Friday, July 30, 2010

Lots of changes at the new ZweigWhite

Mark Zweig offers an update on ZweigWhite's beefed-up management team:

It was 22 years ago this past July 13 that I started Mark Zweig & Associates, which later became ZweigWhite. We grew like a weed— being named twice to the Inc. 500 List of Fastest-Growing Privately Held Businesses in the U.S.— right up to the point we were acquired by a Chicago-based SBIC (Small Business Investment Corporation). I retired from active duty and moved to Arkansas to teach entrepreneurship and start my real estate redevelopment business. Our new owners merged us with a couple other companies, installed their own management, and we had some turnover. As the economy got tougher, our own performance worsened. It’s a classic story that has been told thousands of times before.

Help arrived some months back when our new parent company, Eli Research, came on the scene. After a period of observation and study, Eli Founder and CEO Greg Lindberg, an amazing entrepreneur himself, decided to make some changes. It’s been a wild six weeks or so! Here’s a quick rundown on some of the exciting happenings in our firm:

My old friend Ed Friedrichs has joined the firm as chairman. Ed is the former chief executive officer of the one of the largest and most successful and influential design firms in the world, Gensler, a global architecture, design and planning firm. Ed joined Gensler when the firm had 20 employees and helped lead the transformation of Gensler to a firm with 2,400 professionals worldwide. I have worked with Ed on a couple different boards of private companies and I can tell you that he is a veritable fountainhead of ides. Plus, anyone who can get that many design professionals pulling in the same direction is an amazing leader, if you ask me— and we are extremely fortunate to have him join our team.

Tracey Jeffers, MBA, CBA, CMEA, has joined the firm as head of our national business valuation practice and ZweigWhite is acquiring Tracey’s firm, ValuPath Advisors, Inc. ValuPath is a successful national valuation firm and will significantly enhance our valuation capabilities in the market. I worked with Tracey when she headed up the Small Business Development Center on the University of Arkansas campus. She is a tireless perfectionist who knows her stuff and knows how to get things done— just what our clients need!

Wendy MacColl has joined the firm as head of new product development and will serve as director of Distance Learning and Market Councils. Wendy will be working on several new innovative products for the AEC community to be launched in the coming months. I worked with Wendy (who is also a flat track motorcycle racer) when she served as the head of instructional design at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. She’s smart and her years of curriculum design experience for management education at a high level are going to be invaluable to us.

Jeff Clark has joined ZweigWhite as head of mergers and acquisitions in our Investment Banking Division. Jeff has worked for several years with ZweigWhite’s parent company, Eli Global, as an M&A consultant handling 19 successful engagements totaling over $150 million in transaction value. Before working with Eli Global, Jeff provided strategic consulting services to Syska Hennessy Group in the AEC space and for several Fortune 500 companies.

W. Hobson Hogan has joined the firm as principal in our Investment Banking Division. Hobson is a seasoned mergers and acquisitions professional with deep experience assisting AEC firms with strategy formulation and ownership transfer issues. Before joining ZweigWhite, Hobson was with FMI Capital Advisors, Inc.

I am very excited to announce that our Investment Banking Division is now offering full-service investment banking services, including a global capital markets team that can structure and place a variety of debt and equity products for our clients. We can help you raise debt and equity capital to help your business grow or complete an acquisition.

We have also expanded our advisory capabilities for acquisitions, divestitures, mergers, joint ventures, corporate restructurings, recapitalizations, spin-offs, and leveraged buyouts. ZweigWhite and its parent company, Eli Global, have extensive buy- and sell-side M&A experience to help AEC firms achieve their short- and long-term strategic objectives.

And finally, I have rejoined the firm once again on full active duty as our chief executive officer, and am working from our new office in here in beautiful and centrally located Fayetteville, Arkansas. I am really excited to be back involved with ZweigWhite in a meaningful way (and working about 80 hours a week!). We will return to the principles that allowed us to be named twice to the Inc. 500 List of Fastest-Growing Privately Held Businesses and reestablish our leadership in providing management information and advice to help make our A/E/P and environmental firm clients more successful. And we’ll have a heck of a lot of fun doing it!

