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Case Studies

How one engineering firm is changing the world — and the workplace

The AEC and environmental consulting industries have long attracted people who are passionate about what they do and driven by a sense of mission. In all the years that we’ve been publishing The Friedman File, we’ve shared many successful strategies that are based in part in that dedication. It’s a large part of why this newsletter exists.

In this issue, we’re highlighting a firm— Mazzetti+GBA (San Francisco, CA)— that is taking that passion to another level. Over the past 5 years, this 200-person MEP engineering and technology consulting firm has integrated its commitment to create a better world into its business practices and firm-wide culture by becoming a Benefit Corporation.

Benefit Corporations blend the structure and tax liability of a C-Corporation with the mission ethos and transparent reporting of a non-profit organization. They’re relatively new and are few and far between in this industry. That […]

This is not your typical architecture firm, and that’s by design.

When a downturn strikes, it can be tempting to take whatever work is available to keep the doors open. For a smaller firm in a competitive market, that can be a matter of survival.

In this issue of The Friedman File, we talk to one firm that made a different, bolder choice: to double down on serving one client type as thoroughly as possible. As a result, the firm not only survived the downturn, it grew exponentially during the lean years.

How it happened

Today, 250-person Huckabee, Inc. (Fort Worth, TX) is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a highly profitable, debt-free firm and a sought-after thought leader in Texas’ K-12 schools market. The firm has more than quadrupled its staff in that time, and in 2016 was named by ENR as the top educational design firm in Texas. It’s also been recognized as one of the […]

Can rebranding transform your business? Consider this firm’s story

Regular readers of The Friedman File know that we feel strongly about the role thought leadership can play in carving out a strong market position. In this issue, we’re going behind the scenes with one architecture firm that has gone all-in with this strategy to see how it has transformed their business.

To appreciate the full picture, let’s go back five years. As healthcare architects, Array Architects (Philadelphia, PA) had been competing against some of the largest firms in the country, but they knew that trying to keep up with those firms on portfolio wasn’t a winning formula.

They also saw margins eroding coming out of the recession. Their clients, like many, were under market pressures requiring them to stretch their design and construction budgets. It was becoming a race to the bottom. Array was also facing an ownership transition challenge. Older partners were nearing […]

By | 2017-06-12T09:52:01+00:00 February 2017|Case Studies, Marketing & Branding|

What doesn’t kill a company makes it stronger: inside CannonDesign

Imagine that a senior manager in your firm and an external consultant were engaged in activities that did not just cross an ethical gray area — they were illegal.

It’s unthinkable. Yet it happened at 950-person A/E firm CannonDesign, and today, the firm is a better business partner because of it.

In this issue of The Friedman File, I’m sharing their remarkable story, one that I believe every A/E/C and environmental consulting firm can learn from. Whether your firm is involved with government contracting (as CannonDesign is) or not, read on to learn why transparency, communication and professional ethics must be baked into your firm’s culture — and how to make that happen.

In 2013, CannonDesign made headlines when they became publicly embroiled in a federal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office into an external consultant they had worked with for 18 months in 2010 and […]

By | 2017-07-18T15:14:11+00:00 December 2016|Business Strategy, Case Studies|

What your clients want you to know about your next shortlist presentation

Shortlist presentations could be called “stress list presentations” for the amount of angst they cause A/E/C and environmental consulting firms.

The timeframes are short and the preparation is long. What’s worse is that many firms that do the hard work required (opportunity research and selection, prepositioning, and thoughtful, client-centered proposal writing) to routinely get shortlisted still struggle to win the big show.

How can you improve your win rate? In this issue of The Friedman File, we’re going to the source: your clients. In the numerous loss debrief interviews I’ve conducted on behalf of my clients over the years, I’ve heard many recurring themes.

(If you’re in the fortunate position of having plenty of sole source work or master service agreements, this intel can also help you make a stronger case for your ideas, internally and with clients.)

What clients see

  • Firms that have rushed their preparation […]
By | 2017-07-18T15:13:49+00:00 October 2016|Business Development, Case Studies|

If you’re tired of hearing about thought leadership, read this

In this issue of The Friedman File, we take a closer look at the changing world of marketing — and how to effectively seize the biggest opportunity that is sitting right in front of us.

