit of just over 1 per- cent,” said David Sullivan, the partner in charge of the A/E group at DGC. While some firms continue to operate at a loss, two-thirds of firms were prof- itable, compared to half of all firms in 2009. Profits averaged $9.27 per direct labor hour.
The study further reports the average utilization rate of A/E firms for 2010 increased to 61.6 percent after drop- ping to 58.9 percent in 2009, the low- est chargeability rate on record. A utili- zation rate of at least 65 percent is con- sidered healthy. The study also found the average firm retained 29 percent of net fees for working capital, which is higher than the historical average. Working capital of 20 to 25 percent is typically necessary for a firm to finance its operations. The direct labor billing multiple of 3.21 was higher than the 3.0 rate nec- essary to produce a reasonable rate of return; however, the rate may be arti- ficially high when compared to histori- cal trends because of the impact of pay cuts due to the downturn. Average total hourly wage rates were stable in 2010 compared to 2009. Em- ployees cost an average of $36.37 an
hour in 2010, compared with $36.94 in 2009. With many principals at or near re- tirement age, Sullivan believes sales, mergers and changes in internal own- ership will remain active over the next three to five years. “The primary reason is that many firms are struggling to grow organically and it may take years before the indus- try fully recovers from project cancella- tions, unavailability of financing, high unemployment and fierce competition for few projects,” he said. The study, which is based on infor- mation gathered from more than 30 prominent architectural firms, includes a detailed analysis of utilization, bill- ing multiples, overhead rates, balance sheet ratios and historical trends for 2010, all of which are compared with national standards. For a copy of the 2011 Architectural Study, visit www.dgccpa.com.
“Many firms are struggling to grow organically and it may take years before the industry fully recovers from project cancellations, unavailability of financing, high unemployment and fierce competition for few projects.”
to that work.
(I was not yet one) on a research expe- dition to an island in the Amazon Riv- er in Colombia to study primates and primate conservation. I spent the sum- mer of 1972 as an unpaid assistant to them, reconnoitering the jungle, cut- ting trails, collecting data and with- standing all the trials and tribulations of a low-budget field expedition to a re- mote and sometimes rather forbidding place. The living conditions were primi- tive, and the entire forested island was covered with water when we arrived, requiring us to slog around through the mud every day amidst all manner of biting insects, slithering snakes and reptiles, and sometimes impenetrable vines. But at the same time, it was a fascinating place, truly wild, and full of colorful birds and fish, and even a tribe of indigenous (people). We managed to produce some world-class research, and return safely. I’m grateful for hav- ing had the opportunity to contribute
TOP PLAYER , from page 3
soil physics. His talent for speaking and writing eloquently on both scientific and non-scientific topics influenced me to think, speak and write more careful- ly and incisively. TZL: What’s the one trait you most admire in people and why? RB: It’s hard to pick just one, but I would have to say it is the ability to be open to the best qualities in others, to bring out those qualities in a compas- sionate and nonjudgmental way, and to respect and honor each person’s uniqueness and potential. TZL: Describe the most challeng- ing thing you have ever done/the biggest challenge you have taken on outside of work. RB: After college, I volunteered to join a group of six graduate students
TZL: What question would you ask of another Hot Firm leader? RB: What makes your firm different from others that have not been as suc- cessful? TZL: What lesson learned would you pass along to a recent college graduate embarking on a career in the A/E/P and environmental con- sulting fields? RB: Try to find a position that will en- able you to work for some years primar- ily in the field, rather than in the office, doing some kind of multidisciplinary work, collecting data and managing it. It’s more difficult to justify doing that kind of work later in your career, but you will gain immeasurably from hav- ing done it – the field is a great labora- tory and teacher that will inform much of what you do later in life.
© Copyright 2011. ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.
