President of EPS Group (Mesa, AZ), a full-service consulting firm that is dedicated to exceeding expectations.
By Liisa Andreassen
As president of EPS Group, Williams is responsible for all corporate functions including corporate strategic planning, financial oversight, and various general administrative functions. He also leads the public works department, and as a project manager, he’s responsible for design direction and review, resource allocation, scheduling, budget monitoring, client and agency coordination, public involvement, and sub-consultant management.
“The word ‘Group’ in EPS Group, is indicative of the partners that form the ownership of the company,” Williams says. “I am blessed to have partners and executives who handle various aspects of the business and free up my time to do what I love about my job – designing/managing great projects.”
A conversation with Elijah Williams.
The Zweig Letter: How has COVID-19 impacted your firm’s policy on telecommuting/working remotely?
Elijah Williams: We did very little remote working before COVID-19 and do a great deal of it now. Most of our design staff work remotely. We have not decided if telecommuting will be part of our future once this pandemic has passed.
TZL: Tell me about the “Feeding Arizona” commitment you made to provide 250,000 meals. Did you reach your goal? How did the project go overall? I see that your firm is very philanthropic (i.e., donating student computers).
EW: We have always strived to support local charities with a focus on sustaining families. Early in the pandemic, we searched for ways we could help support families struggling with the economic effects of the stay-at-home orders. With the unprecedented demands on local food banks, we quickly identified St. Mary’s as our non-profit partner of choice and with their membership with Feed America, we had an opportunity to help families throughout Arizona. We just exceeded our goal of 250,000 meals. With respect to the computers for schools, we recognized that once kids were sent home from school due to the virus outbreak, many kids from low-income families would not be able to continue their education due to a lack of computer access. We contacted a local school district and provided 32 computers with software to support these kids.
TZL: How far into the future are you able to reliably predict your workload and cashflow?
EW: Although we develop our workload projections for up to a year, we can reliably predict our workload out to about six months. Beyond that, the crystal ball gets hazier. Cashflow has been a focus of ours over the last couple of years and we have developed a variety of approaches to ensure better and more timely receipts. This has reduced our day’s sales outstanding and led to a more predictable cashflow.
TZL: What role does your family play in your career? Are work and family separate, or is there overlap?
EW: My family is more important than my career. If my career began to negatively impact my family, then I would adjust my career approach. I do try to keep career and family separate and be home when I’m home and at work when I’m at work, but that can be difficult at times.
TZL: You recently acquired Azimi. How did the acquisition go? What was main reason for acquisition and what, if any, were the main challenges in incorporating this new firm into existing culture? How many people were added?
EW: We are excited to welcome Azimi! The acquisition is going well and we look forward to the future. We acquired Azimi (five staff) to bolster the engineering resources of our recently opened Southern California office. As a local firm, Azimi had the experience we were looking for. To help with the cultural transition, we had the firm principal, Ali Azimi, come to our primary office in Mesa and work with us for several weeks. This allowed him the opportunity to get to know us, our processes, procedures, and company culture.
TZL: Trust is crucial. How do you earn the trust of your clients?
EW: We bring great expertise and ideas to the table and then do what we say we will do.
TZL: How has COVID affected your business on a daily basis?
EW: Like most firms, the COVID-19 pandemic has substantially altered how we do our business. Nearly all of our design staff now work remotely. Our field survey crews must follow new safety protocols. Despite these and many other disruptions, and to the credit of our associates and teams, our utilization has actually increased during the pandemic. We have had many projects put on hold or canceled due to the economic impacts of the virus. Thankfully, however, we have thus far been able to secure other work to sustain our staffing.
TZL: Are you using the R&D tax credit? If so, how is it working for your firm? If not, why not?
EW: We have been using this credit for several years. Its value varies from year to year based on the varying nature of our work.
TZL: Does your firm work closely with any higher education institutions to gain access to the latest technology, experience, and innovation and/or recruiting to find qualified resources?
EW: We have worked with our local universities for several years in helping us identify new talent. We have often provided a firm partner to sponsor senior design projects so that we get to know the new graduates more personally and professionally. This gives us better insight into each candidate’s technical ability and compatibility with our firm culture.
TZL: I see that you are both president and project leader for the public works department. How do you divide time between the two roles or are they interchangeable?
EW: The word “Group” in EPS Group, is indicative of the partners that form the ownership of the company. I am blessed to have partners and executives who handle various aspects of the business and free up my time to do what I love about my job – designing/managing great projects. As such, I usually spend less than eight hours a week on corporate matters allowing the remainder of my time to be dedicated to my clients.
TZL: Ownership transition can be tricky, to say the least. What’s the key to ensuring a smooth passing of the baton? What’s the biggest pitfall to avoid?
EW: Successful ownership transition has always been a goal of EPS Group. Having this as a focus from the inception of the firm (17 years ago) allowed us to put in place well-defined protocols that have facilitated this transition. Key to this approach has been developing a stock purchase program that protects the firm and selling shareholder, without financially overburdening the incoming partner. The biggest challenge to successful ownership transition is to make sure that the incoming partner proves to be a long-term asset to the firm and who embraces the company philosophies of quality and client service.
TZL: A firm’s longevity is valuable. What are you doing to encourage your staff to stick around?
EW: We’ve always embraced the idea that our staff is our greatest asset. I know this concept is so repeated these days and that it now sounds trite, but it really is our approach. We demonstrate our commitment by providing growth and incentive programs that we believe are unmatched in our region. This allows high achievers to not only feel valued but to also receive value for their contributions.