CEO of SidePlate (Best Firm Structural #4 for 2018), a civil engineering firm based in Mission Viejo, California.
By Liisa Andreassen
“There is no question that organic growth is the way to go,” Gallart says. “M&A can help you grow your firm, but it comes at a price – many times a high price.”
A CONVERSATION WITH HENRY GALLART.
The Zweig Letter: Diversifying the portfolio is never a bad thing. What are the most recent steps you’ve taken to broaden your revenue streams?
Henry Gallart: We’re exploring new marketplaces such as airports and high-rise buildings where we haven’t historically played before. SidePlate brings value to any steel structure, and each year our customers bring us into exciting and interesting projects that we might not have looked at even five years ago.
TZL: The list of responsibilities for project managers is seemingly endless. How do you keep your PMs from burning out? And if they crash, how do you get them back out on the road, so to speak?
HG: We’re ever mindful of their workload and associated standard of care they provide our customers. Each of our PMs leads a team and each member has a specialty or specific strength that helps the PM keep their list of projects on track at all times. In addition, we are continually developing design tools and resource management tools that allow them to handle the increased workload without burning out. For example, we create software tools for estimating and design enhancement that allow our connections to fit directly into many software models. These tools help automate a lot of the work.
TZL: What is the role of entrepreneurship in your firm?
HG: It’s in the SidePlate DNA to innovate and stay on the cutting-edge in our industry. We are infusing a greater awareness of project profitability throughout the entire company, and not just at the leadership team level.
TZL: What’s your policy on sharing the firm’s financials with your staff? Weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually? And how far down into the org chart is financial information shared?
HG: We share our firm’s financials with the entire company at our CEO update shortly after the quarter ends.
TZL: The design-build delivery model appears to be trending upward. What are the keys to a successful design-build project? What are the risks?
HG: It’s important that everyone recognizes they are part of the same team. Everyone needs to be mindful of each other’s success and be willing to go the extra mile to ensure the maximum success for every team member. When team members forget that, trouble ensues.
TZL: The talent war in the A/E industry is here. What steps do you take to create the leadership pipeline needed to retain your top people and not lose them to other firms?
HG: We try to ensure that our top people who are looking to grow into greater leadership positions are provided the necessary training to be the leaders of tomorrow. In addition, we regularly meet with them to make sure they’re being challenged, are growing, and feel that they are being heard.
TZL: As you look for talent, what position do you most need to fill in the coming year and why?
HG: We will be bringing IT support in house, so that very necessary role will be first. And, as SidePlate’s market share grows throughout the next year, expect to see new regional engineers and project managers move up the list.
TZL: While plenty of firms have an ownership transition plan in place, many do not. What’s your advice for firms that have not taken steps to identify and empower the next generation of owners?
HG: Get on it! To do this right, it takes years to truly groom the next generation of owners/leaders. You don’t want to find yourself having to go back like Steve Jobs after selling because you didn’t do a good enough job infusing the necessary DNA into the next generation. Additionally, as you groom the up and comers, it’s important to see their vision and be sure you can embrace their direction enhancement looking to the future.
TZL: Zweig Group research shows there has been a shift in business development strategies. More and more, technical staff, not marketing staff, are responsible for BD. What’s the BD formula in your firm?
HG: To work with, sell to, and command the respect from technical folks like structural engineers, you need to be an engineer. Complementing our technical expertise in the field, we have a fully staffed marketing department to make sure our messaging is clear, concise, and on target.
TZL: Measuring the effectiveness of marketing is difficult to do using hard metrics for ROI. How do you evaluate the success/failure of your firm’s marketing efforts when results could take months, or even years, to materialize? Do you track any metrics to guide your marketing plan?
HG: We have a marketing department, but we view everyone in the company as a marketer. To that, we gauge our marketing successes on customer satisfaction. When customers are happy, Team SidePlate is doing its marketing right.
TZL: They say failure is a great teacher. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve had to learn the hard way?
HG: Thinking that you can hire a software development company to create a custom solution for you and have it stay within scope, budget, and actually work at the end of the day. If you are thinking of developing software for internal purposes or for your clients, you must really consider the possibility of needing an internal software development team. Software tools to make things easier for our customers is a fundamental part of SidePlate so this lesson was only learned once.
TZL: While M&A is always an option, there’s something to be said about organic growth. What are your thoughts on why and how to grow a firm?
HG: There is no question that organic growth is the way to go. M&A can help you grow your firm, but it comes at a price – many times a high price.
TZL: What’s your prediction for 2018?
HG: It’s going to be our best year ever in the history of SidePlate – another record breaking year!
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