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June 21, 2018


Culture of Trust

Rocked by a $36-million embezzlement scheme, PBS&J finds the same corporate culture that got it into trouble may help it weather the storm.

Cynthia Barnett | 3/1/2007

The founders' no-debt philosophy has helped the company deal with its recent financial blow. It had $60 million on hand that it was able to use to pay bills from its lawyers and accountants and to repay clients. From left, founders Alex M. Jernigan, Howard M. "Bud" Post, Robert P. Schuh and John D. Buckley.

In 1959, Howard M. "Budd" Post, a young engineer with the Florida road department, was offered a chance to help create Miami Lakes, the state's first master-planned community.

Putting up $500 each, Post and three fellow engineers formed a company that grew as quickly and dynamically as Florida itself.

Along with managing design and construction of Miami Lakes, the young men who made up what became Post, Buckley, Schuh & Jernigan engineered the 65-mile Card Sound Bridge that connected the mainland to the Florida Keys. They designed the first reverse-osmosis water treatment plant in Florida, Aquarina, and created the Orlando Easterly Wetlands, one of the biggest wetlands for wastewater treatment.

By the 1980s, the Miami-based firm, now known as PBS&J, was on its way to becoming the Florida Department of Transportation's largest engineering consultant. It was named general engineering consultant to the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority in 1981 and to Florida's Turnpike Authority in 1988.

But when Florida tumbled into recession in the early 1990s, then-Chairman Bill Randolph decided that PBS&J needed to focus growth outside the state. Acquiring firms from here to California, he doubled PBS&J's size by the turn of the century. Between 2000 and 2005, the current chairman, John B. Zumwalt III, doubled it again -- to more than half a billion in annual revenue.

Zumwalt was particularly proud of preserving PBS&J's trusting, small-firm culture as the company grew to 4,000 employees in 75 offices in 24 states and Puerto Rico. But he and the rest of PBS&J's engineer-dominated leadership also made some key miscalculations. The biggest: As the employee-owned firm grew -- it posted $540 million in revenue last year -- it was slow to institute the kind of basic accounting procedures that are standard in large companies. "The firm grew far more rapidly," Zumwalt acknowledges, "than our internal-control system."

Tags: Housing/Construction

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