President and CEO of DBR (Houston, TX), a 150-person Texas firm that values communication and superior service above all.
By Liisa Andreassen
Curry is a Houston native and takes pride in working in a place he’s always called home. He joined DBR in 1985, and just as he is an advocate for the company, he’s an advocate for the city and its people. He’s moved through the ranks at DBR, working as an electrical engineer, project manager, and then managing partner.
“No matter what, do not take any client for granted,” Curry says. “It doesn’t matter how long you have been working for them or how deep you think your personal/professional relationship is. There is simply too much competition out there.”
A conversation with Randy Curry.
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?
Randy Curry: We look at backlog, cash, and accrual profit and revenue factor. We share the cash and accrual profit every month with staff by way of a “Message from the President.”
TZL: How far into the future are you able to reliably predict your workload and cashflow?
RC: We feel that we can look six months into the future with our pipeline and backlog report. We do this monthly with input from all our project managers.
TZL: How much time do you spend working “in the business” rather than “on the business?”
RC: Because of the size of our firm and the reliability and work ethic of my partners, I spend very little billable time on projects. Most of my time is comprised of trying to advance our brand, business development, and the financial aspects of our business.
TZL: What role does your family play in your career? Are work and family separate, or is there overlap?
RC: They are separate. The only time they overlap is when I take my wife to work functions. When we had kids at home, I rarely traveled like I do now. With seven offices, I am on the road most of the time trying to make all the offices feel connected and trying to further our “One Firm” concept. I couldn’t do this without a very understanding and supportive wife. I will say that I think a solid marriage helps people who do what I do concentrate fully on the business when working.
TZL: What, if anything, are you doing to protect your firm from a potential economic slowdown in the future?
RC: Although we are in growth mode currently, we are hiring cautiously. We also have transitioned from the “Branch Office” organization to the “Market Sector” organization. This allows projects to be produced by any office regardless of which office won the project. At the same time, we transitioned from “profit centers” to “cost centers.” This has reduced the amount of financial reporting we do, and has also helped us concentrate on the “One Firm” concept. Doing work in seven market sectors helps reduce the risk when a couple of them slow down.
TZL: Are you using the R&D tax credit? If so, how is it working for your firm? If not, why not?
RC: We have been using the R&D tax credits for the last three years with much success.
TZL: How often do you valuate your firm and what key metrics do you use in the process? Do you valuate using in-house staff or is it outsourced?
RC: We valuate our firm every year using a formula that incorporates both book value and goodwill (weighted average of profits). This formula is followed every year to determine our stock price. The formula was developed by a consultant, and we use our out-of-house CPA to do the valuation each year.
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?
RC: We have an Ownership Transition Model in place out to 2025. We identify key personnel and offer stock as a way of making partner. The hard part is when we have lean years there’s not as much cash to bonus out that partners can use to purchase stock.
TZL: They say failure is a great teacher. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve had to learn the hard way?
RC: I’ll give you a very personal lesson that I learned the hard way and have continued to hammer home with all our management team. It is: “No matter what, do not take any client for granted!” It doesn’t matter how long you have been working for them or how deep you think your personal/professional relationship is. There is simply too much competition out there: Superior service and communication always!
TZL: In one word or phrase, what do you describe as your number one job responsibility as CEO?
RC: Advance our brand, keep all our partners on the same page, and energize the workforce.
TZL: Diversity and inclusion is lacking. What steps are you taking to address the issue?
RC: This is a hard one. The mechanical and electrical engineering world is dominated by white males; the group of women and minority engineering applicants is small. We have an HR director and an in-house recruiter who are mindful of this and they are always on the lookout for opportunities to increase our diversity and inclusion. But we, as the management team, need to increase our awareness and further our education of both. This won’t happen overnight, but it is a recruiting tool for some people, and we need to be diverse like our clients already are.
TZL: A firm’s longevity is valuable. What are you doing to encourage your staff to stick around?
RC: A couple of years ago, Zweig Group helped with our five-year strategic plan. They conducted an employee survey first that we found to be very telling. We received low grades in employee engagement. We now communicate financial metrics with the staff including profitability. We also give an annual bonus to everyone in the firm based on our cash based profit along with other perks. We have plans for a training room with all the bells and whistles. But most of all, and this costs virtually nothing, we strive to walk around the office and get to know the “real workers” better. Our marketing department came up with a “Lunch Lotto” that randomly groups partners and work staff for lunch outings. We have also created a Leadership Committee comprised of “up and comers” who are nominated by the partners. They help shape company policy and procedures and offer a fresh point of view that benefits the firm.