Georgia firm grew by nearly 38 percent last year and is poised to start working nationally, and even internationally.
By Liisa Andreassen
Before founding the Foresite Group (Best Firm #18 Multidiscipline for 2016) in 2003, Brant Aden, CEO of the 120-person firm headquartered in Norcross, Georgia, spent nearly five years working for a large engineering firm where he did a little of everything. He spent a lot of time working on large commercial developments focusing on storm water management, but also dabbled in water and wastewater, residential design, airport design, and parks and recreation.
“My design team was very busy, but amid the workload I started my MBA coursework and took away so many professional advancements from this large company,” Aden says. “I am very thankful.”
Today, he has two talented partners. They all worked together prior to founding Foresite Group.
“The three of us are wired differently which, I believe, allows us to debate and arrive at great decisions,” he says.
A conversation with Aden.
The Zweig Letter: What was the inspiration for the firm’s name?
Brant Aden: The name Foresite Group is more a vision and philosophy. There are too many consulting firms with people’s names in them. It didn’t fit who we wanted to be. A name like Foresite Group is all-inclusive to more people and services.
TZL: What are some of the most significant changes you have seen since its founding?
BA: In 2003, we were founded in north Atlanta with three people (including myself). Since then, we have evolved into a 120-person multidisciplinary firm with an array of new people and skillsets. We have also branched out into Florida, Alabama, Washington, D.C., and Texas. In 2013, we rebranded our firm to celebrate our 10-year anniversary with a new logo, website, and initiatives.
TZL: What are your key strengths? What do you feel the key strengths are for an effective leader?
BA: Here are my top six philosophies of a great leader, most of which I reflect, but one or two that I want to improve upon:
- Treat your associates and employees with respect. Listen to ideas and participate in new approaches. It’s so easy to over-talk and insert your own ideas. Ask questions instead of instilling the final idea.
- Rally your team around a vision. Whether things are going well or not, help your team know what they are striving toward. Be consistent with messaging about goals that connect to the vision. Nothing is worse than an inconsistent message. Once you set those goals, stay consistent. It’s not just setting the goals, but then empowering people by giving them what they need to accomplish those goals.
- Always work with your door open and be available at all times. Your team sees a closed door as a closed invitation. When your door is open to your team, your mind and experience are open to all who crave it. As a boss and leader, your people want to learn and hear from you instead of the others that may be available. Please do not lean on the phrase, “Give me a minute.” Your high-level responsibilities will rest for a minute while you give one.
- Value your employees’ time. Even in the midst of deadlines and client meetings, remember that taking the time to meet with your team at agreed upon times is important to keep the balls rolling.
- Allow time to be creative and encourage that. Innovation comes from creativity. Allowing our people to be creative is what motivates them.
- We all make mistakes and it’s ok to own up to them. As leaders we also need to own up to mistakes and learn, sometimes the hard way. As a team, we can learn and move on together.
TZL: How would you describe your leadership style?
BA: During my MBA coursework, we did many case studies authored by various professors and experts at Harvard Business School. I learned of the six leadership styles that seem to apply across the board – whether service or product-based firms. I trust our people implicitly. I am a macro-manager in the sense that I want all of our associates to be actively engaged in our vision and strategy, but also to be encouraged to spread their creative wings. I also know that failure can be a good thing when redirected to huge success. For many more reasons I seem to fall into the democratic and coaching tiers of leadership styles.
TZL: To date, what has been your greatest challenge and how did you deal with it?
BA: We are in the midst of one of the biggest growth years our firm has ever experienced in terms of people, geographic locations, equipment, physical plant, capital expenditures, and recognition of revenue. We will grow almost 38 percent in just a year with a new practice area that will allow our firm to do work across the country and possibly internationally. It’s exciting and challenging at the same time. Foresite Group, in a sense, has been waiting for this moment with good capitalization, low overhead and long-term debt, and most importantly the energy and passion to make this move.
TZL: What is your vision for the future of Foresite Group?
BA: To double the size of our piece of the pie in five years in terms of services, locations, and revenue. We want to have amazing people who want to grow old with us. My two partners and I have authored a plan to bring in more owners of the firm as soon as next year. My vision is to double the number of owners as well. Why? I believe that to grow substantially over the next few years we will need more stakeholders that have the skillset to create a more valuable organization for our clients and our associates to invest in and retire.
TZL: Tell me about a recent project you are especially proud of and why.
BA: We recently completed a practice field complex for the athletic department for the University of Georgia Bulldogs’ football program. The project included artificial turf fields, two six-story steel press boxes, civil and utility design, storm water management, traffic and access management, landscape and hardscape design, retaining walls, and local and state permitting. We integrated members of four of our practice areas into one project that has led to more opportunities with UGA.
TZL: How have you helped your firm to outperform some competitors? What do you feel sets you apart?
BA: I believe it’s the relationships with our clients. We pursue and hire people who are exceptionally competent, but who are also great to be around, have fun personalities, and embody urgency. I tend to tune out the competition over the last few years and want our firm to focus on building relationships that allow us to grow with them and weather a storm from time to time. Our fees are never the lowest in town, but our clients know that they get so much from our firm.
TZL: What’s one thing most people at the firm don’t know about you?
BA: I’m a recovering soccer player for more than 23 years. I’ve played all over the southeast and Virginia. I’m also a recovering triathlete, although I’m planning an Olympic distance and a half Ironman event in 2017. I have a running shoe fetish that is pretty silly.
TZL: Dream vacation destination?
TZL: Last book read?
BA: Well, I tune out to books like the Divergent or The Hunger Games series. I might catch some jokes on that one. But a few books I enjoyed recently are the Steve Jobs bio, Marcus Lattrell in Lone Survivor, and the life of Chris Kyle in American Sniper.
TZL: What’s the last movie you saw?
BA: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
TZL: What’s the best piece of work-related advice you’ve ever gotten?
BA: This can be for personal or business – “Be relative.”
TZL: Who is a leader you admire?
BA: Chris Kyle, Navy SEAL, arguably one of the best military snipers, leaders, and patriots we have seen in recent times. He is resolute, decisive, humble, and no matter where he goes any group of men would follow him into battle without hesitation.
TZL: When you’re not working, what types of activities do you enjoy?
BA: Spending time with my two children, live sporting events, cooking on my Green Egg, socializing, working out, cycling, and running.
TZL: Favorite lunch?
BA: Anything – as long as a Blue Moon beer accompanies it.