A View from the Top
The times, they are a-changin' and in this year's CSE Giants survey, we made it a goal to figure out what consulting engineers are doing about it.
Specifically, we asked firms what sorts of "additional" services they're pondering or have already put to use to stay competitive. We also asked about internal business practices, including employee benefits and recruiting new talent. The answers won't shock you, but may provide some insight as to why these firms remain leaders in the engineering world.
A new role
As downsizing, outsourcing, consolidation and a more "one-stop-shopping" approach to life become prevalent, even consulting engineers are finding they must reinvent themselves and perform duties that take them well beyond their traditional M/E/P roles.
On the subject of new offerings, commissioning topped the chart. In fact, nearly half of this year's survey respondents listed it as a service they already provide, plan to provide or for which they receive regular requests.
Robert Derector and Assocs., New York, is one Giant that has long been aware of the benefits of providing commissioning. That said, firm principal Martin S. Konikoff, P.E., notes the bulk of their work is concentrated in mission-critical facilities and the service, in general, is still a relatively new offering for many firms. The biggest challenge in going down this path, in his opinion, is that a number of customers look for commissioning to be performed by a third party. "We have been successful in negating this approach by reasoning that our intimate knowledge of the project, acquired through our involvement in the design and construction phases, is an added value. Consequently, we can be more effective than any third-party agent," he says.
Of course, a solid resume doesn't hurt either, according to Mary Ann Swiderski with Orlando-based TLC Engineering for Architecture. "Our success in 'selling' these services depends in large measure on TLC's prior relationship with the client and the credibility we have established with them in terms of technical expertise, past project experience, accountability, service and knowledge of the market."
Johnstown, Pa.-based H.F. Lenz Company, noted they've had success in this field by focusing their expertise. In doing so they've been particularly successful in landing projects gunning for LEED accreditation.
The success these companies are realizing is spurring others to get in the game. Take Hayes, Seay Mattern & Mattern, Inc., in Roanoke, Va. In its 50-plus year history, it never provided commissioning services with in-house staff, subcontracting these services to other firms. But requests from several clients are making HSMM reconsider its policy.
Still, a huge hurdle remains in convincing clients it's worth the up-front cost—and it is, according to Greg Cann with Wick Fisher White Engineers, Philadelphia. "Building systems run more efficiently, work longer without problems, and [the owner ultimately] saves money over the life of the building and systems," he maintains.
But be wary of doing too good of a selling job. Page Southerland Page, Houston, for example, has found that many of its clients now want this service more often—but don't want to pay for it.
Stacy Cunningham with Dynamix Engineering, Ltd., Columbus, Ohio, thinks education is the key to future success. "As owners become more aware of the importance of commissioning, they are starting to use this service to ensure that their buildings open without any problems."
That's preaching to the choir, according to William J. Gieseler, P.E., vice president, marketing, with W.H. Linder & Assocs., Inc., Metairie, La. "It is not difficult to sell these services, as the owners want them," he explains. "What is difficult is getting the owner to grasp why these services stretch the limits of our professional liability and create circumstances where expectations are much higher than the ability to legally and credibly perform," said Gieseler.
Commissioning isn't the only new area that consulting engineers are delving into. In an effort to increase their value to customers—and put the engineer in the spotlight—many firms are taking steps toward offering master planning services.
"Architects continue to select engineers based upon price, so we are trying to do more direct work for owners, without going through the architect," says Lance Benham, CEO and president of The Benham Companies, LLC, Oklahoma City.
OWP/P Engineering, Chicago (No. 95), which provides master planning for a number of markets, says the greatest opportunities lie in building types where the owner occupies the building, such as college campuses, medical complexes, pharmaceutical facilities and mission-critical facilities.
In some cases, success with master planning has opened up new avenues. Thomas A. Bathgate, P.E., president of PWI Engineering, Philadelphia, notes that his firm's master planning services have allowed it to push capital renewal and energy management programs.