THE ZWEIG LETTER | NOVEMBER 14, 2011, ISSUE 935
S U R V E Y
Study reveals U.S. firms dabbling overseas
In many cases, foreign markets are more innovative and proactive, but it’s not easy to break in. By Julie Kyle Editor T he world is getting smaller for American architecture, engineer- ing, planning and environmental firms; a new survey reveals that almost half of respondents report having worked in- ternationally, taking their talents be- yond U.S. borders and into the great beyond. ZweigWhite’s just-released Interna- tional A/E Industry Survey & Outlook reveals 47 percent of U.S. firms have performed work abroad. The most suc- cessful way in which firms report hav- ing won that work include being invit- ed by a domestic A/E firm (24 percent) and through marketing efforts (24 per- cent). Additionally, firms have won work after being solicited by a foreign client (21 percent) and through em- ployee contacts overseas (17 percent). Other relevant findings: xz When asked if the firm was sponsored by a local foreign firm, entity or ranked official to do work internationally, 5 percent responded always; 3 percent said sometimes; 3 percent responded a few times; 13 percent said rarely and 16 percent said never. xz The Middle East comes up as a region where firms had trouble performing or selling work, with 4 percent of respondents attesting they almost always need an “agent” or representative to perform work there. Officials in the UAE are reported to be “very slow to approve work and payments,” and in Saudi Arabia “there is stiff competition.” Mexican clients were reported to be “slow pay.” xz The greatest challenges reported by participating firms working internationally included low-cost competition, cultural barriers and overregulation, all rating a 4 on a scale of 1 to 5.
Frugal innovation. Particular- ly in Asia, Harrison says innovations are changing the way design work is performed across the globe. One fac- tor pushing innovation is the need for speed. “The speed to market in China for de- sign and construction projects is mind- blowing,” Harrison says. “The speed with which we’re able to design and get something approved is orders of magnitude faster than what we see in North America. “I think China is quite amazing to learn from in terms of this idea of fru- gal innovation; they’re just able to do more with less. I think they’re spending as much money or more (as the Unit- ed States), and the buildings are high quality and very innovative,” Harrison says. China’s centralized government enables faster decision-making, “But even the private sector works this way.” In China, few foreign companies have the “Class A” licensing required to per- form the full scope of services. “So often, you’re working up to a cer- tain point and then handing off to the design institutes,” Harrison says. “It’s discontinuous, but it’s a good process; it’s very effective.” Brad Mallory, president and CEO of Michael Baker Corporation (Pitts- burgh, PA), a 3,250-person engineer- ing, design, planning and construction services firm, is impressed with the un- derstanding and appreciation among foreign clients for a broad program management approach to projects. “We go toQatar, andwe’re newkids on the block, and I’m talking to the presi- dent of a public works agency about a wide-scale program management ini- tiative, and this guy gets it! He’s got a group of advisors there and they un- derstand it completely. And they’re fig- uring out how to make it best work for them,” he says. “It is exciting and impressive. And by the same token, here I am in the U.S., working with people we’ve worked with for 60 years, who really need this broad-scale, program management ap- proach in the most desperate of ways, particularly as their funding is decreas- ing, and it’s a hard sell. I find that iron- ic.”
In what regions does your firm do international work?
Source: International A/E Industry Survey & Outlook.
na ($586 billion) and Canada ($32 bil- lion) have been very effective and have seemed to create real jobs and real so- cial benefit that is visible to the pub- lic, particularly in K-12 education, says Phil Harrison, CEO of Perkins+Will (Chicago, IL), a 1,700-person architec- tural, urban and interior design firm. The spending, particularly for upgrades to K-12 educational facilities, makes all the sense in the world, he says. “That’s an area where we’re grossly un- der-investing in this country. School upgrades – modernizing classrooms, building better sports facilities for healthy living – there’s so much we can do. It comes down to a matter of com- petitiveness, particularly in education,” he says. Harrison says Perkins+Will is active in Asia; China, Singapore, Vietnam and Korea; India; the Middle East; and to a lesser extent, Europe, “because these days European markets are quite slow.” The firm is looking at Brazil as another area of potential growth. Breaking into new markets doesn’t happen automatically, however. “It’s not as simple as saying, ‘It’s a slow market here, so let’s run over to China or Dubai and get work, because it takes sustained effort and considerable focus to be successful in international mar- kets,” Harrison says. For Perkins+Will, working on an international platform is not as much of a reaction as it satis- fies a long-term interest in being a glob- ally diversified firm. And it’s not just about growing the business or main- taining design opportunities; it’s about learning from how work is done in oth- er parts of the world, he says.
