TZL 1410 (web)

T R E N D L I N E S S e p t emb e r 2 7 , 2 0 2 1 , I s s u e 1 4 1 0 W W W . T H E Z W E I G L E T T E R . C O M

Formal marketing plan

Whatever your role is at work or in life, showing others respect is always a good way to build a great relationship. A simple hello

W hile growing up I constantly took the opportunity to look through my parents’ junk drawer in the kitchen. It was organized into different sections of stationary supplies, suckers, ribbon, surplus silverware, matchbooks, nut crackers, old recipes, and other misfits that didn’t make sense anywhere else. If you have a place to call home, my guess is you have a drawer exactly like this. One day as a young kid, I was rummaging through the junk drawer and discovered a cassette tape with “Some of my experiences with Henry Ford” written on the label. At the time, anything audio- related I could get my hands on was just cool to me. My father was a national account manager with an international electronics company for 25 years, so the technology of the early ‘90s was easy to come across in our house. After listening to the tape over the next few days it became obvious to me this was not a normal audio-journal entry and that my grandfather’s life was deeply impacted by Henry Ford. His experiences with him professionally and personally had a profound effect on how he treated others and lived his life. “I was often walking along the road near the Cotswold Cottage at the time Mr. Ford came driving into the Village with his chauffeur, and even though I was a young man of 19 and dressed in blue jeans for work, Mr. Ford always waved to me,” my grandfather, Clem Glotzhober recalled on January 29, 2000. “Frequently, about the same time, other executives would also be driving along that road, but they would never wave to me. I have thought about how Henry Ford would wave to me, but his less important assistants were too self-centered to wave to a younger worker.” There are countless entries where Ford went out of his way to impact my grandfather in a personal way by showing him different kinds of respect. It was kind of strange. After all, my grandfather was just a chemist in the Ford-funded George Washington Carver Lab and not a crucial part of his auto empire. But still, it all felt so personal. Harvard Business Review has a consistent study that shows about half of employees don’t feel respected by their bosses. The general rule is that respect is earned and not given, but that’s not always a successful way to build a relationship. There is a certain balance of earned and owed respect that must exist for an organization to thrive. Owed respect is something that should be applied equally across a firm, not only to employees but to equipment and facilities as well. This should create a good work environment where everyone and everything is inherently valuable. Whereas

F I R M I N D E X Alliance Architectural.............................12 Bates Smart............................................4 BL Companies, Inc.. .............................10 Clark Construction Group. ......................4 Dewberry ..............................................10 KCCT......................................................4 Landry/French .........................................6 Primoris Services Corporation.................2 WSB.......................................................4 MO R E A R T I C L E S xz SUSAN MILLER: Internship programs Page 3 xz Concentrate on the rewards: Kevin French Page 6 xz JULIA DEFRANCES: Choosing a culture of flexibility Page 9 xz MARK ZWEIG: Cultural fit isn’t all it’s cracked up to be Page 11 In Zweig Group’s 2021 Marketing Report of AEC Firms , firms were asked about their general marketing strategies and planning. For the overall sample, about three out of every four firms said they had a formal marketing plan, covering items such as marketing budget and revenue, plan by market or region, and firmwide goals. The chart above shows the breakdown of this question down by firm growth rate in revenue and/or staff size. Growing firms were more likely to have a marketing plan than stable or declining firms. Participate in a survey and save 50 percent on the final or pre- publication price of any Zweig Group research publication.

Chad Coldiron




BUSINESS NEWS PRIMORIS SERVICES CORPORATION AWARDED TWO SOLAR PROJECTS VALUED OVER $120 MILLION Primoris Services Corporation announced two new solar awards with a combined value of more than $120 million. The contracts were secured by the company’s Energy/Renewables Segment. “These contracts are the realization of two projects we mentioned during our second quarter earnings call that were progressing under limited notices to proceed and are excellent examples as to why we have confidence in the balance of this year as well as into 2022,” said Tom McCormick, president and chief executive officer of Primoris. “We have now executed three contracts in the last week for a combined total of over $220 million that add to our backlog in the Energy/Renewables segment and we have more to come.” ❚ ❚ The first award is for the engineering, procurement, and construction of a utility- scale solar facility in the Southwest. The

primary scope includes all civil, electrical, and mechanical work. Initial construction on the project will begin in the third quarter of 2021 with completion expected in the third quarter of 2022. ❚ ❚ The second award is for the engineering, procurement, and construction of a utility- scale solar facility in the Midwest. The scope includes all civil, electrical and mechanical work. Initial construction on this project will begin in the third quarter of 2021 with completion expected in the second quarter of 2022. Primoris is one of the leading providers of specialty contracting and critical infrastructure services operating throughout the United States and Canada. Primoris provides a wide range of specialty construction services, fabrication, maintenance, and engineering services to a diversified and well-tenured blue-chip client base.

