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Executive Corner: 2021 Mid-Year Executive Outlook

Steve Gido on September 1, 2021 - in Articles, Column

As the disruption and severity of the global pandemic continues to fade, A/E leaders across the country are ready to take on the challenges and opportunities left in its wake. I recently connected with several CEOs from coast to coast for our annual Mid-Year Outlook to glean insights as to what they’re facing today. I asked how they’re handling office-reopening efforts, which client and business opportunities are emerging, how the pandemic shaped them as leaders, and what their plans are for the summer.

Gido: Tell us about Sebago Technics and your capabilities and markets.

Adams: Sebago Technics is a multi-disciplinary firm with civil, transportation and environmental engineering; surveying (geomatics/reality capture/construction); landscape architecture; planning and permitting; GIS; and natural-resources services. We are a 100-percent employee-owned company with approximately 100 employees located in four offices in southern Maine. Our clients/markets are across the spectrum, including commercial, residential, institutional (healthcare and education), industrial, public-sector, non-profits, peer/partner firms, developers, attorneys, and real-estate professionals. We are intentionally capable of providing all site and permitting services for projects from existing conditions and design to permitting and construction. Recent additions of robust 3D modeling, visualization and graphics also sets us apart from local and regional firms.

Mark Adams
President and CEO
Sebago Technics
Sebago, Maine

Gido: With offices across Maine, how have you planned and organized bringing Sebago Technics’ staff back to the office?

Adams: During the initial shutdown in late winter/spring of 2020, we had all staff working remote. Meanwhile, we developed an aggressive and comprehensive Return to Work plan with physical enhancements and protocols for all our operations. We then began to bring folks back into the office in phases during summer 2020. We still provided for remote work and flexibility. We then took intentional extended periods of all-remote work during holidays and surge periods. We incentivized staff to become vaccinated and currently have more than 90 percent vaccination among employees.

Gido: How does the second half of 2021 look and going into 2022? Any specific business or client opportunities or challenges?

Adams: The remainder of 2021 and first part of 2022 continues to look strong. We have a significant backlog, but due to our size and organization of work are able to take on new work when most other local firms are not. The opportunities are across all economic sectors with no sign of letting up. That said, the pace of development, materials costs/supply, and inability of contractors and businesses to find needed labor is anticipated to create both inflation and at least a leveling of new work at some point.

Gido: You have made two strategic acquisitions to start the year. Tell us about those, and how have they benefited the organization overall?

Adams: The acquisitions were strategic in two ways. First, they provided us with greater access to a couple of geographic areas where there is opportunity but where we had not focused previously. Second, both acquisitions were of firms that primarily provide surveying services. There has been a steady decline in the number of individuals entering the survey profession coupled with a large cohort of licensed surveyors retiring. Therefore, our strategy was also for talent acquisition. We now boast the largest and most-capable survey/geomatics services group of professionals in northern New England.

Gido: Overall, how has this pandemic experience impacted you as a leader? As CEO, which strategies or lessons have you taken away from the last year?

Adams: As with most leaders, the pandemic caused me to be chief operations planner, medical officer, cheerleader and workflow coordinator in ways and to degrees that I hadn’t previously. It also placed extra importance on my ever-present concern for the well-being of our employees and their families. And yet overall, it affirmed my belief that our employees are not only resilient and adaptable, but are committed to the needs of our clients, our business and their fellow owners despite the circumstances and unknowns we encounter.

Gido: Tell us about Rincon Consultants and your capabilities and markets.

Dreher: Rincon is a California-based firm entering our 27th year. While we focus primarily to support the California economy, we frequently entertain and perform services for select clients throughout the western United States. We offer a comprehensive suite of environmental services and are heavily diversified across several key markets, including infrastructure, water resources, utilities, land development, climate adaptation and sustainability planning. We are evenly split between public-agency and private clients, and enjoy the power of a large-sized firm of more than 400 people, yet the nimbleness of a small firm, utilizing our streamlined approach to delivering client services with nearly all disciplines and service offerings under one roof.

Gido: With offices across California, how have you planned and organized bringing Rincon staff back to the office?

Dreher: We are currently embarking on a soft reopening of all our offices based on desire and need. As with most initiatives here at Rincon, we avoid top-down, policy-driven mandates; so we really rely on the local leaders to discuss with their team what works best for them. Our commitment to our team’s safety is our highest priority, and we have chosen to be slow adopters of the office-reentry experiment. This is all driven by feedback as well as a keen eye on maintaining performance. As long as we can balance happiness/productivity while maintaining exceptional client service, I see no need to have absolute guidance, and we likely will maintain a certain level of continued flexibility.

One area we understand is of concern is long-term effects for staff development. Training and mentoring will need to take on a different form for now. Currently we provide very-frequent mentoring sessions, trainings and open-calendar (door) office hours where staff can pretty much ask any question of their supervisor or even me. Socialization and comradery are our next focal areas, and we are achieving this through onsite gatherings or meetings as well as offsite and off-the-clock functions such as summer barbeques.

John Dreher
President and CEO
Rincon Consultants
Ventura, Calif.

Gido: How does the second half of 2021 look and going into 2022? Any specific business or client opportunities or challenges?

Dreher: So far so good, and that’s without the speculation of what the political arena may conjure up, meaning an infrastructure bill. Over the last few years, we have focused on long-term client relationships where we can grow with and demonstrate the ability to be an indispensable partner. As a result, we have a consistent backlog, outstanding client loyalty and more-predictable results. This has really helped to steady our outlook beyond 18 months, giving us the confidence to hire the best and brightest as well as grow our rising stars internally. Anything out past 18 months is beyond my ability to predict. That said, I am highly confident in my team to continue to pivot. We have built our teams around the concept that everyone is responsible for business development, and every project is an opportunity to build a relationship.

Gido: How is Rincon adapting to a very challenging hiring market for talent? What positions are you looking for today? Any strategies for recruiting and retention?

Dreher: About five or so years ago, we felt a shift in our company culture where we transitioned from a firm seeking talented people to a firm that was attracting talented people. We also employ staff from 19 different states as well as one whose husband is stationed in Japan. Our focus on a people-first culture provides a refreshing respite from the larger companies or those involved in M&A. We focus on running a healthy business to allow us to pursue interesting and challenging work. Additionally, we attract many from smaller firms where opportunities for advancement can be limited. We are usually always searching for the right person who can influence us and add value to our platform. Beyond new hires, our team members who have been with us for many years are provided opportunities to grow and evolve with the needs of the organization. This attention to career advancement is most impactful to retaining talented people.

Gido: Overall, how has this pandemic experience impacted you as a leader? As CEO, which strategies or lessons have you taken away from the last year?

Dreher: First, I have only been a CEO for three years, so the pandemic was my first major test. I was in the classic transition as a new CEO, managing both the future direction as well as the prior leadership transitions. The pandemic impacted me greatly and for the first time. After I was able to channel my “inner realist,” I found my voice and, most importantly, my team. We worked nonstop to exhaust all options and layout contingency plans for nearly everything. I was surprised that so many wanted to hear from me, and with greater frequency. While I consider myself a straight shooter, a good crisis will tell you if others around you feel the same way. I think we are stronger as an organization because of the pandemic, and I am a stronger leader as a result, thanks to all those who believed
and trusted in me (and us). 



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About Steve Gido

Steve Gido specializes in corporate financial advisory services, including mergers and acquisitions, business valuations, ownership transition plans, and strategic planning for engineering, architecture, environmental consulting and construction firms. He leads ROG+ Partners’ merger and acquisition practice, and has advised on a wide number of A/E/C transactions, representing buyers and sellers of all sizes and disciplines.

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