Connecting Effectively to Transform Your Business GrowthSeptember 04, 2012 | By Wayne O'Neill
One challenge that all our of our clients encounter in different ways at different times is realizing an opportunity and not knowing how to effectively get “in the room” and access through executive business and political drivers. That grasp of those issues get us” in the room” with the top decision makers who have the power to write the checks.
We interviewed Anthony Polusny, a principal at Meyer Borgman Johnson who has been working with Wayne O’Neill & Associates and recently experienced some breakthrough transformations that have burst open doors of opportunity and helped them change their game in ways that build sustainable growth.
Who is Tony Polusny?
As a manager of Meyer Borgman Johnson’s Phoenix office, Tony leads projects, design, and client development efforts in the Southwest. Tony is involved in the strategic planning of the firm as well assuming responsibility for day-to-day operations and business development. He works with all varieties of structural systems and specializes in concrete structures. In his role as principal-in-charge, he determines design direction with a focus on project economics and scheduling. His experience with alternate delivery methods includes design build, as well as simultaneous delivery of one project to more than one contractor, as was the case for the award-winning Regis Center for Art at the University of Minnesota. As a certified AIA/CES provider, Tony presents educational seminars to architectural clients. His career has provided a wide variety of experience in materials, structural systems, markets, and construction methods but more importantly – the ability to cultivate strong relationships with his clients and staff. The balance between projects/construction and relationship building have kept his early passion in this industry as alive today as it was when he was child watching his father in the concrete and masonry business.
Here’s what Tony had to say describing the process of what they used to do to try to win work and how that has transformed to become more effective now.
Tony: “Retaining WOA was a way for us to wake up and realize how we were missing opportunities in the past and ask how we might change that going forward. In the past, we would hear about an opportunity but our network was not as strong as our competitors. We are not as flush with cash or financial backing because we are usually a subcontractor or subconsultant to someone who holds the purse strings and has the owner clients. So we were always approaching projects from a lower-tier service provider level with a “bring us along” attitude. We did not always want to be in that position, but it is the nature of the industry.
WOA helped us learn to more effectively connect the dots above the subconsultant, or even consultant, level by taking control of our own destiny through being a leader in the AEC industry. Using that philosophy, we had to think more about ourselves and expand our knowledge base. We started to think about how we could have an impact on owners and clients alike. Then we needed to understand what we have to bring to the table that offers value to them. Wayne O’Neill & Associates helped us get to the table faster and smarter. Once we were able to highlight what we do well, we gained the confidence to be able to get into the room with a c-level client such as Dean Brown or pursue a project at the University of New Mexico. We started putting things together that we didn’t see before. The University of New Mexico business school was clearly identified in their capital spending plan as state bond money for 2014. Our thought process was that people were looking at how to get in position to win the RFP, so our question was how do we get ahead of it? How do we approach this opportunity without going through the knothole of the typical selection process? By leveraging Wayne O’Neill and other client contacts in the region, we were able to connect with decision makers and understand their concerns not only on this project, but we were better able to understand the financial, competitive, benchmarking and other issues that we had not taken note of previously in the struggle of our everyday life of our firm.
Understanding the University of New Mexico’s global position helped us look at what was blocking out the sun or holding up the process. For many clients these days, the major issues are both operational and capital spending issues. We got into the room and found out what the major issues were and how we could help them move the project along. We looked at how we could free up cash for them, move things faster and smarter. We compared various building timeline scenarios to estimate the best possible ROI for building now rather than later. We found leverage partners who could bring money out from asset management and financial companies, such as TUFF, who could put money on the table right away to get things moving. Those were huge learning curves for us and fun to be a part of. Even more fun was that it worked! We engaged with Dean Brown and other top leaders at UNM in discussions and problem solving that helped move them forward and they liked that.
How affirming was it for you to have put forth that effort, made it into the room, and then have these leaders acknowledge you at a different level than they would have previously as a service provider?
Previously, we were viewed through multiple lenses as a subconsultant. That left us always waiting to be tied into someone else’s positioning. As a subconsultant, there was a large gap in telling the story of our services and the value we could bring to clients, which the clients were unable to see. It was a control issue. Given the different climate in business especially during a recession, you can’t just have that traditional handshake and think it’s going to work out all the time. Overall, business leaders and service models are changing and thus the way leaders work with project delivery partners is changing too. In response to these dynamic market transformations, we are learning to take initiative and position in a more strategic way, -ultimately, giving us greater control over who our clients are and how we get to them.
How did leveraging project delivery partners change the game for you and enhance your deliverables?
As a new leadership group, WOA has helped open our eyes to new ways of working with clients, which we will implement from here on. Van Gilbert and Wayne O’Neill & Associates were amazing in that their connections and insights helped us assemble a network and put together a game plan in 24 hours. We took what we collectively knew about the project, Dean Brown, and the university and worked through all the business and political issues that might pop up during a meeting. This process was invaluable! Knowledge of the university, key leaders, problems of the state in the last few years, and shared client intelligence from Van Gilbert, Wayne O’Neill, AssetWorks, TUFF, RSP, and Meyer Borgman Johnson staff all contributed to developing a plan and business strategy that effectively got us to that first meeting. It was not a sales pitch, but we had done our homework. With our insights into underlying business and political issues, we were far better equipped to actively listen to Dean Brown and the UNM leaders describe their vision with the business school and their views on what was happening politically and then to offer our help. After the first meeting, we met with Wayne and discussed what we had learned. Then, we came up with additional options to help solve their problems based on the new information that Dean Brown had shared with us. This led to multiple meetings to find liquidity for them. You cannot do it alone in this market. If you want to move faster and smarter, you either have to be an extremely vertical organization spending a lot of money on research and development in order to gain this quality of client intelligence or use the WOA approach. Leveraging strategic partners whom we trust and who culturally fit with us was extremely important.
To summarize, what would you say about the importance of the WOA approach?
I now look at our business in a completely new way. Instead of holding out our hands and waiting for the next opportunity, we are swimming in deep water and having no problem. It is a night and day difference. We have expanded our opportunities and potential. It also has helped us develop a sense of urgency internally, refocusing not only with our clients but also examining what is going on with our own brand and our own operations. We now hold ourselves more accountable for keeping an eye on what is happening and not letting things slip. We no longer simply wait for an architect to give us a job. After this process, now I’m competing in a manner that gives me more control and influence over how and with whom I am leveraged. I have control over my brand and my operational success.