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CHAD COLDIRON, from page 1

earned respect is gained through individuals displaying the firm’s core values or behaviors. Having the right balance of respect is critical to creating an all-around great employee experience. The best part about all of this is that most AEC firms don’t require a drastic policy or fundamental change to positively impact the employee experience. It can be as simple as applying some of these principles: ❚ ❚ Ripple effect. Good or not, leadership’s actions and behaviors are seen and often repeated throughout the work environment. Set the example you want your employees to follow, and it will become ingrained in your firm’s culture. ❚ ❚ Stress reduction. Having someone show you even a baseline amount of owed respect can sometimes change your whole attitude for the better. Employees with lower stress levels are more productive and more open to sharing ideas and collaborating with others. This all enhances the design process. ❚ ❚ Listen first; act now. Take on all toxic conversations with grace and stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Shutting the conversation down as quickly as possible is always best and saying nothing at all is a bad move. No one is prepared for every conversation, but knowing how to interject in a respectful tone is important. ❚ ❚ Be an open book. One of the many reasons to love open-book management is that it builds trust and is a huge sign of respect from the employees’ standpoint. When you share financial and strategic information it helps unify and strengthen firm culture. ❚ ❚ Work-life balance. AEC firms are struggling to cope with the fact that traditional workplace policies have been disrupted and will largely not return to what they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. Firms that fail to adjust will fall further behind in areas of recruitment and retention and more than likely be looking at the lower half of the barrel for future talent. It was 95 years ago when Henry Ford introduced the five day, eight-hour per day work week and it’s still tough for leaders to see the demand for change. Ford, like anyone else, had a lot of flaws as a person, but he managed to impact people like my grandfather so profoundly he felt it necessary to share his experiences through family and publications until the very end of his life. Whatever your role is at work or in life, showing others respect is always a good way to build a great relationship. CHAD COLDIRON is director of executive search at Zweig Group. Contact him at ccoldiron@ .

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© Copyright 2021. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.




Internship programs

Developing an internship program will build your firm’s talent pipeline and develop future leaders.

A s we approach fall, we hustle to finish summer projects, squeeze in a few more long weekends at the cabin, and prepare for what’s ahead. This is also the time when we say goodbye to our summer interns. Some might be joining us as full- time employees, ready to hit the ground running. Others are returning to school to complete their degrees. A few might explore new career paths discovered over the summer. Regardless of where they are headed, we know that while they were with us, they helped us grow in many ways.

Susan Miller

We learn a lot from our interns every year. First and foremost, our interns provide fresh perspectives and innovative thinking. Their diverse experiences and backgrounds produce an influx of new ideas. Whether it is the latest app for organizing job site schedules or the creative solution to address project delays, the opportunity for interns to showcase their talents ultimately helps our business move forward. Interns also provide valuable leadership and learning experiences for our staff. Our interns provide mentorship opportunities while they gain experience and confidence. Staff serving as mentors to these students hone their

communication skills and provide constructive feedback along the way. Interns, too, offer valuable feedback. As hiring continues to be a challenge both in and outside the AEC industry, internships provide a great opportunity to test the waters and build a talent pipeline for the future. The National Association of Colleges and Employers’ recently released 2021 Internship & Co- Op Survey Report shows that at both the one-year and five-year marks, new hires who have interned with the employer are more likely to be retained than hires who interned elsewhere or with no

