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McDonough Bolyard Peck Inc.
 

By Leon Rubis  7/1/2008

 
Vol. 53, No. 7

McDonough Bolyard Peck Inc.

#20 Small Company on the 2008 Best Small & Medium Companies To Work for in America List

Leaders of consulting engineering firm McDonough Bolyard Peck Inc. (MBP) care as much about building employees as they do about construction projects for their private and public clients.

Established in 1989, the privately held Fairfax, Va., firm provides construction management and engineering services for buildings, roads, bridges and other projects. The company, with 160 employees in eight offices from Atlanta to Columbia, Md., ranked No. 20 on this year’s Best Small Companies to Work for in America list.

Employees cite many examples of how leaders encourage their professional development -- for example, by helping them obtain professional licenses and certifications, move into new jobs, or complete degrees. Several executives and managers started as interns in 1990.

Vice President of Human Resources and Administrative Services Lynn De- Wolfe, PHR, started in 1994 as an administrative assistant -- one of 20 employees at the time -- and became the first HR professional in 2000 after pushing to create formal policies and procedures. Now part of the executive team, she says other executives “recognize the value HR brings. … People are consulting with HR before they act.”

Company founders credit the four-person HR department with a well-rounded understanding of the business, a “continuous improvement” philosophy, and contributions to the culture, change management and strategic planning.

At MBP, “Everyone is encouraged to strive toward getting better in whatever they do or in finding an area of interest they can grow in,” says Niyi Ladipo, a civil engineer and project manager. Executives encouraged her to develop her strength in cost estimating by providing textbooks and helping her prepare for the Certified Cost Engineer exam.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Charles Bolyard Jr. wants to help employees “capitalize on their strengths and work on the things that need some attention.”

Informal mentoring supports individuals’ development and involves about half the staff. HR personnel ask new employees after their first 90 days if they want a specific mentor or would like to be assigned one. HR has established broad guidelines and issues periodic meeting reminders and mentoring tips but otherwise allows pairs to develop relationships as they wish. Some outline formal development plans; others just talk during meals. Some pairs continue the relationship indefinitely, while some employees switch mentors as interests change.

But plenty of more-formal training is available too. Five percent of the budget is dedicated to employee training, including conferences and seminars. Fifty-four executives and managers recently took leadership training from a consultant during three separate nine-week series of weekly two-hour classes. The company plans to offer similar training to all employees.

“There is leadership in every person, and the company knows that. … Everyone is given latitude to develop as a leader,” says Robert J. Carter, a project manager who was mentored by one of the principals and now has five mentees.

Project Manager Ali Abdolahi says, “If I am helping subordinates to grow and achieve their goals, it helps me to grow too.” In addition to leadership training, the 15-year veteran credits the company with helping him earn his master’s degree in construction management, obtain an engineering license, become a Certified Construction Manager and obtain U.S. citizenship.

Other informal learning opportunities abound. The company sponsors twice-monthly lunch-and-learn sessions on topics including cost-estimating software, retirement planning and guarding against identity theft.

But MBP is not all work. Employees praise the warm, friendly atmosphere, social activities and sports outings, and managers’ concern for workers’ families. Several employees recall how colleagues comforted them at their parents’ funerals.

MBP “respects and values an employee’s personal life as well as their work,” says Ladipo. “When your personal life goes well, then obviously the company benefits.”

Maintaining that personal touch can’t be something that occurs sporadically, says Bolyard. “You have to do it all the time.” Indeed, says DeWolfe, Bolyard walks around the office every morning to greet employees.

The company reflects family values in its benefits package, because “support comes from home,” says HR Manager Julie Detwiler, PHR. MBP pays 100 percent of employees’ and dependents’ health care and dental insurance, despite rising premiums. It offers generous paid time off, gym membership subsidies, flexible spending accounts for medical and dependent care costs, and long-term-care insurance.

“I don’t want [employees] to worry about the home front if they have a special-needs child or their husband or wife has a health issue,” explains President and Chief Operating Officer Blake Peck.

The family atmosphere extends to openness with company information. Spouses and partners are invited to an annual spring retreat in places such as Williamsburg and Roanoke, both in Virginia. Employees and relatives ride a bus there on Friday in time for an informal dinner. Partners can attend a Saturday morning business meeting to review financials and strategic plans and ask questions of owners. They can learn about benefits plans or recent projects on optional field trips and breakout sessions. Saturday’s formal dinner features annual awards for the team member, branch team member, volunteer and mentor-mentee pair of the year, all nominated by employees.

MBP’s family feeling and togetherness pays off in teamwork on the job, employees say. “There’s always somebody who knows more about a topic than you [do], and there’s always somebody who can learn from you,” says Ladipo.

As a result, Peck says, MBP consistently earns more than 80 percent of its business from repeat customers. Employee retention is also high, helping hold down “skyrocketing” recruiting costs, DeWolfe says. About one-third of employees have six or more years’ tenure; employee retention was 85 percent during 2007.

Some of his previous employers focused too much on the bottom line, says Carter. But “at MBP, the focus is on ‘how can we make the team better?’ And from that comes profitability.”

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