August 22, 2014

Engineering

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


"I hope we never lose that deep-founded trust in each other," says President Todd J. Kenner, who moved from the company's Las Vegas office to Florida last June.

Fresh start

While the embezzlement rudely booted the firm from Camelot, it hasn't swayed Zumwalt and other company leaders from their goal of becoming a $1-billion firm -- "the only $1-billion firm with a culture," Zumwalt likes to say. The company is focusing on the transportation, water and facilities markets. It's also targeting the fast-growing applied technologies services market, which includes risk and emergency management and high-tech mapping and surveying.
Ironically, just as the firm goes global, it also is returning to its Florida roots -- pulling all senior managers to Tampa, where it moved its headquarters last year in an effort to "make a fresh start, a different way of going forward," says Zumwalt.

In addition to gathering its senior managers under one roof and strengthening its accounting and audit procedures, the firm has hired an ethics officer and recruited an outsider with public-company experience as CFO. Donald Vrana was the chief accounting officer, controller and treasurer at Omaha-based Sitel Corp., where he oversaw implementation of Sarbanes-Oxley internal controls. Lawson, the national service director, says with employees, clients and the government all clamoring for tighter controls, "now it's like the pendulum has swung in the other direction, where our processes and controls are better than anyone else's in the field because everything we do from now on has to be beyond question. There's a general attitude that we'll all be smarter and stronger because of this. But it's been tough."

Kenner, PBS&J's 45-year-old president who has worked for the company in Las Vegas since a 1992 acquisition, relocated to Tampa last June and is expected to take the reins from Zumwalt someday. PBS&J's trusting culture may have led to its greatest crisis, Kenner says. But he also predicts it's what will pull the firm through. "I hope we never lose that deep-founded trust in each other," says Kenner, a marathoner with his eye on the long run. "That doesn't preclude us from verifying, from really challenging each other, which is what we didn't do as
effectively as we should have.

"But we have to keep the commitment to our culture, to the sense of purpose and cause we feel personally and professionally," Kenner says. "I really don't see it as worthwhile without that."

High-Ranking

Engineering News-Record ranks PBS&J 22 among top U.S. design firms based on 2005 revenue. Here's how the company ranks in specific categories:

Category Industry Rank
Transmission lines and aqueducts 4
"Pure design" 5
Multiunit residential 8
Sanitary/storm sewers 8
Highways 8
Transportation 9
Bridges 12
Mass transit and rail 14
Airports 9
Sewer/solid waste 11
Wastewater treatment 16
Water supply 13
Water treatment/desalination plants 14
Retail 22
Source: Engineering News-Record, June 2006

Tags: Housing/Construction

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