Foreign incentives. Since 2009, economic stimulus packages in Chi-
THE ZWEIG LETTER | NOVEMBER 14, 2011, ISSUE 935
S R AT E G Y
High-minded design needed
A Hot Firm’s journey of success through purpose. By Christina Zweig Staff writer H ow many A/E/P and environ- mental firm leaders have drivers other than profit? This was the question Wendi Gold- smith, CEO of Bioengineering Group (Salem, MA), posed during her talk,
the ability to balance the more mun- dane tasks with the reason most entre- preneurs started their firms – because they care about the cause. This is an especially difficult task in a rough eco- nomic time. With so many recent natural disasters in the news, purpose helps to refocus architects, engineers and everyone de- signing or constructing the built envi- ronment. Earthquakes, rainfall, flooding, hurri- canes and tornadoes have caused large- scale destruction and loss of life in re- cent times and were also the first chal- lenges those in the profession histori- cally have had to confront. Goldsmith asked, “How much of this is just statistical probability, or how much is due to humans altering the en- vironment? If things were built in a dif- ferent way, would the effect of the di- saster be less?” Reminding oneself of a higher pur- pose is a good way to create success. Goldsmith, as the leader of Bioengi- neering Group, has a deep commitment to sustainability and stewardship. She argued that sustainability doesn’t have to cost more. “In fact, sustainable approaches can generate revenue. Often times the sus- tainable solution is the least expensive solution,” she said. And who doesn’t want to save money? “Sustainability is important, but it’s not just a trendy movement about how to save energy; it’s about general stew- ardship of all resources, which includes water and electricity, but also peoples’ time and money,” she said. One way architects, engineers and other design professionals can kick- start the economy is by focusing on re- ducing energy use and a general stew- ardship of all resources, through new construction and existing retrofits, Goldsmith said. Bioengineering Group believes that stewardship measures that deliver “tri- ple-bottom-line returns” to society, economy and ecology, are the ways in which A/E/P and environmental firms can become more successful – and in turn, the industry, the country and the planet will all benefit.
ed design is still possi- ble through conscious planning and execution of buildings, neighbor- hoods, infrastructure systems and communi- ties. Personal exam- ple. Bioengineering Group’s position as a leading environmen- tal firm specializing in ecological restoration and the application of sustainability princi- ples to site planning, infrastructure develop- ment, renewable ener- gy and water manage- ment through innova- tive and often proprie- tary techniques can be seen as an example of
Wendi Goldsmith, CEO, Bioengineering Group.
“Sustainability is important, but it’s not just a trendy movement about how to save energy, it’s about general stewardship of all resources, which includes water and electricity, but also peoples’ time and money.”
design with a mission. From its humble beginnings in 1992, when Goldsmith drove a battered Toy- ota around Massachusetts full of plant- ings, she already knew she was on to something with Bioengineering Group. “People ask me how I predicted the in- creased focus on environmental con- cerns and the necessity of firms like ours. I say, ‘I didn’t predict it would happen, I just hoped it would. I saw it needed to happen.’” The firm has obviously done some- thing right, landing at No. 24 on The Zweig Letter 2011 Hot Firm List after initially making the list in 2010. Goldsmith may have started alone, but her business plan always involved growth. Besides growth, an essential part of Bioengineering Group’s business plan is to be “an agent of social change.” Keeping the focus. Thoughmany leaders may have started or joined a firm because of high-minded objec- tives, the job changes, and it’s easy to lose focus, Goldsmith said. “So much of what we get bogged down with is legal obligations, cash flow, etc,” she said. Goldsmith believes true success is
“Sustainability & Stewardship: Techni- cal Leadership Opportunities for De- sign Professionals” at The Zweig Letter 2011 Hot Firm Conference held Oct. 26-27 in Laguna Beach, Calif. Goldsmith believes current economic and environmental problems present challenges that can be overcome by ef- fective leadership. Historically, professionals in archi- tecture and engineering led the way to solving grave social problems. Most firm leaders started their enterprises because they had “high-minded objec- tives” – they cared about society, want- ed to improve the environment, felt compelled to create something beauti- ful, wanted to give back to society or wanted personal/professional freedom. “In the past, architects and engineers were united under the idea that proper- ly verified architectural techniques can contribute to public safety,” Goldsmith said. Goldsmith thinks that still occurs. She cited a recent study that found that in the past five years, women are start- ing companies at three times the rate of men, and most of these women give reasons other than financial gain as their motives. And although challeng- es can be different today, high-mind-
© Copyright 2011. ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.
THE ZWEIG LETTER | NOVEMBER 14, 2011, ISSUE 935
P M P E R S P E C T I V E S
A quick word on deadlines
is an hour or two away and there are things you can do when the job first gets assigned. Generally we’re not good at prioritizing, which is why we find ourselves routinely in this jam. It’s not a great feeling and steals away from enjoying what we practice. The discussion on prioritizing requires more than just space in this paragraph, so maybe we can cover that in next month’s issue, because it’s apparent I could use some advice myself.
