The independent firm has become rare in Pittsburgh, but Trans Associates has managed to stay that way.
“It seems like every year someone’s always interested in merging or acquiring your firm,” says Robert Goetz, principal and CEO at TA. “I think what kept us apart or kept us independent, anyway — we really are in a specialty.
“There are few firms out there that just do transportation planning and engineering. We could be, essentially, a group in a larger firm, but we’re not,” he says.
About four years ago, TA successfully transitioned to its next phase with a shareholder buyout. The firm started as a sole proprietorship, before becoming a C corporation and later an S corporation. The founder, however, still held the majority of the shares.
Today, TA has five shareholders who act as a board of directors.
“Obviously, if you have five people, you may have five different points of view on how to do something, but I think, for the most part, we’re pretty much in agreement on setting directions and various things — how to spend company resources and who to hire and things like that,” Goetz says.
Goetz had been a minor stockholder, but he says becoming a majority owner changed his outlook.
“Being financially involved — it puts a different twist on it, if you will,” Goetz says. “Obviously, it gives you the privilege of paying income tax on the earnings of the company. But by the same token, you get rewards there, also.”
Minimize the distractions
Having gone through a succession, Goetz learned a few things.
Everyone knew that the founder was planning to leave for about a decade. But it became a distraction for a number of employees who weren’t sure what direction TA was heading in. There was even speculation that the company would be sold to an outside entity, rather than long-time employees.
Ideally, you want to wrap up a transition in 24 or 36 months, he says.