Insight

Search Case Study: Senior Vice President / Director of Water for a utility contractor

by Sami Barry
Power line

Our client created the role of Senior Vice President / Director of Water due to having aggressive goals of doubling or tripling its size over the next few years. The selected candidate is on his way of helping the firm to accomplish just that. Prior to beginning his employment, he was already scheduling meetings with his industry contacts to get the company on bidding lists. Working in high collaboration with our repeat client, this search was successfully completed in 151 days from initiating recruitment to the professional beginning employment.

Challenge

Our client is a family-owned construction firm that provides engineering and construction services to the utility sector. Our client is principally a utility contractor, specializing in gas and water utility work. They had recently acquired a portfolio of companies, including two small engineering firms, which expanded their in-house capabilities to perform design and engineering work in addition to construction. Through this strategy and by expanding into neighboring geographical regions, the company nearly tripled in size during the prior two years and had goals to double or triple again in the same time frame.  

They created the Senior Vice President & Director of Water (SVP) role with the objective of combining the water-focused engineering and construction (E&C) teams into one integrated entity, and to eventually grow the unit to be the same size as its oil and gas group. Reporting to the Executive Vice President (EVP) of the E&C Group, the SVP leads both design and construction functions across the organization with responsibility to ensure strict compliance with all applicable codes, standards, and customer requirements, as well as to make sure the firm uses best practices in the industry and utilizes technological innovations for performance of all services. The SVP collaborates with the EVP, Regional Directors, and the SVP of Marketing & Business Development to initiate and drive organic and inorganic growth opportunities across the water market sectors.

For the SVP role, the company sought a professional who was an expert in water resources and who could act as the face of the company, having the knowledge and appropriate connections to grow the water division. They sought candidates who had earned Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Engineering and/or Construction in the water market sector, and who had at least 15 years of experience in engineering with knowledge and experience in utility engineering and construction. Ideal candidates would have a deep understanding of the water market and clients in their geographical region and of overall industry trends and issues, and have strong technical knowledge of industry standards, codes, and utility requirements. A Professional Engineer’s license was preferred. Considering the role included business development, management, and leadership, the individual also needed strong soft skills of communication, relationship management, and emotional intelligence. 

Strategy

The search’s complexities centered around the specialization of the water sector. There is a limited amount of sources from which to identify and attract talent within this specific discipline. Furthermore, there is a finite number of professionals who understand water and water resources, and who are also well-connected in the sector and can bring a book of customers.  Therefore, it was necessary for our consultants to conduct significant research to identify sources of talent that serviced water utilities.  

Working closely with the firm’s Chief Financial Officer and President, we developed a strategy that included targeting diverse organizations, such as general contractors, construction managers, engineering firms, and public utilities. Within these organizations, we identified and contacted professionals who were in roles of project executive, principal, vice president, and senior vice president.

In addition to candidates needing to have the relevant experience, knowledge, and contacts necessary for the SVP role, it was also necessary for them to have the motivation and determination to grow a division from scratch within an already successful and highly entrepreneurial third-generation firm. Candidates not only had to know the business, but they had to have the skills to get the business, as well as to develop a strong team and operational practices. 

Results

The final slate of candidates included area managers, vice presidents, and regional managers from engineering and construction firms that had water segments within their businesses. Our client selected an individual who was the Associate Principal Utility Services with an architectural / engineering, design, and environmental consulting services firm where his role was a hybrid of operational and business development responsibilities. The individual understood the various components of water and water resources, and he was also strong operationally. He had the immediate ability to acquire work due to his extensive contacts within the utilities and private sectors.  

Prior to beginning his employment with our client, the individual scheduled meetings with local utilities to add the firm to  bidding lists. At the time of writing this case study, the professional has been with our client just over one year. In that time, he has developed and implemented both operational and business development strategies and plans to grow the organization, and has received approval to create business development roles to support his efforts.

This search was completed in 151 days from initiating recruitment to when the selected candidate began employment.