Michael Zavoina keeps the status quo at The Gateway Engineers Inc. Featured

8:01pm EDT September 30, 2011
Michael Zavoina keeps the status quo at The Gateway Engineers Inc.

Michael Zavoina has never agreed that you should change your company depending on the business climate. He subscribes to doing things right the first time and making sure the organization continues that consistency. That’s how The Gateway Engineers Inc., an engineering firm, has remained an industry leader.

“People talk about a difficult business climate,” says Zavoina, CEO of the 128-employee company. “That’s not something I’m a fan of, because it suggests we should do something different in these times than we do in other times and when the economy is good and when the economy is bad. I’m more in favor of the status quo. If you set something up right in the first place, let’s keep going with that.”

The company’s drive to remain consistent and efficient has been paying off and has led to growth.

Smart Business spoke to Zavoina about how he makes efficiency and consistency the company’s top priority.

What are some of the ways you keep the company consistent?

We look at efficiency statistics, and we do benchmarking just like anybody else comparing ourselves to other similar firms. It seems like a lot of companies tend to look at absolute stats, and we tend to look at either relative stats or efficiency stats. Instead of looking at things like pure revenue, we look at the efficiency of revenue, like profitability as opposed to profit. We’ve always tried to continuously improve and get better at the efficiency side as opposed to, ‘Times are good right now; let’s raise prices. Or times are bad right now; let’s lower prices.’ We didn’t do any of that because we’ve always focused on the efficiency side. So when good times come we just do that over a broader volume. When bad times come and everyone’s saying, ‘We need to get more efficient in these bad times.’ Well, we always were efficient. That’s what has always bugged me about operating differently. You should have been thinking about operating efficiently all along.

How do you get the company to focus on efficiency?

The key is trying to get everyone involved with that. We do a lot with focus, and I think focus and efficiency go together. One of the things we say is we focus the project people on projects and the support people on support. A lot of companies have the project guys doing support functions. You could say it doesn’t matter, but then their focus is not there. It’s not just me being efficient. It’s all of us doing those things. You have to find the value in everything and everybody. If you need accounting, then you need accounting. If you need IT, then you need IT. Every one of those plays an important piece and can actually help you.

How do you turn that efficiency and consistency into growth?

We broke ourselves up into nine different market segments, and we have leaders of those that focus purely from a business development standpoint. There isn’t just one person marketing or one person developing business. We set it up to broaden that out a bit and they always have their ears to the [ground], they’re well attended at the industry conferences and well read.

We were successful through the recession, and there is something to be said for being the opposite of complacent. We could have stopped there and not looked for more work and said, ‘We’re good. We’re fat and happy.’ We could have done that, but we just kept doing our gig and developing business and spreading it to different segments and keeping our ears to the ground. Certain things pop up and you have to take advantage of those things and be nimble.

That’s a benefit of being relatively small. We’re not bogged down in structure. We can move quickly and did that on the Marcellus stuff and got in early with some of the pre-eminent companies that are doing business here.

What are the keys to finding new opportunities like the Marcellus Shale?

Try not to prejudge things too much. Try to keep an open mind. You could hide your head like an ostrich in the sand, but then you’re not out there. If you do that, then you’re not out at industry conferences, you’re not reading, and you don’t know what’s going on. You have to remain in tune with what’s going on.

You have to try to be consistent. Don’t only develop business during bad times. Try to keep up your business development efforts even during good times. Don’t just say that. You have to develop goals.

Do the same with relationship building and networking type things. You want to stay in touch with partners even when there is no work. You know at some point it’s going to turn around and you want them to say, ‘Hey, who do we go to?’ They will be thinking of you.

HOW TO REACH: The Gateway Engineers Inc., (412) 921-4030 or www.gatewayengineers.com