President of Ross & Baruzzini (Hot Firm #57 for 2017), a 270-person international design and consulting company based in St. Louis.
By Liisa Andreassen
“We’ve offloaded some of our IT functions to the cloud and continue to improve resiliency and disaster recovery features,” says Overturf, referring to recent IT upgrades.
A conversation with Bill Overturf.
The Zweig Letter: What’s your philosophy on fee/billing and accounts receivable? How do you collect fees from a difficult client?
Bill Overturf: Our firm is growing and with that comes the need to manage our aged AR. After our accounting department has done its due diligence, we ask the project manager on the account to reach out to the client. Often we find that the project manager can move the process along within their own accounting group, or can clarify if there’s a problem that requires action on our part. In the end, it typically falls back to the strength of the relationship to resolve a problem.
TZL: What’s the recipe for creating an effective board?
BO: We have an internal board made up of key leaders who represent the larger business sectors we are involved in, and most interestingly, we’ve added someone via a recent acquisition who did not come up through the traditional engineering ranks but rather came up through business development. This helps provide the diversity that we need regarding perspectives, especially when we consider investments in new services or expanding on the synergies that exist across our present markets/divisions/services.
TZL: Is there a secret to effective ownership transition?
BO: We are privately held with the majority of our ownership in the hands of our parent company. So a slightly different question could be more along the lines of leadership transition which we are presently doing. And the “secret sauce” is simply trust and communication which translates to a good partnership that supports the transition.
TZL: How do you go about winning work?
BO: We grow and hire great people who are individuals that understand a “client-first and client-service” approach. This allows us to build relationships with our clients that then translates to a great reputation built upon that philosophy and back-stopped by great engineering. When you have this woven into your firm’s culture and you execute it to the best of your ability on a regular basis, you are in the best possible position to win work.
TZL: What’s the greatest problem to overcome in the proposal process?
BO: Having a clear understanding of exactly what the client’s real problems are to solve, and then being able to articulate that understanding in a meaningful, yet concise way.
TZL: Once you’ve won a contract, what are the “marching orders” for your PMs?
BO: The expectations of our PMs is to follow our PM manual which delineates some of the basic Xs and Os of kicking a project off.
TZL: How does marketing contribute to your success rate? Are you content with your marketing efforts, or do you think you should increase/decrease marketing?
BO: Marketing is a support function to business development and we’ve organized our marketing staff to align with our market verticals. This contributes to good communication and leads to better support materials. As we continue to grow, we’ve added marketing staff to help support that growth.
TZL: What has your firm done recently to upgrade its IT system?
BO: We’ve offloaded some of our IT functions to the cloud and continue to improve our resiliency and disaster recovery features.
TZL: What’s the best way to recruit and retain top talent in a tight labor market?
BO: To have a culture that provides a great deal of freedom to allow people to grow, learn and have some fun along the way. From that you build a reputation that becomes attractive to support both retention and recruitment.
TZL: What’s the key benefit you give to your employees? Flex schedule, incentive compensation, 401(k), etc.?
BO: We have a flex-time schedule, a combination of a bonus and profit-sharing program, and a 401(k) program. We’re competitive and believe in the industry.
TZL: How do you raise capital?
BO: This isn’t an issue for our firm as our parent company provides growth capital.
TZL: What’s your preferred strategy for growth, M&A or organic? Give us a synopsis of how your firm effected growth in the recent past.
BO: A combination of organic and acquisition growth. We’ve been able to achieve greater than 10 percent organic growth over the past few years due, in part, to our market-based organizational structure. This has infused a greater business sense internally and recognizes that clients hire us for our expertise in chosen industry verticals. They see us as specialists, not generalists. We’ve also acquired firms recently to help us grow into new vertical markets such as rail and transit and into new services such as medical equipment planning.
TZL: What’s the greatest challenge presented by growth?
BO: For our employees to understand who we are and where we are going as we grow into more geographies and more markets and services. People tend to only recognize and
understand the immediate “world” they live in within the organization. So, helping people to better understand the broader Ross & Baruzzini world and embrace it as something that creates opportunity for everyone to grow is something I feel represents our biggest challenge.
TZL: What is the role of entrepreneurship in your firm?
BO: I think this is more of a latent element of our culture. We encourage people to pursue opportunity that they see with few constraints, but have no formal process in place.
TZL: What’s your prediction for 2017 and for the next five years?
BO: We have a 10 percent growth rate planned for 2017 and for the next five years. We have proven over the past few years, tied to a change in our organizational structure emphasizing a market focus, two acquisitions, and recognizing the improving economy, that we can achieve and sustain this growth. We are bullish, but also humble and hopeful.