See SUSAN MILLER, page 4



BUSINESS NEWS NEW AUSTRALIAN EMBASSY TOPS OUT IN DOWNTOWN DC, ONE STEP CLOSER TO COMPLETION The construction of the new Chancery for the Australian Embassy has reached a new milestone with the topping out of the new facility. Clark Construction Group joined Australia’s Ambassador Paul Myler, Chargé d’affaires, Deputy Chief of Mission, Australian Embassy, Washington D.C., to mark the significant milestone which marks the completion of structural concrete and the construction of the building’s full height. Clark Construction Group is leading the construction efforts on the project. Australian architectural studio Bates Smart is the designer, with the D.C.-based architectural firm KCCT serving as the architect of record. Clark constructed the original Bates Smart- designed Australian Embassy building more than 50 years ago. Located in the heart of Washington, D.C.’s Embassy Row, the state-of-the-art, 213,600-square-foot embassy will enable the Australian government to advance its political, security, defense, development, trade, investment, and business relationships with the United States. Once complete, the New Chancery for the Australian Embassy will feature an expansive glass atrium, an open public area looking towards the White House, an exhibition gallery, and function spaces for ceremonial and public events. “Today we mark the ‘topping out’ ceremony for the new Australian Embassy – an important milestone in the construction of the chancery but also a sign that Australia’s new official home in the heart of Washington, D.C. is a step closer to completion,” said the Hon.

Arthur Sinodinos AO, Australia’s Ambassador to the United States. “Australia has no better friend or ally than the United States. It is fitting that this ceremony is taking place in 2021, when we celebrate seventy years of the ANZUS alliance. The new chancery exemplifies the spirit of partnership between our countries – designed by an Australian architectural firm and built by an American construction company. Once complete, I envisage it as a place to experience the best of Australia; to discuss the big issues facing our nations; to do business; and to celebrate our unbreakable bond.” The Clark Construction team has worked within the confines of a tight site, bordered by Scott Circle, the Philippines Embassy, and a historic cathedral-style church with fragile stained-glass windows, to construct the new building within the footprint of the old embassy building. After a year-long effort to demolish the former facility and excavate the below-grade structure, crews began vertical construction in November 2020. Since that time, crews have poured 18,700 cubic yards of concrete and laid 2,600 tons of rebar to bring the embassy to its full vertical height. “This is such an exciting moment for the entire project team,” said Bill Bartling, Clark’s vice president in charge of the new embassy. “The topping out ceremony is an opportunity to pause and recognize the hard work of the craftworkers that have dedicated over 200,000 hours to reach this tremendous milestone.” In addition to showcasing the Australian design, materials, and talent, the new embassy embodies Australia’s global leadership in sustainable design, construction, and innovation. The facility is pursuing the highest

global environmental design certifications available, with features including a thermally efficient façade, a green roof with an extensive photovoltaic array, and the latest building services technologies. The New Chancery for the Australian Embassy is scheduled to open in early 2023. Clark Construction Group, LLC, is one of the nation’s most experienced and respected providers of building and civil construction services companies with annual revenues of approximately $5 billion. Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, the company has offices strategically located to serve clients throughout the country. Bates Smart is a multidisciplinary design firm delivering architecture, interior design, urban design and strategic services across Australia and the world. Our award-winning projects shape the city fabric and the way people work, meet, live, learn and heal. For more than 35 years, KCCT has created innovative and monumental architecture and interior design projects in more than 140 countries since 1983. The firm has worked on more than half of the American diplomatic posts worldwide and numerous landmark buildings in Washington, D.C. KCCT’s team prides themselves on their unconditional commitment to service and design whether delivering high quality architecture, planning, interiors, security, historic preservation, or sustainability projects. KCCT has received dozens of regional, national, and international design awards, including honors from The American Institute of Architects, World Architecture News, the United States General Services Administration, and the Department of State.

SUSAN MILLER, from page 3

a valuable learning experience for our interns that has included field trips, town halls, TEDx Talks, development opportunities, trivia nights, and volunteer events. Since the inception of the Intern Experience, we’ve hired many people who have graduated from the program and have added more activities to provide opportunities for interns to connect with one another and with leaders in our company. Every year, we ask ourselves, “What did we learn from our interns this summer?” Our answer is always the same: A great deal. Our interns are eager to grow professionally, uniquely talented, bold, innovative, and ready to make their mark on the AEC world and beyond. Whether they become full-time employees, future business partners, or leaders in our industry, we are grateful to have shared this experience with them. SUSAN MILLER is WSB’s director of learning and works closely with leadership to identify and deliver professional development and training opportunities to staff. Susan’s experience designing curricula, implementing instructional strategies, and leading educational initiatives helps drive WSB team members to further their learning. Contact her at

intern experience. This becomes even more valuable as organizations across the country are experiencing a talent shortage. “Our interns are eager to grow professionally and ready to make their mark on the AEC world and beyond. Whether they become full-time employees, future business partners, or leaders in our industry, we are grateful to have shared this experience with them.” In 2016, WSB launched the Intern Experience program. The talent market is competitive and bringing our industry’s best and brightest to WSB is important to us. The Intern Experience is intended to help our firm recruit, engage, and retain staff. Through this program, we create

© Copyright 2021. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.