The two most effective ways to engage a business audience are improving thought leadership and using a multichannel message strategy, according to marketing research firm Marketing Sherpa (Jacksonville, FL). In other words, having something valuable to say and saying it consistently via several methods.

These are proven strategies that firms in the A/E/C and environmental consulting industries are perfectly positioned to use to become visible leaders in their markets and better integrate their marketing and business development. Yet too many firms remain focused on parroting out projects won and people promoted instead. And, unless you’ve just hired the world’s foremost expert on healthcare design or geothermal engineering, clients aren’t listening […]

By | 2017-06-12T09:42:59+00:00 August 2016|Case Studies, Marketing & Branding|

A traditional firm breaks the mold with a bold new growth vision

Can you teach an old firm new tricks? One firm’s story…

Across the A/E/C and environmental consulting industries, firms that have been around a long time get lulled into doing things the way they’ve always done them. That’s not always the best path forward — even when it’s working well enough. In this issue of The Friedman File, I’m sharing the story of what happens when a firm that’s been around for 120 years starts thinking very differently about its future. (In the interest of full disclosure, the firm highlighted is a client of Friedman & Partners.)

Alden Research Laboratory (Holden, MA), a 100-person hydraulic modeling, flow testing, fisheries biology and engineering firm, has a clear market niche. Just 2 or 3 private firms in the U.S. do what they do and their workforce is comprised of highly specialized technical experts. For more than 100 […]

By | 2017-07-18T15:19:04+00:00 June 2016|Business Strategy, Case Studies, Leadership|

One firm decided to change how they pursue work. Here’s what happened

One of my goals in sending The Friedman File is to spur new thinking about ideas and practices to move your firm forward. In this issue, I’m shining a spotlight on a firm that’s having great success in redesigning how they do something critical: pursue new work.

While the degree to which each A/E/C or environmental consulting firm participates in the competitive procurement process differs, this story has lessons for those that struggle with effective knowledge sharing, identifying and developing leaders, and cultivating a firm-wide business development (BD) culture. And that’s the majority of firms I’ve encountered in my years in this industry.

(In the interest of full disclosure, the firm highlighted is a client of Friedman & Partners, and we recruited the principal interviewed. I have no doubt that you’ll take away valuable learning from their experience.)

When it comes to pursuing new work, the […]

By | 2017-07-31T14:01:55+00:00 February 2016|Business Development, Case Studies|

Culture matters: is yours ‘CYA’ or ’embrace the problem’?

It’s often been said that you can tell a lot about a person by how they handle adversity. In my experience, this is also true of A/E/C and environmental consulting firms. The strongest firms out there are those who are not only prepared to respond when things go wrong, but welcome and create the opportunity.

After years of seeing this play out, I know one the best things that you as a leader can do for your firm is to instill a culture of viewing problems as opportunities. In this issue of The Friedman File, I’m going to share two examples of how it’s done.

Perils of the CYA culture

Should a problem — such as a project going south — really be embraced?

In some firms, the mindset is that no news is good news, or what we don’t know won’t hurt us. Firms like this […]

By | 2017-07-12T14:28:56+00:00 December 2015|Business Development, Case Studies|

What’s the secret sauce? The story of Nelson\Nygaard

Occasionally, I come across firms that cause me to scratch my head and ask, “How do they do that?” Such was the case last year at the A/E Advisors’ CEO Forum in Scottsdale. There, I met Paul Jewel of Nelson\Nygaard, an 80-person transportation planning firm based in San Francisco, with six other offices across the country.

Paul has the title of COO. His firm does not have, and has never had in its 25 years, a CEO. Nor does it have a Chairman of the Board. But those are just a few of the interesting quirks about this firm, which Jewel refers to as “a bunch of progressive planners who began with two women working out of a garage.” Since those humble beginnings, the firm has grown significantly and, says Jewel, is “changing the world one project at a time.” Before you dismiss Nelson\Nygaard […]

By | 2017-07-12T14:37:30+00:00 October 2012|Business Strategy, Case Studies, Marketing & Branding|