And I mean quick because I’m pushing up against one myself and not feeling good about it… E verything we work on has a moment when it has to be done; or at least it should, otherwise it will never get done. There isn’t a person reading this article who doesn’t have a deadline, hasn’t blown one, or raced to meet one. Because we work in an industry of deadlines, how can we make the process of work completion smoother and less vexing to our sanity overall? Now that my own keyboard is on fire trying to get this article written, here are a few that come quickly to mind: xz Own up to the status. Someone is on the other end of the deadline, waiting for what we are working on. It’s amazing how we cringe when we see their email enter the inbox asking how things are going. We look at it like it’s an intrusion or a parole officer asking for an update on our errant behavior. It takes time to make up creative excuses. Instead, just be honest and keep plugging away at whatever it is you are working on. xz Try asking for a bit more time. If the recipient is a good project manager and allows some slack in the schedule for general tardiness, it’s not out of the realm of impossibility to squeeze a little more time to get the work finished – if you just ask. They should grant you this leniency, but don’t start taking advantage of it. xz Cut out distractions. I received 12 emails in an already full inbox just while writing this article. All needed a lengthy reply, an attachment, research, or other involved effort. Because I’m the responsive type, I interrupted my focus on this piece to respond to a few of them and then went so far as to think I wouldn’t be doing much harm by clearing out the “easiest” of the emails; and then resume the article writing. This is not productive and it’s why I am behind in the first place. Ignore the emails and calls until the deliverable is done. xz Prioritize. There are things you can do while that deadline It’s amazing how we cringe when we see their email enter the inbox asking how things are going. We look at it like it’s an intrusion or a parole officer asking for an update on our errant behavior. It takes time to make up creative excuses. Instead, just be honest and keep plugging away at whatever it is you are working on.
xz Understand quality is sacrificed. A hurried project or deliverable is not going to be the best deliverable. Usually we don’t feel very good about it. Some people will claim they do their best when they are under pressure. Even so, this industry doesn’t do well with the just-in-time delivery model and mistakes or omissions will be present. Be prepared to get an email or call pointing out the error and then be prepared to apologize and do it right. Don’t even try to offer an excuse, because that’s just time you can use elsewhere to get something important done. xz Work in your quiet time. The distractions of the day (calls, emails, people in the office stopping in for a chat) can steal hours away from what we ideally planned to be a full day. Work in the hours those things don’t happen – like early morning or early evening. In some cases, it may be late evening or even the weekend. Despite the economy, people are very busy and it is still a great challenge to meet deadlines. Working earlier, later, or on weekends is a good responsibility to have. xz Don’t be sorry, be better. Missing a deadline or pushing up against one has a chain reaction for someone else or several others. We are apologetic and even I am going to apologize to my editor when I turn this in 24 hours after he needed it. He understands and likely all our colleagues and consultants let us off the hook, but the chance here is to improve to the point where we don’t find ourselves in this position. In writing this, I found four things I can easily change. Just one of those gains me significant time. Think about what is jamming you into a deadline and where you can shift those distractions and derailing challenges. There will always be conflicts that will interfere with our work process but I think many are within our control. A little work to improve this has got to be less exhausting than the stress of racing to the finish line. Christine Brack, PMP, is a principal with ZweigWhite who specializes in strategic business planning and project management optimization. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Successful project management: Successful Project Management in the A/E/P and Environmental Consulting Firm integrates both the skill and science of managing projects and identifies the professions’ best practices through numerous examples, checklists and case studies. Many of these unique features of the book are presented from the client’s viewpoint, adding valuable perspective not often found in management books. The book outlines all the technical attributes that will ensure starting off on top of a project and staying at the top all the way to the finish – and beyond. For more information or to order a copy, call 800-466-6275 or log on to www.zweigwhite.com/zw-1099.aspx.