Networkingandmentoringaremore important thanever in the “Covid Age.” In this session, we will cover remote networking ideas, including actual screenshots and clips of actual remote networking events our company held. Mentoring ideologies and benefits will also be discussed. We will wrap up with some tips and tricks on how to free up your time with improved workflow and software, in order to work on higher order things.

The M&A market is hot! Whether it’s a knock on your door or planning for retirement, the urge to sell often comes on quicker than owners expect. Now is the time to learnwhat’s involved in the transaction process should the opportunity present itself. We’ll discuss essential preparation for a transaction to ensure you and your business are in the best possible position. Considerations to maximize value are often surprising!







There is still time to register!





Concentrate on the rewards: Kevin French Chairman and CEO of Landry/French (Scarborough, ME), a 100 percent employee- owned commercial construction company.


A s chairman and CEO at Landry/French, French directs the company’s strategy and overall vision and is focused on business growth and talent acquisition. He’s driven the company to be one of the most successful construction management firms in Northern New England with revenues of more than $150 million, earning spots on the Inc. 5000 and Engineering News-Record ’s Top New England Contractors. In 2021, he and his partner, Denis Landry, were named the Mainebiz Business Leaders of the Year. “I generally always start looking at a new project by concentrating on all the rewards before I will concentrate on the risks,” French says. “Placing the right team on the project and empowering them to make decisions greatly reduces the risks.” A CONVERSATION WITH KEVIN FRENCH. The Zweig Letter: I watched the video in your online bio. What made you initially take that leap of faith to start your first business? What is one of the most valuable

lessons you learned from that first business that you brought to the table in co-founding Landry French? Kevin French: I’ve always been a risk taker. I like to be a little nervous and uneasy. It keeps me on my toes. I get bored quickly and am always looking for that next challenge. I tend to look at risk through the eyes of optimism. My first business taught me what debt is all about. It scared me to death to be in the hole, but with a lot of hard work, it can be overcome. When we started Landry/French we had no debt. Also, when I started the first company, I was not as confident as I am now to surround myself with smart people. Now, I do. Hiring high-performing people has allowed us to be up by 350 percent in seven years. TZL: How do you anticipate COVID-19 permanently impacting your firm’s policy on telecommuting? KF: We are a construction company and we need people to come to work every day. We have not had any issues working in a “normal” setting. I’m not a fan of



telecommuting. I know it works for some, but I like a team atmosphere, filled with a lot of collaboration. I enjoy stopping by people’s offices and meeting in the hallways, talking about their projects, or whatever needs to be discussed. TZL: How much time do you spend working “in the business” rather than “on the business?” KF: The majority of my time is working on the business, and very little in the business. We empower all of the team members to make decisions. On the occasion when they do need to come to me for help, in many cases they have a solution and want to confirm their thoughts. TZL: Trust is essential. How do you earn the trust of your clients? KF: That is a simple one: Tell them the truth about good news and bad news. I want them to be part of the team and keep them informed throughout the process. Just do what you said you would do. Reputation is everything in our business if you want to have the great clients. It doesn’t take long for a bad reputation to spread. TZL: What role does your family play in your career? Are work and family separate, or is there overlap? KF: My wife allows me time flexibility, and she knows there are days when I may be home late. She has always provided me with support in regards to my schedule. Having the home support makes the job so much easier and is a huge help in not providing another layer of stress. I can remember earlier in my career, I was home late almost every night. Those were the days when I was trying to make a name for myself, working long days and building on my network after work. “I’ve always been a risk taker. I like to be a little nervous and uneasy. It keeps me on my toes. I get bored quickly and am always looking for that next challenge.” TZL: What skills are required to run a successful company? What do you wish you knew starting out that you know now? KF: Having the confidence to hire people

