Why Meridian Associates Embraces Change
There’s one word employees don’t dare use at Meridian Associates: impossible. Headquartered in Beverly, Mass., the multidisciplinary firm provides land development, land surveying, 3D mapping, civil engineering, renewable energy, and sustainability consulting services to a broad range of clients. The company relishes a good challenge. “At this firm, we don’t focus on what can’t be accomplished, but rather on what we can accomplish,” says Donald E. Bowen Jr., PLS, principal. “Almost every impediment may be overcome with purpose and persistence. The solutions-based determination of our staff, advanced technology, and working relationships with consultants in a variety of related fields permit this firm to overcome adversity.”
Like other surveying and engineering firms, Meridian saw its revenues decline at the height of the recession in 2009. Since then, however, the firm has rebounded, posting double-digit increases and record revenues for 2010 and 2011.
Bowen largely credits the firm’s diversity. Ten years ago, its service base consisted entirely of traditional land development services; today, that service sector represents only half of the company’s revenue. “We were one of the early adopters of digital 3D laser scanning services, which has created the opportunity to support retrofitting of nuclear power plants, chemical facilities, amusement rides, architectural restoration and preservation,” he says. “We view 3D laser scanning as simply an extension of our traditional survey mapping expertise, albeit a sophisticated, high-speed digital mapping capability that represents an exponential increase in efficiency. The investment has been significant, but the decision was easy when we understood that this was the future of one of our core services.” By 2010, scanning services accounted for 10 percent of the firm’s revenue. In 2011, that figure jumped to nearly 50 percent.
The firm also saw opportunities in renewable energy and sustainability early on and pursued those markets aggressively. To support the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) established by many states in the 1990s, Meridian invested in state-of-the-art software and meteorological towers to enable its staff to interpret and analyze wind speeds and to develop models to forecast production. These services allowed the firm to assist utility companies in conducting valuable economic analyses that enabled developers and lending institutions to support investment. Meridian has been involved with the feasibility analysis or development of more than 25 wind turbine generator projects and has installed between four and five megawatts of solar power.
“The non-traditional services of 3D laser scanning, renewable energy generation and sustainability do not represent a substantial departure from our fundamental role as civil engineers, land surveyors and landscape architects, but we were willing to adapt to changing conditions through the training of staff and investments in new technologies to seize emerging opportunities in growth areas,” Bowen says.
Although technology has been integral to Meridian’s growth, the overriding factor is personal attention and a commitment to building collaborative relationships. To gain new business, the firm relies on a ratio principle of 100-20-1, which represents the comparative successful effectiveness of new business development: 100 emails equal 20 phone calls equal 1 face-to-face meeting with a perspective client. “Exhibiting a genuine appreciation for clients and an interest in them personally, their family, business and their opinions illustrates a commitment to their goals and priorities,” Bowen says. “If I ask about what challenges they are experiencing and can match one of our services to a meaningful solution, the opportunity for new business is maximized. Listening is fundamentally key to solving problems.”
This approach not only attracts new clients but also leads to a high level of repeat business for the firm. However, Meridian doesn’t seek repeat business from all of its clients. “I only want the repeat business from 95% of our existing client base,” Bowen says. “We will exert tremendous effort and commitment to a client that understands that respect is reciprocal. But the conscious decision not to do business with an individual or an organization that does not respect our firm is equally important.”
This respect is well deserved. The dedication of Meridian’s staff has established a reputation for thoroughness, integrity and a high standard of performance. The firm retains experienced, licensed professionals with a proven background in their given area of expertise, and it promotes cross-training as a way to increase efficiency and collaboration. The firm also nurtures innate talent. Senior professionals mentor younger staff members, refining skills and providing hands-on education, so that each generation of professionals understands how to achieve quality service and excellence in execution, as well as the significance of the human aspect of development.
“By investing in our staff and developing strong relationships with clients, Meridian has recognized the less quantifiable aspect of a successful civil engineering, surveying and landscape architecture practice,” Bowen says. “The common denominator is people.” On a white board in Bowen’s office is written a question that represents the firm’s underlying philosophy: What decisions would I make today if money were not an issue? “While money is important to make anything happen in life, the key in business is identifying the opportunities days, months or years before anyone else,” Bowen explains.
A book Bowen frequently recommends to employees, clients and business owners is “It’s Not the Big That Eat the Small...It's the Fast That Eat the Slow” (Jennings and Haugton, HarperBusiness, Jan. 2001). This principle drives Meridian to continually invest in technologies and resources that support its areas of specialty and enable it to deliver information faster, better and more accurately. It also compels the firm to actively seek new challenges and embrace change.
“We have always been willing to invest in new initiatives that do not follow conventional thinking,” Bowen says. “We do not shy away from risk, providing the return favors our growth strategy. If a company waits until it is desperate for change to consider new business ideas, it is likely too late to assume elevated risks in a weakened state. These decisions must be continually evaluated to take advantage of emerging opportunities.”
Aerial photo: The Pittsfield Wastewater Treatment Facility in Pittsfield, Mass., participated in the MaSS Solar Stimulus project to incorporate 1.5 megawatts of ground-based solar PV on its property. Meridian Associates provided civil site design services, which included design plans for the array location. Meridian also provided land surveying services, including construction layout and construction administration. The existing site was regraded to allow proper solar orientation while allowing site access to the array and an adjacent ongoing construction project. Photo courtesy of PanelClaw Inc. and Nexamp Inc.
Wind turbine photo: Meridian Associates assisted in the construction of a wind turbine for the Town of Ipswich Utilities Department.