THE ZWEIG LETTER | NOVEMBER 14, 2011, ISSUE 935
G E N E R A L C O U N S E L
Adhesion contracts are a sticky issue Evaluate risk on a case-by-case basis and protect yourself from bad agreements. I t is said that the law prefers fair bargaining in contracts, where there is some give-and-take in negotiations. Contracts presented on a “take-it-or-leave-it” basis are known as “adhesion contracts” because the terms are merely adhered to by the weaker party, rather than negotiated.
it is evident to this court that the indemnity provision herein was unambiguous and that (the sub) had knowledge of its terms and ramifications… the agreement did not constitute a contract of adhesion.” 2 Negotiation is not required for each and every clause of a contract, and a contract of adhesion is still a valid and binding agreement. However, a finding of adhesion opens up an inquiry as
to whether a particular provision within the contract should be unenforceable on the basis that “it defeats the expectations of the weaker party or it is unduly oppressive or unconscionable.” 3 If the court finds the clause to be unconscionable, then it may strike that clause from the contract as a way to protect the weaker party. The burden of proof is quite high, however, to prevent every contract dispute turning into an opportunity to strike every
tough clause to which parties agreed. The courts are reluctant to rewrite commercial terms once the parties sign a contract. Form contracts are normal in the design and construction industry, e.g. AIA, EJCDC, ConsensusDOCS, DBIA, etc. As a result, outside of the insurance setting, it is unlikely that a court would strike one of these form contracts on the grounds that it was adhesive. As with all contracts, the courts seek to enforce the reasonable expectations of the parties. Only the provisions of the standardized form
A working knowledge of adhesion contracts may be helpful in contract negotiations with large corporations, insurers or sureties with standard forms that impose unreasonable terms that would not normally be acceptable. But don’t expect every court to let you out of a bad contract you sign. Better to evaluate the risk on a case-by-case basis, whether you are signing a standard form or a custom contract.
that fail to live up to such reasonable expectations and are unexpected and “unconscionably unfair” are held to be unenforceable. In a 1996 case, the court applied the general rule of adhesion contracts to a surety’s overly broad indemnity agreement, stating that, “Where a contract is so one-sided that no fair-minded person would view it as just or tolerable, it is deemed unconscionable. Where a party uses a printed form or boilerplate contract which is skillfully drawn by the party in the strongest economic position, which establishes industry-wide standards offered on a take it or leave it basis to the party in a weaker economic position, the contract is unconscionable.” 4 A working knowledge of adhesion contracts may be helpful in contract negotiations with large corporations, insurers or sureties with standard forms that impose unreasonable terms that would not normally be acceptable. But don’t expect every court to let you out of a bad contract you sign. Better to evaluate the risk on a case-by-case basis, whether you are signing a standard form or a custom contract. 1. Hartland Computer Leasing Corp., Inc. v. The Insurance Man, Inc.,770 S.W. 2d 525, 527 (Mo. App. 1989). 2. Egan v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 566 A.2d 1249, 1252 - 1253 (Pa. Super.1989). 3. Marin Storage &Trucking, Inc. v. Benco Contracting and Engineering, Inc., 107 Cal. Rptr.2d 645, 653 (Cal. App. 1 Dist. 2001). 4. Hartford v. Tanner, 910 P.2d 872,878 (Kan. App. 1996). G. William Quatman is an architect and general counsel at Burns & McDonnell Engineering Co. (Kansas City, MO). Contact him at email@example.com.
Adhesion contracts are usually pre-printed forms forced by a stronger party upon a weaker party. As one court put it, “An adhesion contract, as opposed to a negotiated contract, has been described as a form contract created and imposed by a stronger party upon a weaker party on a ‘take this or nothing basis,’ the terms of which unexpectedly or unconscionably limit the obligations of the drafting party.” 1 Contracts of adhesion are most often found in the context of insurance policies, where courts may find that an insured individual has an inferior bargaining position when compared to the insurance company that issued the policy. However, just because a general contractor, as an example, is larger in size than a subcontractor does not automatically make a tough subcontract “adhesive.” In a Pennsylvania case, the contract required a roofing subcontractor to indemnify the general contractor for personal injuries suffered by the sub’s employee, who fell 39 feet through a skylight. The claim was settled for $210,000 and the contractor sued the roofing sub for indemnity. The sub defended by claiming the subcontract was unfair and adhesive, but the court rejected that argument. The court said that the subcontract was between “two commercial parties” and the sub did not claim that it was unaware of the terms of the indemnity provision at the time it entered into the subcontract. Also, the court noted that these types of indemnity provisions are quite normal. The court concluded, “While making no comment on the wisdom of the bargain…,
© Copyright 2011. ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.
HR A SUPPLEMENT OF THE ZWEIG LETTER
NOVEMBER 14, 2011, ISSUE 935
B E S T F I RM
BRS employees socialize during a corporate retreat. Inspiring people, communities and their spaces
Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture is the Best Architecture Firm to Work For.