smarter than yourself. For many years, I have sought out top talent, and have been willing to pay them for the value they bring to the team. Our clients see that our employees are some of the best in the industry and they know they are in good hands. “For many years, I have sought out top talent, and have been willing to pay them for the value they bring to the team. Our clients see that our employees are some of the best in the industry and they know they are in good hands.” When I first started out, we didn’t make it a priority to seek out top performers and accepted average performance. We didn’t want more overhead, and felt we couldn’t support higher overhead. We concentrated on why we couldn’t hire high performing individuals versus why we couldn’t afford not to hire high performing people. Since embracing this approach, we have made the Inc. 5000 list for fastest growing companies and our projects have become more complex in nature, larger in size, and more profitable. TZL: Tenacity and perseverance have apparently paid off. Can you give me an example or two that illustrates these attributes? KF: About five years ago, we had an opportunity to take on a project that was our largest to date. A lot of the team looked at the negatives, while I saw the positives. I said we were going to do it despite all the naysayers. It was that project that made all the difference in the world when it came to building the confidence of our team. Since then, we’ve never looked back. And more recently, we were asked to develop a facility for Abbott Laboratories. Landry/French’s rapid response construction delivered a 120,000-square-foot facility in a record 90 days, allowing the client to ramp up production of COVID-19 test kits. The renovations converted an existing Olympia Sports Distribution facility in Westbrook, Maine into sophisticated lab space. The project included 17,000 square feet of administration and office space, 50,000 See CONCENTRATE ON THE REWARDS, page 8






❚ ❚ Pre-construction

❚ ❚ Construction management

❚ ❚ Design/build

❚ ❚ General contracting

❚ ❚ MEP services

❚ ❚ Lean construction

❚ ❚ BIM


❚ ❚ Civic

❚ ❚ Commercial

❚ ❚ Housing

❚ ❚ Industrial

❚ ❚ Healthcare

❚ ❚ Historic

YEARLY VOLUME: $150 million per


© Copyright 2021. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

EMBER 27, 2021, ISSUE 1410


BUSINESS NEWS PRIMORIS SERVICES CORPORATION AWARDED 200 MW THERMAL POWER PROJECT ESTIMATED VALUE OF $100 MILLION Primoris Services Corporation announced the award of a thermal power project with an estimated value of $100 million. The contract was secured by the company’s Energy/Renewables Segment. ❚ ❚ This award is for the engineering, procurement and construction of 200 MW of thermal power for two different locations in the Southwest. The primary scope

of the project includes all civil, electrical and mechanical work associated with construction of these new power generation plants adjacent to existing facilities. ❚ ❚ Initial engineering and procurement of the project will begin in the third quarter of 2021 with completion expected in the second quarter of 2022. Primoris Services Corporation is a leading provider of specialty contracting and critical infrastructure services to the utility, energy/

renewables, and pipeline services markets throughout North America. The Company’s diversified base of blue-chip customers, focus on smaller contracts, and its high proportion of master service agreements have de-risked its portfolio over the last several years. An expanded presence in higher-margin, higher- growth markets such as utility-scale solar facility installations and telecom/broadband infrastructure have also increased its potential for long-term growth.

Landry/French’s rapid response construction delivered a 120,000-square-foot facility in a record 90 days, allowing their client to ramp up production of COVID-19 test kits. The renovations converted an existing Olympia Sports Distribution facility into lab space.


KF: We are an employee owner company. The success of the company’s financial performance shows up in their wallets. Becoming an ESOP basically gave every employee another retirement fund. We also have a 401(k) program that matches their contribution up to 4 percent “Tell [clients] the truth about good news and bad news. I want them to be part of the team and keep them informed throughout the process ... Reputation is everything in our business if you want to have the great clients. It doesn’t take long for a bad reputation to spread.” TZL: It is often said that people leave managers, not companies. What are you doing to ensure that your line leadership are great people managers? KF: Our turnover is around 3 percent which speaks volumes about our leadership practices. Most everyone enjoys coming to work every day. Our culture encourages all the employees to act like it’s their own business, because it is their business. Our leadership treats everyone with respect and we value each other’s opinions.

square feet of clean manufacturing space, and 11,000 square feet of laboratory space that includes a BSL II lab. Building infrastructure upgrades included 37,000 square feet of new mechanical mezzanine for the new air handling equipment and compressed air system. The project included adding three new electrical services and a new chilled water plant and generator yard. Under normal circumstances, a project like this would take about 18 months. We hired extra staff and I was personally on the job for 67 days. We completed the job within a few hours of our end goal. Perseverance and tenacity pay off. TZL: What type of leader do you consider yourself to be? KF: Upbeat and optimistic. I generally always start looking at a new project by concentrating on all the rewards, before I will concentrate on the risks. Placing the right team on the project and empowering them to make decisions greatly reduces the risks. When faced with a decision that needs to be made, I concentrate on the positive energy of the situation and generally I can find it. It helps me solve issues quicker and takes a lot less energy than concentrating on the negative aspects. TZL: What benefits does your firm offer that your people get most excited about?

