Mergers and acquisitions are currently on the upswing in the A/E/C industry, and that activity shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. But just because it’s happening more doesn’t mean it’s happening successfully.
Depending on whose statistics you follow, the failure rate of mergers and acquisitions as a whole ranges from 70% to 90%, and the A/E/C industry is no different. There is no magic formula for success, but there are factors that will enhance your chances. In this issue of The Friedman File, we talk to two firm leaders about their successful merger—and the lessons they learned from doing it right (and from an acquisition that didn’t fare as well).
Know your potential match
While some firms go through extensive searches to find the right partner, Willy Stewart, P.E., and George Stanziale, Jr., ASLA, CLARB, of 200-person engineering, planning and landscape architecture firm […]
When it comes to project acquisition, many A/E/C and environmental consulting firms have learned (and some the hard way) that it pays to take a strategic approach. Yet, when making critical hires to grow their business, strategy and targeting can often go out the window.
In this issue of The Friedman File, we examine how the lessons of client and project acquisition apply to the hiring of C-suite positions, practice builders, senior marketers and business developers, and other senior management roles.
It’s currently a candidate’s market, and the types of leaders who can make a big impact in your organization are no strangers to being recruited. To bring them on board requires a clear strategy, a compelling message and a carefully executed interview process.
Stage One: Defining the Opportunity
Know what you want and why
When you pursue a project, if you don’t have a vision or know […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
Long hours at the office, all-hands-on-deck deadlines, always-on technology and the road warrior lifestyle – that’s business as usual in the A/E/C industry. But is it killing us?
In this issue of The Friedman File, we examine an area of critical importance: executive and employee wellness. We spoke to firms that are making it a priority – and seeing impact from productivity and effectiveness to recruitment and retention.
At international planning and design firm Sasaki Associates (Boston, MA), the wellness conversation is personal, and the 250-person firm is tackling it head-on. It started when, during the firm’s leadership transition two years ago, now-Managing Principal James Miner found himself in the emergency room with alarmingly high blood pressure and a personal wake-up call.
It inspired him to start a new conversation at Sasaki. During an emotional staff meeting, he shared his personal story and his vision for […]
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 […]
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 […]
In this issue of The Friedman File, business partner Jerry Guerra of The JAGG Group shares his candid thoughts and advice on the much-debated topic of market research. Jerry is a skilled researcher, writer, and PR/communications specialist who has collaborated with me on many projects for architects, engineers and environmental consultants. —Rich Friedman.
In many A/E/C firms, market research is a wasted activity driven by ignorance, cursed by laziness and devoid of any understanding of where its true value lies. The inevitable result is a massive gap between the promise of an intelligent market research program that helps a firm succeed and grow, and the futility of the actual market research efforts that far too many firms pursue.
We pay for expensive online services, scour the business papers and trade journals for long-range leads, hire ex-government employees to identify and harvest opportunities, sit through economic […]
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 […]
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 […]
In the last issue of The Friedman File, we posed a question that unleashed a firestorm of feedback: Is the way we work still working? Judging by the response — more than any topic we’ve covered in 10 years — the answer is no. It’s not working.
Why are so many leaders burned out — and so many emerging leaders rethinking which ladder they want to climb? How can A/E/C and environmental firms evolve and thrive as technology, generational expectations and definitions of leadership are changing?
Companies like 1,900-person architecture firm Perkins + Will (Chicago, IL) and HDR (Omaha, NE), which won a Nebraska Governor’s Award for its wellness program, are putting resources behind fostering a healthier staff. Yet, emerging leaders and those who manage them say physical wellness is just a start. Flexibility, life balance and more sustainable workloads loom equally large for those […]
In an ideal world, the marriage between a firm and its favored markets would last forever. However, in the real business world, sometimes large-scale changes are needed.
It might be that the phone has stopped ringing due to an economic downturn in that sector. It might be a new development that changes the competitive landscape. It might be that the market is the same, but it’s your firm that’s changing.
Jettisoning an entire market sector is not a light decision. It’s one that should be made only after a clear analysis, including external data gathering from clients and prospects. That said, sometimes, the soul searching required to change course is necessary. In this Friedman File, we look at two examples of when “goodbye” was the right move.
When transportation planning firm Nelson/Nygaard (San Francisco, CA) was getting started in the early 1990s, the rural public transit […]
Everywhere I go, it seems, I’m privy to what is becoming a never-ending debate: whether A/E/C and environmental consulting services are becoming commoditized. In this issue of the The Friedman File, I want to explore this topic in a different way.
