President and CEO of BSI Engineering (Cincinnati, OH), a consulting and process design engineering firm that’s building on the past to design the future.
By Liisa Andreassen
At BSI Engineering, a consulting and process design engineering firm, the company’s mantra is “serve the client, satisfy the employee … and the rest will take care of itself.”
“We’re dedicated to satisfying our customers, but also satisfying our employees so that they are with us for years to come,” Beirne says.
A conversation with Phil Beirne.
The Zweig Letter: What are the three to four key business performance indicators that you watch most carefully? Do you share that information with your staff?
Phil Beirne: Billability, forecasted work, client feedback (surveys, but more importantly direct project feedback), and write-offs. I think it’s a fair statement to say that all my staff know those four are my key areas of focus regarding business performance indicators.
TZL: How much time do you spend working “in the business” rather than “on the business?”
PB: Defining working “in the business” as more day to day assistance, and “on the business” to be more long-term visioning, planning, and execution to that vision, I would say it’s a 30-70 split, where 30 percent is on weekly execution and 70 percent is on planning for the business.
TZL: What role does your family play in your career? Are work and family separate, or is there overlap?
PB: I try to lessen the impact or strain managing the business sometimes inflicts, and share the joys it often brings, but there is overlap. I try to minimize that overlap to the family type events the company sponsors (and leave the rest back at work).
TZL: Artificial intelligence and machine learning are potential disruptors across all industries. Is your firm exploring how to incorporate these technologies into providing improved services for clients?
PB: These are two areas that are, or would be, driven out of our automation group, and we are in the infancy of investigating these technologies to serve our clients.
TZL: It is often said that people leave managers, not companies. What are you doing to ensure that your line leadership are great people managers?
PB: We are very sensitive to not only what people are capable of, but where their interests lie, as in our business, most managers are good technically, less so as people managers. It is more often said that people excel at what they like. As a result, we’ve allowed, and in some cases encouraged, people to do what they like – more than what they can do, or feel the company needs. To prevent that departure, we have opened the doors more to good managers with some technical acumen in managerial positions, as opposed to good technical people with some managerial expertise.
TZL: What novel approaches are you bringing to recruitment, and how are your brand and differentiators performing in the talent wars?
PB: We have hired a full-time talent acquisition specialist, thoroughly explored every reputable internet social media doorway we can find, and have never forgotten the following premise: It has as much probability of success (and we reward our employees for doing so) to hire someone who is known, with multiple connections to fellow employees, than to hire off the street. Combined with our generous business ownership and profit-sharing model, these principles and that approach have made us tough to beat in the open market.
TZL: What unique or innovative pricing strategies have you developed, or are you developing, to combat the commoditization of engineering services?
PB: I don’t know how unique or innovative they are, but we have developed rate structures that are customized to reward (discount) our clients for directly awarded volume or repeat business, provide shared savings on lump sum or NTE projects, and for those clients willing to sign extended, relatively exclusive contracts for our services, highly discounted multiplier based rates.
TZL: They say failure is a great teacher. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve had to learn the hard way?
PB: As apparent as it may be, telling the truth, and being completely honest are not one and the same. Though I like to think we all strive to be the latter, no one is perfectly honest. That said, at a minimum, to run a successful business and partnership, you have to be willing to tell the truth when asked a direct question.
TZL: Research shows that PMs are overworked, understaffed, and that many firms do not have formal training programs for PMs. What is your firm doing to support its PMs?
PB: First, we acknowledge that it’s the most difficult position to master within the company, try to prioritize the company as a “project led” organization, provide the control required to the PMs, and reward them personally for repeat, profitable work. Second, try to find or position the individuals within the organization who have the broad range of experience, leadership, and confrontational abilities to succeed. Third, provide PMP, CMP, or PM Bootcamp training to further enhance their skills.
TZL: In one word or phrase, what do you describe as your number one job responsibility as CEO?
PB: To have the most positive outlook and be the most positive force within the company.
TZL: Diversity and inclusion is lacking. What steps are you taking to address the issue?
PB: I’m not sure we suffer from this as much as our counterparts in the industry, given our current makeup, but we are always looking to invest time in hiring and developing the right individual, recognizing this is a country of Native Americans and immigrants.
TZL: A firm’s longevity is valuable. What are you doing to encourage your staff to stick around?
PB: We share ownership and profits across the company, which enables employees to be rewarded in a relatively unique quantitative model based on bringing in the work, doing the work, and ensuring profit on the work. We have communicated to the employees, new and old, that we are all just stewards of the company, with ownership handed down from generation to generation. We have also communicated that barring any major economic event, we would ride through less profitable times, together, with no layoffs, but perhaps less in profit sharing, performance pay, and share value growth, which all employees have the opportunity to participate in.
Combine that with the opportunities that come with a relatively unlimited growth plan to “grow along with our clients,” and we have had no layoffs, remarkably little turnover (especially compared to industry standards), and exceptional growth these past 13 years.