© Copyright 2021. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.




It’s natural to want to go back to normal – but remember that employees are your firm’s most important asset, and their needs are critical to your continued success. Choosing a culture of flexibility

T he pandemic has irrevocably changed how we as an industry operate, and firms are now faced with a decision as to when they’ll implement that fabled “return to normal.” But after so many months successfully remote, the question of how and why a firm goes back to the office becomes just as pressing as when. How do we establish a plan that makes everyone happy? What does normal look like now? And why did leadership reach a particular decision? At BL Companies, these questions have been at the forefront of our minds throughout the pandemic. After many months of deliberation, employee surveys, and constant communication we came to the clear and obvious answer, that what our employees value over everything else was the freedom to choose.

Julia DeFrances

BL’s decision to go remote was reached swiftly after several weeks of increasing safety measures. Even though the transition to remote work went smoothly, it was clear that constant and early communication pathways needed to be established both for the continued success of our business and for the well-being of our employees. We instituted a weekly firm-wide meeting with the CEO, where updates could be provided on the state of our business, the health and economic crises at large, and what the future held for our

firm. But more than that, it was an opportunity for leadership to be a steady presence in the lives of our employees when so much was in flux. After a few weeks of remote work, we also held a firm- wide development workshop focused on building a framework to deal with an organizational crisis such as the pandemic. The workshop was a great way to help our employees address their feelings about the abrupt change to our business, while




BUSINESS NEWS NCDOT SELECTS DEWBERRY FOR 2021 COMPREHENSIVE ENVIRONMENTAL ANALYSIS UNIT CONTRACT Dewberry , a privately held professional services firm, has announced that it has been selected by the North Carolina Department of Transportation for the 2021 Environmental Analysis Unit limited services contract. As part of the contract, Dewberry will support NCDOT’s various transportation projects by providing natural environment studies, historic architectural and historic landscape analyses, public involvement and community studies assistance, archaeological investigations, visualization products, and traffic noise analysis services. This will allow the firm to provide ecological, cultural, and community studies to NCDOT as part of the transportation

project delivery process, including unique environmental services, such as mussel and aquatics surveys and virtual public engagement. “Protecting our environment and mitigating impacts to local natural and community resources iscritical for successful transportation projects,” says Dewberry Contract Manager and Associate Beth Smyre, PE. “We have a dynamic team of environmental specialists in North Carolina and throughout the country who will bring their expertise to this contract, and I’m excited for this opportunity to continue our support of NCDOT.” The state-wide contract supports NCDOT’s environmental compliance goals and is valued at $3 million. Dewberry is a leading, market-facing firm with

a proven history of providing professional services to a wide variety of public- and private-sector clients. Recognized for combining unsurpassed commitment to client service with deep subject matter expertise, Dewberry is dedicated to solving clients’​most complex challenges and transforming their communities. Established in 1956, Dewberry is headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, with more than 50 locations and more than 2,000 professionals nationwide. Dewberry’s mission is to create responsible and innovative solutions for those who own, operate, and maintain natural and built environments. Dewberry values lasting relationships, achieving its clients’ visions, and celebrating in their success.