If anyone has any questions about us or comments on how we could do better, I would greatly appreciate hearing from you. My cell phone number is 508-380-0469 and my e-mail address is

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is IPD a four-letter word for some A/E firm leaders?

Joao Ferreira, managing editor for ZweigWhite's newsletters group, offers up this startling tale:

While doing some research for a story I’m writing for The Zweig Letter, I found that some people in the A/E world don’t know what the acronym IPD stands for (it's integrated project delivery, for the uninitiated in the crowd), or what the concept means. Really, are some people in the design and construction space really that disconnected? Or, is this proving that IPD is some kind of a fad?

Please interject. And don't be afraid to admit that you didn't know what it was until you read it here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Best Firms in the spotlight

Today was a big day around these parts - and at your firm if you were among those chosen as one of the A/E industry's Best Firms To Work For for 2010. By now, you've heard from Marketing Coordinator Sarah Nasznic about your place on the lis, and soon some of you will be hearing from our writers about articles we plan to do leading up to the Best Firms Summit in Las Vegas in late September, when the complete rankings will be revealed, and beyond, in the Zweig HR Letter.

If you're one of the ranked firms, congratulations to you! If not, there is a lot you can learn from those who were fortunate enough to earn the distinction. Keep your eyes peeled for the articles and take their advice to heart. Who knows? Maybe your firm will be among the chosen few in 2011!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

ABI inches up slightly. When will design activity increase?

The Architecture Billings Index, the monthly gauge of design activity by the American Institute of Architects offered perhaps the only glimmer of hope in a tough month, but even that good news was slight. The ABI stood at June is 46.0, up from 45.8 in May, but still below 50, meaning design activity continued to drop in that period. AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker called June’s results “disheartening.”

“I was hoping it would recover in June, but we now have a two-month soft spot,” he tells The Board Room in an exclusive interview. “We’re halfway through the year without any serious sign the design industry is recovering.”

Baker has been hearing more about the so-called double dip in the economy, meaning a second decline after a brief recovery period.

“There’s some concern the economy is reversing direction, but I’m not reading it that way,” he says. “I see it more as a period of being stalled out as we move toward a recovery. Nothing is coming easily in this recovery.”

Baker has more analysis of the June numbers and what to expect going forward in the Aug. 2 issue of The Zweig Letter.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Not what we signed up for with stimulus

Massachusetts politicos are being blasted for spending a half-million dollars on signs promoting the work being done across the Bay State under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, more commonly known as the $787 billion economic stimulus package. That $500,000 is about 10% of what all states have spent on signs.

This seems like frivolous spending when there are plenty of projects out there waiting to be done, and plenty of design and construction professionals waiting to do them.

The signs claim the projects are Putting America to Work, but wouldn't more people be doing more work if it weren't for all the money wasted on these signs promoting the fact that Americans are back at work?

How can you follow the leader if you don't know who it is?

Joao Ferreira, managing editor for ZweigWhite's four newsletters, says there are leadership issues at a firm near you:

A chorus of worries about who will lead the design firm of the future has increased in volume over the last few months of covering this industry. At the The Zweig Letter Hot Firm Conference last October, a panel discussion discovered that many aging owners don’t even have a leadership succession plan in place (read leadership, not ownership, which are not the same thing).

Now, at the SMPS Build Business conference in Boston, A/E guru Scott Braley tells us kind of the same story. Baby boomers, he says, haven’t invested enough on nurturing their replacements. The Gen X demographic isn’t as aggressive as the boomer generation, either, and this may create a leadership gap. Gen Ys will likely take advantage.

OK, it’s slightly confusing, but the reality in that boomers will become extinct in leadership roles in the next 10 years, and someone has to step up to the plate. Despite concerns that younger generations are more interested in flexible work hours and not necessarily in leading, some believe that we’ll be just fine. ZweigWhite founder Mark Zweig said as much during the Hot Firm event last year.

Now comes this from ZweigWhite principal John Soter: “I’m a boomer, and I think we forget that we were one end of the original ‘generation gap’. From Elvis and the Beatles to Mad magazine to sit-ins and Woodstock, we were written off as spoiled and lacking ‘work ethic.’ Well, I guess we showed them! I subscribe to the view that, given the opportunity and direction, Gen X and Y will prove boomers’ view of them completely wrong as they reinvent firms for the future, just like we did to those we followed.”

