Kurt Bergman builds a new level of engagement at Michael Baker International

 

When Kurt Bergman became president and CEO of Michael Baker International last year after Michael Baker Corp. was acquired by DC Capital Partners and merged with Integrated Mission Solutions, he saw a company just gliding along.

“I’m an ex-Air Force guy — I always equate things back to airplanes, I guess. In the past, it felt like the company was kind of landing; it was on a glide slope to land,” he says. “Well, now we’re back on the runway, and we’re taking off again and you’re feeling that energy.”

Both companies were strong, proud and humble, but Bergman, who came from IMS, wanted more.

IMS supported the U.S. government in international operations, whether it was engineering, construction, intelligence services, IT services or cyber support. Michael Baker Corp. was a traditional engineering firm with broad practices and capabilities across the U.S.

Now as a balanced entity, Bergman knows Michael Baker International can reach higher.

“If we think we can fight in a 150-pound weight class, let’s try to get to the 175,” he says. “Let’s get in there and let’s shoot for prime time.”

By reorganizing, encouraging a sense of community and increasing communication, Bergman has Michael Baker International, with its more than $1.3 billion in annual revenue, hitting a new stride.

Accelerated change

When nobody owns the local office, city or region, clients can start to perceive a company as not caring.

“Business is local,” Bergman says. “It sounds like a very simple statement, but when you look at what a lot of companies have done over the last 10 years or so is they’ve gone to these, what they call, matrixed organizations.”

If you manage by capabilities, although it creates efficiencies for manpower, it shows people that you’re no longer local, he says. Michael Baker International was organized this way, so Bergman created a new business model.

He accelerated the reorganization to just four months, thinking that if it lasted over a year or 18 months it would build up more concern at the employee-level.

“It doesn’t get you to the results fast enough for people to understand what you’re really trying to do,” he says.

In order to implement changes quickly, the executive team made sure they got out of Pittsburgh and spoke to groups face-to-face.

“Change is never an easy thing and there’s never the right time for change, and change comes with a certain component of concern,” Bergman says.

You have to alleviate that by communicating and showing people you’re engaged and listening. In fact, Bergman says in hindsight he might have increased the communication campaign even more.

“I don’t think that you can ever communicate enough and often times when you get stuck in the management of the day, communication is what suffers,” he says.

Balanced and empowered

Today, the company is built around six U.S. regions, in addition to an international operation. There are 80 offices divided into the six regions, with 35 office executives overseeing those.

Each primary office operates as an independent business with the ability to reach into the bigger company for expertise. Bergman wanted to empower the local offices so that energy is driven upward to the top of the organization.