JULIA DEFRANCES, from page 9

on record. We grew our employee-base to more than 350 employees, exceeded our revenue goals, and added three new offices. BL had been successful fully remote, so why, as we contemplated the future, wouldn’t a mix of options also work? After a year of fully remote work and consistently inconsistent employee needs, BL’s senior leadership team came to a decision – starting in September, employees were allowed to choose whichever work option met their needs best, with the ability to change their selection as their lives and circumstances change. This decision was very well-received by employees, with many relieved they weren’t being forced into an option that didn’t work for them. Now, those who value quiet, uninterrupted focus time don’t need to worry about readjusting to an open office. Those who miss the energy of in-person collaboration aren’t stuck feeling isolated. And those who need a little bit of both can set whatever hybrid schedule works best for them. A lot of people had been holding their breath, waiting to see what BL would decide. Now, they could finally exhale. In the wake of a major disruption, it’s natural to want to go back to normal. Many firms have done just that. But it’s important to remember that employees are your firm’s most important asset, and their needs are critical to your continued success. BL is fortunate that we have the resources and infrastructure to offer a way to make everyone happy, but ultimately, what your firm decides is less important than how you go about making that decision. Employees need to feel safe, heard, and connected. Take this opportunity to open up a new communication pathway and listen to how your team is feeling. Regardless of your firm’s reopening decision, this will be another new transition and another readjustment. Another change. But if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that change will always come – what’s important is how you meet it. JULIA DEFRANCES is a marketing coordinator at BL Companies, Inc. She can be reached at

allowing them an open forum to share their varying concerns, questions, and priorities with the leadership team. This employee feedback was invaluable, because it allowed us to recognize early on that our employees did not have uniform needs. After a few months of remote work, we launched the first of several firm-wide surveys to gauge interest in returning to the office. This survey was an opportunity for employees to share directly how they felt about returning to in-office work on a voluntary basis, without fear of being held to a permanent decision or judged. Ultimately, responses were mixed between those who wished to remain fully remote, those who wished to be fully in-office, and those who wished to be hybrid. Subsequent surveys and discussions found similar results – there was a split between all three “return” options. “Take this opportunity to open up a new communication pathway and listen to how your team is feeling. Regardless of your firm’s reopening decision, this will be another new transition and another readjustment. Another change.” While there was no single decision that would make everyone happy, it was clear that allowing remote and hybrid options alongside fully in-office workers would mean a lot of changes to how our firm operates. But ultimately, BL had already been changed. We’d moved our employee leadership training (which all new employees regardless of level go through) from a three-day marathon retreat to a virtual, multi-week workshop. We held our first ever fully virtual ESOP Month, continuing the tradition of celebrating our employee-owners with a month of games, treats, and prizes. We found new ways to mentor, communicate, and succeed. And despite the uncertainty and challenges of 2020, it turned out to be BL’s best year

© Copyright 2021. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.




Hiring people who fit in and don’t cause problems is hardly the way to be innovative and really push your business forward. Cultural fit isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

E veryone talks about how “cultural fit” should be your goal when it comes to hiring anyone for your AEC firm. That sounds good on the surface and seems reasonable, right? We all want people who fit in and don’t cause problems. But maybe that’s a recipe for creating a firm full of conformists who don’t rock the boat. That’s hardly the way to be innovative and really push the business forward.

Mark Zweig

Here’s more of what I mean: As a business founder or owner, we need people who will challenge the status quo, don’t we? Cultural compatibility means everyone is aligned and buys in to how you do things. That doesn’t imply any urgency or desire for changing anything the business does that isn’t “broken,” or at least want the predominant thinking to be about what is working and what isn’t. But “good enough” is rarely the way to exceed client expectations. Constant change and evolution is the most likely path to long-term success versus being static. We need people who challenge the status quo – at least in some jobs in our companies, if not all. Cultural compatibility could be interpreted as the opposite of diversity. It is becoming a widely

accepted idea in business today that greater diversity leads to more creativity. People from different backgrounds and perspectives see things differently. But if you are trying for cultural compatibility, that implies homogeneity, doesn’t it? Find people who are all similar with similar backgrounds and ways of thinking? Is that best for your business? If you look at boards of directors for AEC firms, a lack of diversity is often apparent. My experience is more diversity – i.e., less cultural compatibility – is often needed, not more compatibility. As someone who teaches entrepreneurship – new venture development, specifically – I used to let

See MARK ZWEIG, page 12



BUSINESS NEWS DALLAS AREA LIHTC PROJECT AWARDED TO FTK CONSTRUCTION SERVICES FTK Construction Services is pleased to announce the contract award for Brandywine Apartments, located in Richardson, Texas. The contract for this LIHTC rehabilitation award is $4,267,543. Brandywine Apartments, built in 1981, is an affordable rental community of 50 units for seniors 62+ years of age and individuals with mobility challenges. The property is located at 500 Rockingham Drive, Richardson, TX, 75080. The ownership group is National Church Residences, the architect for this project is Alliance Architectural , and the lender for the project is Capital One. FTK will complete extensive interior and exterior renovations over a 12-month time frame. Exterior renovations will include new roofs, paint, and electrical upgrades. The interior renovation will encompass updating kitchens with new appliances, cabinets, and countertops; adding central air conditioning; new flooring; new interior doors and windows; fixture upgrades; and new plumbing. Additional upgrades include parking lot

