Seeking change: Emad Al-Turk CEO of Waggoner (Jackson, MS), a civil engineering firm of planners, designers, and engineers with a passion for helping communities realize their potential.
By LIISA ANDREASSEN Correspondent
A s CEO, Al-Turk possesses an entrepreneurial spirit that drives him and helps him to recognize it in others. His primary focus is to build a team that understands change is inevitable and his mindset is to always question what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. He embraces critical thinking, innovation, and service in an effort to continually improve. As such, he spends most of his time working “on the business” rather than “in the business” on items such as setting strategic direction, envisioning organic and acquisitive growth, identifying partners who align with their values and culture, managing change, communicating internally and externally, and setting company performance expectations. His leadership team works mostly “in the business,” managing and leading the operations of different aspects and making sure everyone is held accountable for performance. “An entrepreneurial spirit is a state of mind that the status quo is not acceptable and that future success is not predicated on past successes,” he says. “To stay ahead of the competition, we must actively seek out change rather than wait to adopt change.”
And it’s that same entrepreneurial spirit that helps the younger set move into principal roles quicker. Last year alone, Waggoner advanced three individuals in their 30s as principals, and they have at least two more being mentored to become principals. “The most important attribute we look for in naming future principals is fulfilling this entrepreneurial spirit,” he says. CALCULATING GROWTH. And that philosophy seems to be working as the company grew by 100 percent between 2017 and 2021, mostly through organic growth. In 2020, they decided to grow the firm fivefold in five years. Initially, they wanted to build on the successes achieved over the previous five years and to expand on their own through organic and acquisitive growth. After significant deliberation, they decided to pursue partnership with a private equity firm that aligns with their values. “We defined desired attributes and talked to a half dozen private equity firms,” Al-Turk says. “We narrowed our search to the top two and finally selected Alpine Investors/Trilon
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