Flashback: Where Have All The Civil Engineering Firms Gone?

July 14, 2015 at 3:55 pm 1 comment

According to press announcements, there have been at least 30 merger/acquisitions within the past MONTH in the US civil engineering and architectural consulting firm community. The blog below is just as relevant today as when it first ran on Civil Engineering Central in 2008. Refresh yourself with the write up and let us know what you think of the continued consolidation in our industry!

Acquisitions in the civil engineering community exploded in 2007 with steady activity up to now. A client jokingly told me, “Eventually we will all work for about five firms. That is all that will be left!”

While I think my client’s comment is a slight exaggeration, the pace of these M&As does not seem to be slowing. What has happened to the traditional firms of the past?

Certainly, these consolidations allow firms a great way to increase staff and presence in particular locations or technical arenas. But, if you joined a firm because of a specific company culture, what do you do now?

Are these large national and international firms of combined technical talents good for our industry? What do you think?

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Carol Metzner President, The MetznerGroup Managing Partner, CivilEngineeringCentral.com View Carol’s profile & connect with her on LinkedIn civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion


Entry filed under: Business Development, Civil Engineering, civil engineering blog, Civil Engineering Companies, Civil Engineering Jobs, Mergers & Acquisitions.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. bobgately  |  August 2, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    Hello Carol,

    Perhaps as firms age and new people rise up through the ranks the Peter Principle reigns?

    The last lecture, on the last day of my MBA program, was about corporate change agents. Dr. Spector made the point that being a change agent is a tough job and often thankless and he noted that you should not try it unless the CEO appoints you to it and will stand behind you, how far behind is the issue.

    He said the first VP to get in your way should be fired by the CEO so that all others will know the change agent role is more important than any one employee. Managers will not survive that do not act within the overall communicative structure. A welcomed change.

    The book ‘Reengineering the Corporation’ (RtC) was a big hit but one of the authors had to write the book ‘Reengineering Management’ because the two authors of RtC forgot to include the impact on employees especially managers in RtC; employers lost many employees during their change efforts.

    I’m going to write the next book ‘Reengineering the Employees’ (RtE) and RtE will be very short. What the heck, here it is. “’We can’t reengineer people and employees are people so don’t bother trying to do it.”

    However in my experience, having a positive culture is rarely at the top of the ‘behavior’ of CEO’s and the result is high turnover and political surroundings. In the article ‘Transforming the Engineer into a Manager: Avoiding the Peter Principle,’ Civil Engineering Practice, Fall 1989, the author, Dr. Neil Thornberry a Professor at Babson College, asserts that young engineers are judged on technical merit and accomplishment, and that promotions go to the technically proficient and verbally expressive engineers, while less technically proficient and less verbally expressive engineers wait their turn.

    The Peter Principle is, “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”

    Dr. Thornberry found that for a group of engineers the most talkative, competent engineer gets the first promotion into management. The second most talkative, competent engineer gets the second promotion into management. However, the third most talkative, competent engineer makes the best manager. Now let us presume that a growing company keeps promoting their most talkative competent engineers into management. What do we have? The best technical experts no longer doing the work and the best managers not in management and if they are in management they report to someone who is less capable of managing effectively–they talk too much.

    Employers need to hire for and promote for job success, i.e., job talent.


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