First off, when we say the industry is becoming commoditized, what do we really mean by this? Is it a perception that clients see firms and services as identical except for the price? Is this true, and if so, is standardization always a negative thing? More important, is this ongoing debate on whether we are in a race to the bottom helping — or hurting — the industry?
Dan Rowe, president of 95-person Treanor Architects (Lawrence, KS) doesn’t think it’s helping. “I think our industry’s preoccupation with commoditization has turned into a crutch for some firms,” Rowe says. “It’s an excuse for losing and a […]
As you know, new business development (BD) is critical to success. First, I’ve never come across a firm that has a repeat work rate of 100% (I want to hear from you if you do!). Second, to provide advancement opportunities for emerging leaders, you must develop new client and project opportunities.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this is getting your foot in the door to begin the relationship-building process. Doing so can be challenging and frustrating for even the most seasoned BD professional. That’s why some firms employ outside lead generators to place the often-dreaded cold calls.
Does it work? Let’s explore.
The Business Case
Any regular reader of The Friedman File knows I’m not a fan of cold calls (see The Death of the Cold Call: May it Rest in Peace). In a nutshell, cold calls typically yield a low ROI and thus have a high […]
While LinkedIn has been around for years, many have only recently begun to effectively leverage this tool in networking, business development, market positioning, and recruiting. In the October 2013 issue of The Friedman File, I offered a healthy dose of skepticism regarding the ubiquitous use of LinkedIn and how many seem to be using this tool with little regard to how they may be perceived and whether they’re making the most of their precious networking time. I also offered tips for would-be networkers driven to boost their number of contacts, but who pay little regard to the quality of their communications or other more efficient ways that LinkedIn enables you to disseminate your name, credentials, and thought leadership. In this issue of The Friedman File, I want to delve into LinkedIn’s value as a recruiting tool.
LinkedIn has revolutionized how professionals enhance their own […]
I’ve seen a surge in interest for business development (BD) training in the past year or two since the economic rebound. I believe this surge results from two primary factors:
- The financial reality that while most firms are still watching their overhead dollars like a hawk, there is more discretionary money available to fund training initiatives that were put on hold during the recession.
- A reluctance by some firms to (re)hire full-time business developers. Many were let go during the downturn, and some firms have never filled this role. In their place, many firms have doubled down on building a firm-wide BD culture and bolstering their existing seller-doer culture.
In this issue of The Friedman File, I address the long-standing debate about the efficacy of BD training and provide advice on how firms can maximize their return-on-investment (ROI) from training initiatives.
Any discussion of BD training […]
The Friedman File readers know the importance I place on asking clients and prospects probing questions — whether it’s to:
- Learn more about their organization and role, their greatest challenges, and trends and drivers impacting their success
- Determine how they define and measure value from a firm like yours
- Identify who they view as your most potent competitors and why
- Assess how you’re performing on a project
- Better understand why you won or lost a recent project pursuit
In this issue, I want to focus on a key area — eliciting client feedback to enable your firm to assess the value you bring to the table. As a strategy consultant to the A/E/C industry, I see far too many firms struggle with determining and articulating their differentiators, benefits (not features!), and value. All too often, expensive off-sites are held where principals, marketing staff, and […]
Now more than ever, firms are struggling to determine what makes them different in the eyes of their clients. For clients, when multiple firms appear to be equally technically competent, it can be difficult to distinguish one firm from another. Many firms spend countless hours trying to determine their differentiators, value, and benefits — with very mixed results.
In this issue of The Friedman File, business partner Sally Giedrys of Artisan Communications shares a wonderful, effective process for tackling this difficult task. Sally is a deft researcher, ghostwriter, and PR/communications consultant who has collaborated with me on numerous projects for architects, engineers and environmental consultants. — Rich Friedman.
During my many years of working in the marketing realm, there have been three mainstays that infuse everything I do — from coaching to copywriting to assessing and reviewing communications efforts to setting strategy and developing […]
In the business development realm, it can literally be the $1 million question: “Why did we lose this project?”
“We’ve been scoping the opportunity well in advance of the RFP, and we thought we were well positioned.”
“We knew the competition and thought we’d answered the questions, ‘Why us? What value do we confer?’
“We thought our presentation was solid.”
To learn more about why you lost, you attempt to gather feedback from your prospective client. And that’s where the wheels come off for the majority of A/E/C firms that don’t have a steady stream of sole-source work.
Anyone who’s conducted a loss debrief knows how difficult and inherently awkward they can be — for you and for the prospective client — if not done well.
Why Debrief After a Loss?
I’d like to think that firms attempt to conduct loss debriefs at every opportunity. However, this is not the […]