Turning the focus toward internal operations and efficiencies, this year's survey shed a lot of light on the business of engineering itself. A top priority is providing healthcare benefits. With ever-increasing premiums, firms are having to approach this problem from different angles. Some are absorbing the rise in costs themselves or passing it along in the form of higher deductibles and increased co-pays. Firms have been forced to examine their provider's plan and decide if it still meets their needs at a reasonable cost. Derector Assocs. has stayed the path. "We constantly re-evaluate costs associated with our health-care coverage. However, we understand that we have a responsibility to our staff in that we must not control the cost by sacrificing the coverage," says Konikoff.
But the age of the single health-care provider for the lifetime of a company is long past. It's not so much a loss of loyalty as an attempt to provide the best coverage at the best cost for employees. A number of respondents indicated that they have been forced to change providers to reduce their health-care insurance costs.
The good news is that benefits can be proffered beyond insurance—some with little to no extra cost. HarleyEllis, for example, offers travel insurance, additional medical insurance options, a flexible spending account debit card, and employee discount programs with hotels, amusement parks and the like. Muscatine, Iowa-based Stanley Consultants has added a matching contribution to its 401K program.
Another option is flextime. "Several years ago we recognized the complexities and importance of work and family life. So we offered flex hours so that people could adjust their life style while still maintaining commitments to project deadlines, etc.," reports Sandy Parsley, director of human resources with Minneapolis-based Hammel, Green and Abrahamson.
At the same time, flextime brings its own baggage. "We eliminated flextime because it was being abused," notes Benham. "We were missing project deadlines and people weren't in the office to receive client calls ... It simply became a mess."
I want YOU, to be an engineer
Of course, new blood must be added for firms to remain competitive today, but recruiting engineering talent remains a major challenge. In fact, some 63% of the Giants survey respondents stated it's their greatest challenge. Many noted the market is tightening and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find new talent as enrollment in college engineering programs is decreasing.
Fanning/Howey Assocs., has been turning to the web and utilizing contract help when needed. "But to find young talent, we prefer to locate recent or current college students or graduates and provide an internship opportunity," psays Daniel R. Mader, the firm's CEO and president.
Troy, Mich.-based Peter Basso Assocs. has shaped a strategy beyond the college level by providing co-op opportunities at the high school level.
But recruitment difficulty is not limited to new talent. "Recruiting engineers experienced in the building design field continues to be difficult at the six to 10 year experience level," says Carl E. Cholewa of Clark-Nexsen, Norfolk, Va. "Beyond 10 years they want more management and less production responsibilities."
Derector has an unorthodox solution to this problem. Several years ago it embarked upon a program to accelerate the learning curve of recent graduates. According to Konikoff, they were well aware that most graduates are not trained for the consulting engineering community, so the firm created its own training program consisting of class time, supervised field surveys and project site visits and mentored design work. "The program can only be considered moderately successful; many of the participants leave after a few years," says Konikoff. "However, these young engineers, within six months, can often out-produce those with 10 years experience. Furthermore, the ones who remain with the firm are beginning to grow into management positions."
With a dearth of home-grown engineers available, some Giants are starting to focus beyond U.S. borders. Foreign talent, certainly, has already impacted the U.S. university pool, according to Patrick Schaffner, vice president and director of global staffing with Parsons Brinckerhoff, New York. "The overseas component of the U.S. [university] student body is growing, particularly for those with advanced degrees," he says.
The problem with targeting these students, or other engineers from across the globe, he says, is the issuance of employment visas. There's a greatly increased cost and there simply have been very few granted since 2003.
HSMM has encountered similar difficulties, but has found the effort worthwhile. "We are driven by the perspective that it is truly good business to be as diverse as possible. It is all about finding the best talent in today's increasingly competitive and diverse society," says Michelle T. Miles, HSMM's chief development officer.
Of course, having offices overseas helps skirt visa issues. In fact, for most international firms it's often necessary to recruit overseas engineers. Still, many respondents indicated they are hesitant to go this route from a genuine lack of wanting to import jobs to the U.S.
While opinions among the Giants may differ, they have all found their own way to roll with the punches of the 21st Century construction market and stay on top of the industry.
2005 Giants Report
Type of Firm
Total Revenue (millions $U.S.)