The problem, Braley argued is that boomers relished being thrown in with the lions and took charge; Gen Xers, on the other hand, don’t speak up.

So, how do you spot the next leaders and nurture them? Boomers, go get them, and Gen X and Y, speak up!

Any thoughts out from the trenches?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What's up with modern architecture?

The conventional wisdom is that the design and construction industry has moved forward as technology has improved and collaboration has increased. Not so, says Chicago Sun-Times columnist Roger Ebert, who says modern architecture "has grown tiresome." Gone are the beautiful buildings, giving way to corporate behemoth that tower over the landscape just to get into the record books. In other cases, firms are so worried about the bottom line that they set creativity to the side and take the safe route.
I think there's something to that, and it's not going to get better any time soon with continued worry about the state of the economy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Celebrate the past, look ahead to the future

ZweigWhite founder Mark Zweig checks in today with a special announcement on a momentous occasion:

"It was 22 years ago that I started Mark Zweig & Associates--the firm that later became ZweigWhite. We built the firm to a twice-listed Inc. 500 Company with a mission of helping our A/E and environmental consulting firms be more successful. We did that based on practicing what we preach and by singing our own music vs. reading management books and regurgitating what the authors said. It was a successful marriage of industry focus, original research, training, and consulting, using a staff of full-time employees vs. a cadre of part-time consultants.

"I retired from the firm to pursue my interests in college-level teaching and design and development and have achieved some success with both of those endeavors. But recently, the new owners of ZweigWhite asked me to re-inject myself into the firm. While I was reluctant at first because I am already so busy, I quickly gained enthusiasm for the idea when I saw how entrepreneurial our new owners are. Last week, I just opened a new office for ZW here in Fayetteville. You are going to be hearing a lot more from us in the coming weeks and months about new people, new services, and more from ZweigWhite, and I am excited about our future!"


Lying your way to a project win?

The Boston Globe recently reported on a controversial decision by the state's highest court to allow a high school building project to remain under the auspices of a construction firm that misrepresented its credentials to get the job in the first place. Critics in the construction industry say the ruling undermines the spirit of the open, honest, public bidding process created by the Ward Commission after bid-rigging scandals in the 1970s, according to the article by John Ellement and Christine Legere.

What do you think of this ruling? How do you feel about lying to get work?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Etch A Sketch celebrates big 5-0

Today marks an historic occasion in many architects' lives: It's the day Etch A Sketch first went on sale 50 years ago. Are you or your firm doing anything to celebrate?

For me, having a typewriter as a kid launched my journalism career. Was the Etch A Sketch your gateway to the design industry? Does anyone out there still have one? If so, let's see what you can do with it. We'd love to display your best work -- and maybe you'll even win a prize for it!

Friday, July 9, 2010

The company name game

There's a lot of creativity going on in the design industry these days, and that ground-breaking thinking extends to firm names. The American Express Open Forum blog looks at how 16 world-renowned companies picked their names. How did you choose yours? What's been the reaction to the name over the years? Has the name issue been a contentious one when your firm was buying or selling?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Where does your state rank on stimulus spending?

The second-smallest state in the U.S. (Delaware) has also done the poorest job of spending the money it was allocated through the $787 billion economic stimulus package, according to a recent report from the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Maine, on the other hand, is the leader others should follow.

Those firms that have been aching to enter the federal market but still unable to do so, it looks like there's still some opportunity out there, if you know where to look.

What do you think of this report? What has your experience been with stimulus package-related work?

Best buildings in the past 30 years

Vanity Fair recently published a list of the best buildings of the past 30 years. As with most lists, it includes some classics and some interesting choices, as well as some you might suspect are there just to get people talking about the list. What do you think of their rankings? Is anything missing?

On a somewhat related note, The Zweig Letter is publishing its 2010 Hot Firm List in the July 12 issue. There are a lot of new faces among this year's winners, who are ranked alphabetically in the issue. The numerical rankings will be released in late August, with the conference in D.C. in late October.