By Bryan Sullivan Correspondent
I t’s all about the people at Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture, PC (Denver, CO), a 24-person full-service architectural and interior design firm. “Basically, we provide the support and tools needed for success and we reduce stress by keeping employees informed about the financial health of the firm,” says Craig Bouck, president and CEO. “The corporate culture can be summed up in four words: Family focused, inno- vative and proactive.” Founded in 1975 by Don Barker, Ron Rinker and Russ Seacat, BRS is ZweigWhite’s No. 1 Best Architecture Firm to Work For in 2011. Why BRS? Zach Bisek, senior asso- ciate, has been with BRS for six years. He explains why he feels BSR is a top place to work: “For me it would be the flexible hours, culture and profession- al-development opportunities (i.e., lunch and learns and brown-bag ses- sions) that I appreciate the most. BRS supports my professional development and also respects time needed with my family.” Bouck, who has been with the BRS for 17 years, recalls his first interview with BRS. “I sat around a table with everyone on the team that I would be joining – both senior and junior staff. They were more interested in what I wanted to do than what I had done,” he says. “They were informal and worked in a space with- out walls and doors, where everyone shared ideas and seemed genuinely in- terested in doing work that improved quality of life for communities. When I asked what kind of work they did, they answered, ‘any place you’d like to take your family.’ I was hooked.”
So, what makes BRS such a special place to work? Bouck’s list is extensive, but some of the highlights include: xz Being family focused xz Offering flexible schedules xz Providing comprehensive benefits xz Paying for every hour worked xz The opportunity to work on projects that are exciting, useful, and helpful to communities while improving the overall quality of life xz Working with national clients xz Offering varied, non-traditional paths for professional development and advancement Community focus. BRS’s mis- sion statement is “Designing inspired community architecture,” which ex- plains why the company has worked with more than 170 communities in 37 states. “We get our inspiration from the com- munities and clients with whom we work,” Bouck says. “Over the past 35 years, we have pioneered many inno- vative, inclusive, educational and fun methods to engage the public in the design of their community buildings. These methods have allowed us to cre- ate expressive, unique and highly-per- sonalized designs for cities, towns and
villages that are truly inspired by a spe- cific place, people and culture.”
On TRAC. Prior to joining forces to start BRS, the founders worked in sev- eral different architectural firms. When they set out to create this new firm, they endeavored to create a work envi- ronment based on trust, respect, affec- tion and competence – TRAC. “And, our firm, like our work, has evolved and matured since 1975, but the key elements haven’t changed. To- day, we still endeavor to provide a ca- sual, nurturing environment with enough structure and organization to foster creativity, professionalism and profitability,” Bouck says. Quality of life = retention. Katie Barnes, principal, says that, “Cur- rently 67 percent of its employees have been with the company for more than five years. 80 percent have been there for more than three. “BRS offers benefits and perks that equal a ‘quality of life package’,” Barnes says. “While the buildings we design help to improve the quality of life of com- munity residents, similarly, our bene- fits are chosen from the perspective of helping to decrease stress and to sup- port our staff’s family life.”