2004 M/E Design Revenue
2005 M/E Design Revenue
*2004 ranking; — Did not participate in 2004
URS Corporation , San Francisco
Burns & McDonnell , Kansas City, Mo.
Lockwood Greene , Spartanburg, S.C.
Parsons Brinckerhoff , New York
R. W. Beck, Inc. , Seattle
Syska Hennessy Group, Inc. , New York
Carter & Burgess, Inc. , Fort Worth, Texas
Power Engineers, Inc. , Hailey, Idaho
Stanley Consultants, Inc. , Muscatine, Iowa
Affiliated Engineers, Inc. , Madison, Wis.
Leo A Daly , Omaha
Paulus, Sokolowski and Sartor, LLC , Warren, N.J.
The Benham Companies, LLC , Oklahoma City
R.G. Vanderweil Engineers , Boston
Cosentini Associates , New York
HDR , Omaha
Flack + Kurtz , New York
Middough Consulting Inc. , Cleveland
Smith Seckman Reid, Inc. , Nashville
Wink Incorporated , New Orleans
EYP Mission Critical Facilities, Inc. , New York
Schirmer Engineering , Deerfield, Ill.
SSOE, Inc. , Toledo, Ohio
STV Group, Inc. , Douglassville, Pa.
Cannon Design , Grand Island, N.Y.
Rolf Jensen & Associates, Inc. , Chicago
SmithGroup , Detroit
Sebesta Blomberg & Assocs. , Roseville, Minn.
Henderson Engineers, Inc. , Lenexa, Ks.
Stantec Inc. , Edmonton, Alberta
Environmental Systems Design, Inc. , Chicago
Kling , Philadelphia
EwingCole , Philadelphia
KJWW Engineering , Rock Island, Ill.
Clark, Richardson & Biskup Engineers , Kansas City, Mo.
A. Epstein and Sons International, Inc. , Chicago
The Austin Company , Cleveland
Teng & Associates, Inc. , Chicago
Hayes, Seay, Mattern & Mattern , Roanoke, Va.
Barge Waggoner Sumner and Cannon, Inc. , Nashville
Robert Derector Associates , New York
Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architecture & Engineering P.C . , Albany, N.Y.
Michaud Cooley Erickson , Minneapolis
Ellerbe Becket , Minneapolis
GHT Limited , Arlington, Va.
SEi Companies , Boston
Ross & Baruzzini, Inc. , Webster Groves, Mo.
Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann Assocs. , Butler, Pa.
H.F. Lenz Company , Johnstown, Pa.
M/E Engineering, P.C. , Rochester, N.Y.
Newcomb & Boyd , Atlanta
Peter Basso Associates, Inc. , Troy, Mich.
W.H. Linder & Associates, Inc. , Metairie, La.
Wick Fisher White Engineers , Philadelphia
Durrant Architects and Engineers , Dubuque, Iowa
Interface Engineering, Inc. , Portland, Ore.
Lilker Associates , New York
Hammel, Green and Abrahamson , Minneapolis
Bridgers & Paxton , Albuquerque
Page Southerland Page LLP , Houston
Mazzetti & Associates , San Francisco
KTA Group, Inc. , Herndon, Va.
The RMH Group, Inc. , Lakewood, Colo.
HarleyEllis , Southfield, Mich.
James Posey Associates, Inc. , Baltimore
Richard D. Kimball Company, Inc. , Andover, Mass.
Heapy Engineering LLC , Dayton, Ohio
RobsonWoese, Inc. , Syracuse, N.Y.
RTKL Associates Inc. , Baltimore
MKK Consulting , Greenwood Village, Colo.
GHAFARI , Dearborn, Mich.
Morris, Johnson & Assocs , Eatontown, N.J.
Albert Kahn Associates, Inc. , Detroit
P2S Engineering, Inc. , Long Beach, Calif.
Lizardos Engineering Associates, P.C. , Mineola, N.Y.
Clark-Nexsen , Norfolk, Va.
Optimation Technology, Inc. , Rush, N.Y.
Jordan & Skala Engineers, Inc. , Norcross, Ga.
