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The Economics of Infrastructure

This topic is going to be front & center at a May 8 Conference on Infrastructure in East Lansing http://www.acecmi.org/article.cfm?ATID=2&AID=414 . We’ll hear from our Lt. Governor and many thought leaders from the engineering and developer community.

Mike Cooper's Blog

You arrive at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, recognized nationally as a top ten facility.  It is a wonderful first impression of an historic part of our nation.  As you collect your things and begin to venture away from the airport, however, your experience dramatically changes. 

Have you been the victim of a pothole that seemed more like a crater?  Are you sometimes surprised that your car is still drivable after arriving at your destination?  What can be done about this?  How can we increase investment in our crumbling transportation infrastructure to preserve it long term?  This is not simply a discussion about transportation.  It’s much larger than that. 

The engineering community has been talking about infrastructure for years.  We take pride in the knowledge that we provide the fundamental building blocks of life.  Clean air.  Clean water.  A way to get from point A to point B safely.  These are not…

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A World Without Engineers?

Mike is dead on with this post! The result of our “quiet footsteps”? A talent shortage, lack of infrastructure funding and commoditized services. Our industry is a decimal place off – our compensation, the money we have to reinvest in the profession’s future, and the public awareness we are able to generate all suffer because we have spent the last 100 years walking softly.

Mike Cooper's Blog

February 16-22 is National Engineers Week.  It is a natural time of reflection for me.  A chance to renew the pride I have in my profession; to talk to young people about the opportunities of a career in engineering; and to bring attention to the key role we have played in our society’s past and will play in its future.  It is a chance to celebrate our profession. 

Contrary to popular belief, engineering is not about pocket protectors, calculators or physics.  It’s about solving problems.  It’s about innovating to improve the quality of our lives.  It’s about safeguarding the health and welfare of our communities.  Engineers make a difference to each and every one of us, everyday.  Think about how.

We wake up each morning with fresh water to drink, hot water in our showers and a safe place for all the dirty water to go.  Not without engineers. …

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Inspire me!

During a recent marketing roundtable, the group discussed what they saw on the horizon for 2014.  All were optimistic about the work load anticipated from various clients markets; in fact, so optimistic that all were most concerned about a talent shortage in Michigan for entry level through senior professionals. Read more…

Networking: A Black Hole?

Networking has become an overused and abused marketing tool.  While it certainly can help find new potential clients if strategically approached, it can become a time consuming black hole without a strategy.

Here are some key points to consider when contemplating attending a networking event:

  1. Do I like networking?  Some people love walking into a room filled with people they don’t know; others get nauseous at the thought.  If you are the latter, stay away from networking! Many other marketing tools exist that would be a better use of your time.
  2. Do I know who will be attending the networking event?  No shortage of networking opportunities exists.  When deciding whether or not to attend an event, determine if the other folks attending are your potential clients or business partners.  If the answer is no, your answer may be no as well.
  3. Approach networking in the spirit of giving.  As you meet folks at the event, find out about them first.  What do they do?  Who are they trying to meet?  What are their needs?  If your expertise does not align with their needs, play matchmaker.  Suggest others in the room that you have met that may be able to help them.  If there may be an alignment, suggest you arrange a follow up meeting or phone call (with a stated purpose) so you don’t monopolize their time at the event (or yours!).
  4. Don’t measure your success by the number of follow ups you have arranged.  One quality lead is worth more than 20 questionable relationships.
  5. Follow up!  Leads get cold quickly.  Don’t postpone follow up for a week or two.  Make your next contact within a day or two.

The other point to keep in mind is that you can’t always call it right.  You will leave events thinking that you have just completely wasted your time.  Even if you choose to not attend another event with that group, by following point 3 above, your time will pay dividends.

Cold Stone MBA: Know When to Fold ‘Em

How much is enough?

How much time, energy and money should you as a firm leader invest in an underperforming service, office or client before you pull the plug?

I think some warning signs let you know when you are approaching the “enough” mark: Read more…

The Cost of Low Bid

I have been fortunate to work with many premier engineering, design and construction firms.  While they truly have the most talent in their niche, the most innovative thinking and the most advanced technology to support their people, they all struggle with the same professional millstone:  low bid.

I have been car shopping lately.  Now, I truly understand that I can pay low price for a vehicle, but I should have an accompanying level of expectation when it comes to performance.  It won’t have the top end technology, the parts and design will not be the highest quality, and it will probably require more maintenance than a vehicle that costs more.  How else could it possibly be the lowest price?

Our current healthcare environment is also starting to incorporate cost into our selection of healthcare providers.  If I retain the services of a doctor that is lower cost, what accompanying level of expectation do I have?  Well, perhaps the doctor is less experienced.  Perhaps they don’t have access to the latest technology, or perhaps they are not able to spend quite as much time collecting information and coming up with a diagnosis.

So what is the cost of accepting the low bid for engineering, design or construction services? Read more…

Cold Stone MBA: Client Selection First

You can spot them as soon as they walk in the door:  a complaint ready to happen.

How you can make ice cream an unpleasant buying experience is a mystery to me, especially when you have a server who truly wants to please you.

But it happens.  And you know immediately when you face this customer.  You ask if they would like to sample your made fresh daily, top quality ice cream, and they start complaining about the prices.  You offer to custom create whatever they want, and they start making unresonable requests, like a kid’s scoop with 5 flavors of ice cream in it.  They are generally nasty in their interaction and scowl as they leave with a treat that is probably completely over sized and under priced, because all you wanted to do was get them out of your store.

We deal with this in providing professional services too:  that client that will never be happy, makes our life hell, and completely erodes our profitability because we do anything to complete the job.

The difference is this:  at Cold Stone, we generally have to serve whoever walks in our door; in our firms, we can select who we serve.  That’s pretty cool, but we often don’t leverage this as much as we should.  Too often, we become enamored with potential revenue, and overlook the warning signs of a problem waiting to happen.  We can feel it coming, but we keep going.  (I am betting that everyone who reads this has a client that pops into their minds right now.)

We need to be true to our client selection!  Who understands the value we provide?  Who will pay us for that value?  Who is collaborative and as determined as we are to produce a quality project?  Who will give our employees meaningful work, without giving them an ulcer in the meantime?  Who is ready to commit to a long term partnership without making us “bid” for every scrap of work?

If we make client selection our first priority, our project work will be much more rewarding – professionally and financially.