A principal currently serving as president with W&M Environmental Group, LLC (Hot Firm #81 for 2016), a 50-person environmental services consulting firm based in Texas.
By Liisa Andreassen
“One thing we didn’t expect is the significant impact it has on the firm’s culture,” Andreani says, referring to ownership transition. “Not only does it communicate that there’s a plan in place, but it shows everyone in the firm that there’s opportunity and recognition for hard work and perseverance.”
Andreani serves as president and is responsible for the firm’s operations in Austin, Houston, Plano, Fort Worth, Corpus Christi, and San Antonio. He consults in the field of regulatory compliance with specific experience in the remediation of impacted soil and groundwater, brownfield transactions, permitting, development and implementation of corporate level compliance management programs, strategic planning, and environmental litigation support. He participates in process audits and has worked on high profile matters such as the Deepwater Horizon incident.
A conversation with Nic Andreani.
The Zweig Letter: In the next couple of years, what A/E segments will heat up, and which ones will cool down?
Nic Andreani: Our goal is to continue to expand our team of experts who can simplify and solve complex environmental problems. Since we’re Texas based, we’re seeing strong investments in oil and gas. There also appears to be strong growth in manufacturing across the country. W&M will be prepared to support our manufacturing clients in remediation, environmental program management, wastewater, and permitting.
TZL: 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?
NA: Measuring the effectiveness of marketing is difficult to do using hard metrics for ROI. Since we revamped our online marketing approach in 2015, we track a number of KPIs to track our results. We look closely at website traffic and have experienced a large increase in traffic; we have an increased number of prospects that sign-up to receive enhanced content (webinars, white papers, videos), and we track the clients and projects that originate as a result of the website and our content marketing.
TZL: The last few years have been good for the A/E industry. Is there a downturn in the forecast, and if so, when and to what severity?
NA: I’ve heard more than one economist discuss a pullback in 2019, so we’ll see if they’re right. We’ve worked hard to grow a diversified firm to limit the effect of a pullback on W&M – diversifying our services, geographic reach and the industries we serve.
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?
NA: We’ve worked hard to develop a strategic human resources initiative to provide a development and leadership framework that will allow W&M to continue to grow and evolve. Mentoring our high performers, giving them opportunities, and the freedom to innovate goes a long way. And of course, working with good people and clients – there’s no substitute for engaging projects with great clients.
TZL: As you look for talent, what position do you most need to fill in the coming year and why?
NA: Almost half of our planned hires for 2018 are entry level. We’ve got some great relationships with colleges and universities that allow us to recruit college graduates and get them plugged in to contribute to the firm’s success. As we grow, we promote from within where we can, so we constantly need to add recent graduates to support our project teams.
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?
NA: One thing we didn’t expect is the significant impact it has on the firm’s culture. Not only does it communicate that there’s a plan in place, but it shows everyone in the firm that there’s opportunity and recognition for hard work and perseverance.
TZL: Monthly happy hours and dog friendly offices. What do today’s CEOs need to know about today’s workforce?
NA: It sounds cliché, but our people are great. We give them the flexibility they need and deserve as professionals. We’re casual – unless we have a reason not to be – and we’re flexible when someone has a commitment or if their kids get sick. We have high expectations, but we play hard, too.
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?
NA: We have a successful online marketing approach that helps our technical team tremendously. In 2015, we totally revamped our marketing approach. Prior to the change, our website was basically an online brochure and now we’re over two years into a successful content marking platform. By sharing our knowledge with the environmental community we’re able to attract more new clients and, as a side benefit, potential new employees, too.
TZL: Diversifying the portfolio is never a bad thing. What are the most recent steps you’ve taken to broaden your revenue streams?
NA: We’ve tightened up our vision and shared it with the team. We know what we’re good at and who our ideal clients are.
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?
NA: We hold regular PM lunch and learns and try to focus those on tools and processes to help them succeed. Sharing tips, tricks, and best practices doesn’t hurt either.
TZL: What is the role of entrepreneurship in your firm?
NA: We were founded by a great entrepreneur, so it’s guided us well. Surround yourself with good people and know when to get out of the way.
TZL: They say failure is a great teacher. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve had to learn the hard way?
NA: You must hold people accountable in their role and be prepared to act. Keeping someone in a role that doesn’t align with their strengths can create many issues, but most notably in team morale.
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?
NA: We’ve been successful in growing W&M organically. We have a strong vision and mission that the leaders believe in, and we work together to contribute to the firm’s success. Organic growth comes much easier when you’re all rowing in the same direction, but it’s not always easy to get to that point.
TZL: Do you use historical performance data or metrics to establish project billable hours and how does the type of contract play into determining the project budget?
NA: Definitely. We know what it takes to get a project done and what resources are needed. We also have a good understanding of the value we bring. It’s about relationships and listening to what the client needs and developing a solution that works for them and us.
TZL: What’s your prediction for 2018?
NA: At W&M Environmental Group we’re off to a tremendous start and I expect 2018 to be a very successful year for the company. We’ll continue our growth plan, get great people and help them grow, add new partners in the firm and solidify our relationships with strategic clients.
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