CEO of Dawson Van Orden (Hot Firm #49 for 2016), a 45-person design and engineering firm based in Houston, Texas.
By Liisa Andreassen
“Cashflow. Period,” says Eddy, when asked about the greatest challenge presented by growth.
A CONVERSATION WITH JOSH EDDY.
The Zweig Letter: Firms that have principals and firm owners that lower their compensation and invest back into the firm perform better, grow quicker, and have higher valuations. How do you balance owner compensation with investment in the firm?
Josh Eddy: The DVO ownership group is all in our early 40s and we are investing all the profit into the company’s growth. We believe in our vision and know that investing in the DVO team will pay off significantly more than any other investment options.
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?
JE: DVO offers a diverse range of engineering specialties and marketing is an important part of educating our clients on all we offer. Marketing and social media are also key components used to attract the right talent to fit your company culture. More proactive marketing is a key topic for our 2018 work plan.
TZL: If there was one program, course, or degree program you could take or recommend before becoming a principal or owner, what would it be?
JE: Understanding business is an underrated part of being a principal and owner. Most A/E firms’ principals come up through the engineering ranks and often start their own small firm. Any company that intends to grow to more than 20 staff should get outside training or coaching before they reach that point.
TZL: In the event of failure, how does your firm react?
JE: There is no such thing as failure at DVO, only opportunities to learn and adapt so we don’t make the same mistakes again. We look at how we handle mistakes and problems as a way to execute our customer service mission.
TZL: Monthly happy hours and dog friendly offices. What do today’s CEOs need to know about today’s workforce?
JE: A/E firms are facing a shortage of production staff in the coming years. Hiring, along with keeping staff happy, will be key factors to success. DVO is a believer in “work hard, play hard,” and we strive to integrate that mantra into our company’s culture. For example, this past June we took part in the AIA SandCastle Competition – a fundraising event for AIA Houston and the ArCH Foundation as well as one of the top five revenue generating events for the city of Galveston. On the day of the event, we sculpted piles of sand and had an unforgettable time.
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?
JE: Continuous growth is critical to building a leadership path for young engineers and designers. At DVO we promote from within first and work hard to create opportunities for all of our top performers. We recruit the best talent regardless of point of origin. Team members at DVO represent 18 different universities ranging from local individuals to as far away as Russia. It’s also important for people to feel connected to their communities and our company vision includes “positively changing the industries where we work and live.” We strongly believe that donating to local charities is a valuable step in trying to fulfill our company’s vision.
TZL: The A/E market is great right now. What are you doing to cushion your firm in the event of a downturn?
JE: DVO is constantly working to diversify across markets and locations so we are not too dependent on any one area. Using focused business development and forecasting, we workshare between teams to balance growth to offset any localized downturns.
TZL: How do you deal with underperforming employees? What are your steps for removal after they have proven to be ineffective, or even counterproductive, to your firm?
JE: DVO believes in setting up a high-level process and then allowing staff to help manage themselves. Setting individual and team performance metrics allows the managers to coach improvement. Low performers will have every opportunity to improve before change is required.
TZL: What’s the greatest challenge presented by growth?
JE: Cashflow. Period.
TZL: What is the role of entrepreneurship in your firm?
JE: Entrepreneurship is a key piece of each of our engineering divisions and even more so in our expansion offices. We lean heavily on each of our DVO leaders to drive continuous improvement.
TZL: What’s your prediction for the next five years?
JE: A/E firms will need to adapt and balance company culture with producing client-focused work. The firms that do well will succeed and the ones that don’t will struggle.
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