In 1978, Chairman and CEO Vikram “Raj” Rajadhyaksha was a 32-year-old engineer who had lost his job as the head of Ohio’s dam safety program. He had two sons and a wife who was not very well, but he still pulled all of his retirement money to buy a majority stake in Dodson-Lindblom Associates Inc., known as DLA.
“In retrospect, I took enormous risks that when I look back, and look at some of the deals that I did, it sort of feels a little crazy. But it turned out OK,” Raj says.
DLA was a well-known company with a good track record that also specialized in the same work Raj did: resources and dams.
“I figured such an opportunity was not going to come around very often. So, I took everything I had and went into it,” he says.
DLA later became DLZ Corp. Today, the company, which offers architecture, engineering, planning, surveying and construction services, has grown to 21 offices and $100 million in annual revenue.
As an entrepreneur, Raj says you look at risk differently than other people.
“Some things that are risky for my sons are not at all risky for me,” he says.
Both of his sons work in the company, serve on the board of directors and will likely take over. But while Raj has gotten better at delegating and doesn’t have the energy he used to, he still considers himself the “chief chef and bottle washer.”
“When I started I was inclined to do everything myself. I was young. I was only 32 years old. You could possibly do it at the time, but as I got older and as the company got bigger, I learned to delegate and make sure that what I wanted got done,” he says.
Raj is still personally involved in employee training, the strategic direction and the finances. However, he admits his appetite for risk has changed from the young entrepreneur who cashed in his retirement.
“Appetite for risk is directly related to what you want. I have no reason to make billions. I have enough for what I need,” he says. “That governs whether you’re going to take a risk or not. Why would you do it, if you don’t really want it?”
Stick to the knitting
Raj’s attitude toward risk may have changed, but he’s also ensured DLZ remains unwavering in its approach to the work, the employees and more.
It has to be more than talk; you have to live it, he says, and it all starts with a good product.
The product is always more important than worrying about where the money will come from, Raj says. If you do your job and pursue the right idea, the resources will come in.
“It’s hard for most people to realize that that is actually true,” he says. “They are chasing the money and that’s the wrong thing to do. You need to chase the idea, what you want to do and then money shows up when you need it.
“This I’ve been trying to teach my sons. They are always, ‘When are we going to get the money?’” Raj says. “Don’t worry about it. Money will show up.”
He says Steve Jobs explained it best when he talked about being fired from Apple by the new chairman, basically a salesman who didn’t know anything about the product.
Raj believes it’s helped him throughout his career that he’s an engineer first. He loves the work.