Spectrum Engineers , Salt Lake City
LSW Engineers Inc . Arizona, Phoenix
Wiley & Wilson, Inc. , Lynchburg, Va.
Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum , St. Louis
ThermalTech Engineering , Cincinnati, Ohio
Kamm Consulting , Deerfield Beach, Fl.
Van Zelm Heywood & Shadford, Inc. , West Hartford, Conn.
DiClemente Siegel Design Inc. , Southfield, Mich.
Symmes Maini & McKee Associates , Cambridge, Mass.
Fanning/Howey Associates, Inc. , Celina, Ohio
William Tao & Associates, Inc. , St. Louis
Concord Engineering Group , Voorhees, N.J.
Allen & Shariff Corporation , Columbia, Md.
Arnold & O'Sheridan, Inc. , Madison, Wisc.
Dynamix Engineering Ltd. , Columbus, Ohio
OWP/P Engineering , Chicago
Bala Consulting Engineers , King of Prussia, Pa.
FreemanWhite, Inc. , Charlotte, N.C.
PWI Engineering , Philadelphia
EMC Engineers, Inc. , Lakewood, Colo.
O'Dea, Lynch, Abbattista Consulting Engineers , Hawthorne, N.Y.
2005 Giants Rankings Index
A. Epstein and Sons International, Inc
Affiliated Engineers, Inc.
Albert Kahn Associates, Inc.
Allen & Shariff Corporation
Arnold & O'Sheridan, Inc.
Austin Company, The
Bala Consulting Engineers, Inc.
Barge Waggoner Sumner and Cannon, Inc.
Benham Companies, LLC, The
Bridgers & Paxton Consulting Engineers, Inc.
Burns & McDonnell
Carter & Burgess, Inc
Clark, Richardson & Biskup Consulting Engineers, Inc.
Clark-Nexsen Architecture & Engineering
Concord Engineering Group
DiClemente Siegel Design Inc.
Durrant Architects and Engineers
Dynamix Engineering Ltd.
Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architecture & Engineering P.C.
EMC Engineers, Inc.
Environmental Systems Design, Inc.
EYP Mission Critical Facilities, Inc.
Fanning/Howey Associates, Inc.
Flack + Kurtz
H.F. Lenz Company
Hammel, Green and Abrahamson, Inc.
Hayes, Seay, Mattern & Mattern, Inc.
Heapy Engineering LLC
Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum
Henderson Engineers, Inc.
Interface Engineering, Inc.
James Posey Associates, Inc.
Jordan & Skala Engineers, Inc.
KJWW Engineering Consultants, PC
KTA Group, Inc.
Leo A Daly
Lizardos Engineering Associates, P.C.
LSW Engineers Arizona, Inc.
M/E Engineering, P.C.
Mazzetti & Associates
Michaud Cooley Erickson
Middough Consulting Inc.
MKK Consulting Engineers, Inc.
Morris, Johnson & Associates, Inc.
Newcomb & Boyd
O'Dea, Lynch, Abbattista Consulting Engineers
Optimation Technology, Inc.
P2S Engineering, Inc.
Page Southerland Page LLP
Paulus, Sokolowski and Sartor, LLC
Peter Basso Associates, Inc.
Power Engineers, Inc.
R. W. Beck, Inc.
R.G. Vanderweil Engineers
Richard D. Kimball Company, Inc.
RMH Group, Inc. , The
Robert Derector Associates
Rolf Jensen & Associates, Inc.
Ross & Baruzzini, Inc.
RTKL Associates Inc.
Sebesta Blomberg & Associates, Inc.
Smith Seckman Reid, Inc.
Stanley Consultants, Inc.
STV Group, Inc.
Symmes Maini & McKee Associates
Syska Hennessy Group, Inc.
Teng & Associates, Inc.
TLC Engineering for Architecture
van Zelm Heywood & Shadford, Inc.
W.H. Linder & Associates, Inc.
Wick Fisher White Engineers
Wiley & Wilson, Inc.
William Tao & Associates, Inc.
5 Business Challenges
Recruiting Design Talent
Finding New Business
Getting Paid By Clients
Funding Benefit Plans
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