Owner of 3-Tier Alaska (Fairbanks, AK), a firm that specializes in land surveying and civil engineering in the interior of Alaska.
By Liisa Andreassen
In 2018, Ringstad took over 3-Tier Alaska, a professional land surveying and civil engineering company which was founded in the early 1980s by his dad, Jim Ringstad. Then, in early 2021, 3-Tier joined forces with Travis/Peterson Environmental Consulting in a merger that strengthens the combined company’s environmental engineering and land use services.
“It comes down to keeping every commitment, no matter how big or small,” Ringstad says. “This means sending a follow-up email by the time we said we’d send it, finishing the job by the date we committed to at the start of the project, completing project milestones on time along the way, and staying within budget. We have a high-quality bar for the work we deliver, and our clients depend on that.”
A conversation with Nick Ringstad.
The Zweig Letter: What’s the arrangement set up behind the recent merger and what was the impetus behind the move?
Nick Ringstad: Through the deal, Travis/Peterson is now a division of 3-Tier Alaska, and will maintain its offices in Anchorage and Fairbanks. The whole Travis/Peterson team is staying on as part of the newly-combined company. The main driver for the deal was the opportunity for 3-Tier Alaska to expand on the services we’re able to offer our land use clients. The environmental engineering services that Travis/Peterson provides are a great complement to 3-Tier Alaska’s civil engineering and land surveying services. In fact, we’re seeing almost immediate benefit to the business in cross-selling and shared work.
TZL: How much time do you spend working “in the business” rather than “on the business?”
NR: The majority of my time is spent on the business, managing our operations with an eye on growing and scaling. Focusing my energy there has been key to our growth over the past three years.
TZL: Trust is essential. How do you earn the trust of your clients?
NR: It comes down to keeping every commitment, no matter how big or small. This means sending a follow-up email by the time we said we’d send it, finishing the job by the date we committed to at the start of the project, completing project milestones on time along the way, and staying within budget. We have a high-quality bar for the work we deliver, and our clients depend on that.
TZL: What skills are required to run a successful practice? What do you wish you knew starting out that you know now?
NR: I started this business later in my career, after experience in banking, finance, and sales. My background in accounting and finance has been indispensable to me as a business owner.
TZL: What type of leader do you consider yourself to be?
NR: I want to create an environment where my employees can do their best work. My focus is on ensuring people are where they want to be, and that they feel empowered with the clarity and resources to make decisions. I’m committed to leading by example, which means demonstrating consistency, showing up, and maintaining a high quality of work. It’s important to me that my employees know I’m always available to them, to work through challenges and to find solutions no matter what might come up.
TZL: What benefits does your firm offer that your people get most excited about?
NR: With the acquisition, we enhanced our benefits for all employees of the combined company. The team is most excited about our enhanced healthcare benefits and a new profit-sharing contribution for their 401(k).
TZL: You’ve been in business for more than 30 years. What’s been one of the greatest industry evolutions you’ve seen and how has it affected your firm?
NR: Unquestionably, technology has been the biggest driver of transformation in the industry. When my dad first founded 3-Tier Alaska, land surveying work was conducted by two-person field crews using total stations and line-of-sight. There was no GPS or drone technology, and the work took longer than it does today. There’s also been a generational shift in the industry that in some ways is related to the broader technological shifts in society. Civil engineering now competes with software engineering for new professional talent. That makes recruiting a bit more of a challenge for a firm like 3-Tier Alaska, but it also means the services we offer remain in high demand.
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?
NR: I don’t do it often – off the cuff, I use a simple 3-5x multiplier on free cash flow as an approximate gauge.
TZL: What unique or innovative pricing strategies have you developed, or are you developing, to combat the commoditization of engineering services?
NR: Part of the rationale for bringing 3-Tier Alaska together with Travis/Peterson was to be able to offer a unique combination of services. Now, we cover a wide spectrum of land use services, offering deep expertise that is hard to commoditize.
TZL: A firm’s longevity is valuable. What are you doing to encourage your staff to stick around?
NR: By building and growing the business, I hope to give my team a sense that their work matters and that they share in the company’s success. Part of that is providing employees the absolute best benefits that I possibly can, being accessible to them, and fostering a culture where people want to be.