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Principals’ compensation

Lessons learned from conversations with industry leaders about separation anxiety, empowerment, and calm confidence. Talk it out

In Zweig Group’s 2020 Principals, Partners & Owners Report of AEC Firms , principals were asked to provide their current compensation data. Shown are the base salaries of all principals in the survey sample by median and mean value. Over the last five years, we’ve seen a steady increase in base compensation among principals in the AEC industry. While bonus pay has flatlined over that same stretch, shareholder distributions have also increased in that five-year span.

W hen I sat down to write this article, I had every intention of focusing on what I am seeing in the M&A world in the current transactional environment. But this isn’t the time for that commentary. This week, I’m going to write about my least favorite thing: feelings. Because, though we may all prefer talking about multiples, over the last couple of weeks, I have had more conversations with industry leaders that have dovetailed from their original purpose into something more important: acknowledging how much this really is impacting many of us. Here are a few themes I’ve picked up from the conversations that I have had recently: ❚ ❚ Separation anxiety. It’s not just how leaders have shared that they are coping with isolation, but a yet-more crippling feeling of anxiety from being separated from the teams they lead. I have a great deal of respect for the leaders who know that their energy is felt even from afar. I will also add that most of the brilliant people that AEC firms employ would prefer a leader who is forthright over one who is charismatic – we conduct management interviews for all of our strategic planning engagements; no one is nearly as cunning at concealing their true feelings as they give themselves credit for. ❚ ❚ Empowerment. I’m frequently reminded of and inspired by a comment from our 2019 Courage in Leadership Award footage describing Paul Greenhagen of Westwood Professional Services as someone who (to paraphrase) “bought us all computers during the recession. That might not seem like a big deal, but he cared that we had the tools we needed to do our jobs well.” In our firm, when conversations about what to cut have been raised, I have tried to espouse the same mindset: Will this limit someone’s ability to be effective? Applying the “Greenhagen Paradigm” has, I think, already helped our staff feel confident speaking up instead of applying duct tape and making do. It’s unfair to expect our team to offer white-glove service without reciprocal investment from our company, and there’s no way I can expect them to charge appropriately for our expertise when they don’t have best-in-class resources. ❚ ❚ Calm confidence. An oft-repeated concept that resonated with me is controlling what you can control and building “plateaus of confidence.” Maybe you cannot do something that you’d really like to do, for example, maybe you’d normally go to lunch with a client, but you can do something else to stay connected, and that is an accomplishment. Noting that accomplishment, and then building from there to something else that you can do to take control of the situation, can be a helpful way to build a foundation when so many of the “rules of engagement” that have helped us be effective in our roles have to be entirely re-written. ❚ ❚ Utter powerlessness. I’ve also heard the question of how we can

Jamie Claire Kiser

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F I R M I N D E X Deere & Ault Consultants, Inc................12

Schnabel Engineering. ..........................12

Wallace Engineering................................6

Ware Malcomb..................................4, 10

MO R E A R T I C L E S xz JOHN BRAY: Use this time Page 3 xz Work together: Tom Hendrick Page 6 xz MARK ZWEIG: Ten questions for you to honestly answer Page 9 xz JOAN DELOREY & JARED MAXWELL: Update on professional liability insurance Page 11

See JAMIE CLAIRE KISER, page 2

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