pavement, sidewalk repairs, new lighting, new perimeter fencing as well as energy efficient enhancements. Additionally, the community building will be renovated that will include a new kitchen and a renovated leasing and management office. FTK has recently completed or has in-process more than $163,000,000 in LIHTC projects with zero citations for compliance issues, and has completed 100 percent of its LIHTC projects on, or ahead of schedule. In February of this year, because of FTK’s demonstrated expertise, financial strength, completed LIHTC project portfolio and upcoming pipeline of projects, The Great American Insurance Company increased FTK’s bonding capacity from their previous $350,000,000 bonding capacity to $500,000,000. Mark Frazier, COO of FTK Construction Services said, “We at FTK are thrilled to continue our partnership with NCR at Brandywine Apartments. We always look forward to making a positive impact on Senior Housing Developments.”

“FTK Construction Services has been amazing to work with throughout the planning process for the rehabilitation of Brandywine Apartments,” said Tracey Fine, director of housing development for National Church Residences. “I have been impressed with their heart for community and willingness to meet the needs of our residents in order to provide them with quality, safe and affordable housing in the prime years of their lives.” FTK continues to ensure that all our project protocols comply with the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for preventing person-to-person transmission of COVID-19 as well as all emergency state and federal executive orders. With offices in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and North Carolina, Alliance Architecture is a dynamic team of designers, architects, and industry thought-leaders. The firm provides clients with expertise in architecture, interiors, and project management, with a focus on commercial interiors and workplace design, adaptive re-use, and base buildings.

MARK ZWEIG, from page 11

that when I eventually turned in my notice to join a larger, more successful firm, my boss, the chairman and CEO, said if anyone ever asked him about me, he would “tell them I was a s***-disturber, but that they needed their s*** disturbed.” I don’t think I realized what a compliment that was at the time! But really, it may have been as simple as the fact that I was not culturally compatible with the rest of the owners. “Cultural compatibility may stifle disagreement, but disagreement is sometimes necessary. You need people who will challenge you and your assumptions about things.” Cultural compatibility may stifle disagreement, but disagreement is sometimes necessary. You need people who will challenge you and your assumptions about things. It doesn’t mean you will always love those people, nor does it necessarily mean they will always stay with you over the long haul. I won’t deny that I don’t usually love having my ideas or ways that I do things challenged – at least at first. It can be very uncomfortable. But I do think it is often necessary if you want your business to move ahead and take on a life of its own, and develop real leaders who can keep things going in a positive direction after you are gone. Cultural compatibility is one of those things that, on the surface, seems like a good goal for hiring. I haven’t run into many people in this business who would question the wisdom of it. But maybe it’s time to rethink that one. MARK ZWEIG is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at .

my students form their own teams to work on their new business planning teams at the beginning of the semester. After a few years of that, I decided that I would assign the team members and still do that today, 15 years later. Why, you may ask? I do it so there is some diversity. The least creative teams I had were the most homogeneous and culturally compatible. When they self-selected, we would have five frat brother marketing majors, and their ideas weren’t very creative. One of the best examples of that was a culturally compatible business planning team whose idea was to create a “koozie” for Mickey’s Big Mouth malt liquor, because they have an odd bottle shape. On top of that, because they were all duck hunters, they wanted to use a camouflage pattern employing the shape of the state of Texas as the basis. They couldn’t understand that they would have a very small market potential with that idea, because to each of them it sounded like something they’d buy. No diversity and cultural compatibility led to myopia. I have witnessed the same thing in AEC firms where the owners and key people all had similar backgrounds and ways of thinking. Diversity doesn’t just mean different sexes or ethnic backgrounds, especially when talking about AEC firms – not to say those things aren’t important. It can mean different academic or experience backgrounds, or different discipline expertise. For example, early in my career I worked for an engineering firm as the head of project development (another term for marketing) and human resources. I was the first non-technical person who was part of the executive team there and the first non-engineer to become an owner. I didn’t think many of the ways we did things at that company were the best ways to do things, and I pushed for a lot of changes. I will never forget

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