THE ZWEIG LETTER | NOVEMBER 14, 2011, ISSUE 935
HR BRIEFS The time is now for mobile learning: Workforce demographics, advancements in mobile device accessibility and capabilities, the emergence of effective mobile learning tools and best practices from early adopters make this an opportune time for any organization to test mobile learning (mLearning) without assuming too much risk. mLearning: A Practical Approach to Mobile Technology for Workforce Training, a policy paper released by The McGraw-Hill Research Foundation, outlines the unique benefits of mobile learning. Written by Alex Heiphetz, Ph.D., founder and president of AHG, Inc., a software solution company specializing in business services to training companies and educational institutions, the paper offers a series of recommendations about how mLearning can effectively be used in employee training and development. “We believe that mobile technology can become an engine of business learning in the same way the world wide web became the backbone of learning during the previous technological revolution,” Heiphetz said. “mLearning makes learning easier, motivates further learning, and encourages knowledge sharing and gathering.” Social media and mobility important: The ability to utilize social media, mobile devices and the Internet more freely in the workplace is a key factor for young professionals and college students when it comes to deciding which job offer to accept, a new study found, pointing out that this may be a greater factor than remuneration. The study found that about 33 percent of college students and young employees under the ages of 30 said they would prioritize social media freedom, device flexibility and work mobility over salary in accepting a job offer. This indicated that the expectations and priorities of the next generation of the global workforce would not focus only on monetary factors. In addition, employees today expect greater work flexibility. According to the study, at least one in four employees, or 29 percent, globally indicated that the absence of remote access would influence their job decisions, such as leaving companies sooner rather than later, slacking off or declining job offers outright. Similarly, 29 percent felt that it was their right – more than a privilege – to work remotely and on a flexible schedule. Seventy percent of college students also believed it was unnecessary to be physically in the office regularly, with the exception of an important meeting. In fact, one in four felt that their productivity would
ON THE MOVE RETTEW hires: RETTEW (Lancaster, PA), a 280-person transportation, environmental, planning, surveying, and engineering consulting firm and an Engineering News-Record top 500 design firm, recently welcomed Serena DiMagno as director of environmental engineering. As director of environmental engineering services at RETTEW, DiMagno is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the environmental engineering group, while also providing coaching and mentoring to the service area staff. Collectively, the group provides infiltration and inflow analysis; nutrient reduction; permitting and compliance; pre-treatment design/evaluation; rate studies and tapping fees; wastewater collection, conveyance, and treatment; water supply treatment and distribution; air quality; and acid mine drainage remediation. Wiser hires: Wiser Company, LLC (Murfreesboro, TN), a 200-person engineering, architectural, construction management, intelligence and geospatial services firm, announced that Scott Van Dermark has joined the company as senior vice president, business development. In this role, Van Dermark will lead Wiser’s business development team’s efforts in furthering the company’s strategic growth and development within the intelligence and security services, information technology solutions and infrastructure engineering markets. Van Dermark most recently served as the vice president of sales and marketing for Fugro EarthData, Inc., an international geospatial engineering firm where he directed all sales, marketing, and business development activities within the U.S. geospatial market. He brings over 23 years of geospatial business experience in the field of airborne and satellite remote sensing and is an expert in the application of electro-optical imaging, laser, and radar technologies in support of survey and mapping operations. Baxter & Woodman appoints: Baxter & Woodman, Inc. Consulting Engineers (Crystal Lake, IL), a 260-person consulting engineering firm, announced the appointment of Louis Haussmann as the increase if they were allowed to work from home or remotely. The study, commissioned by Cisco Systems and conducted by market research firm InsightExpress, surveyed over 2,800 college students and young professionals in 14 countries.
firm’s chief operating officer. Haussmann joined the firm in 1997 after earning his Master of Science degree in civil engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign. He is a licensed professional engineer in the states of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, and is certified as a professional traffic operations engineer. Prior to his appointment, Haussmann lead the firm’s Transportation Group, focusing on municipal, county, state and federal agency design and construction projects. Haussmann was elected to the firm’s Board of Directors in 2009. Weinstein Friedlein Architects hires: Weinstein Friedlein Architects has hired John Reese , as a design architect who leads market development for the firm, and Mary Englund as an intern architect. Reese has a master of architecture degree from Oklahoma State University and a 24- year design portfolio ranging from residential and rehabilitation projects to large corporate and urban master plans. His previous experience includes Duda/Paine Architects and Clearscapes . Reese’s design portfolio has been published in several national publications and his work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally. Englund is a native of Durham, N.C., and joined Weinstein Friedlein Achitects as an intern architect in August 2011. She is a graduate of NCSU’s College of Design, where she received numerous scholastic awards and a Bachelor of Architecture in 2010. Englund’s previous work experience includes Szostak Design, Inc. and Duda/ Paine Architects. Dade Moeller opens lab: Radiation safety firm Dade Moeller announced that its new Oak Ridge, Tenn., Radioanalytical and Calibration Laboratory is open for business, offering sample analysis, radioactive sealed source leak testing, and instrument calibration services. The laboratory, previously located in Gaithersburg, Md., currently serves 100 private sector clients and was moved to better meet the needs of current and future operations. Dade Moeller also expanded its Oak Ridge office space to accommodate the laboratory and planned company growth. “Since opening our office in Oak Ridge one year ago we have successfully established our presence supporting Health and Safety, Environmental, and Radiological programs in the Oak Ridge complex,” said Darrin Lawrence, Eastern Operations vice president. “Relocating our Laboratory promotes further growth in Oak Ridge, and allows us to capitalize on additional personnel and equipment resources to expand the depth and quality of our services.”
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