Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:32 pm
In the mid-1970s, Richard Smith purchased the civil engineering firm where he had worked for four years, only to realize that the company’s name was tainted with a reputation for mistakes, overpricing and high turnover.
After past clients of the firm suggested he change the name of the company, Smith founded R.A. Smith & Associates Inc. in 1978 with little money, zero projects and eight employees.
Today, R.A. Smith & Associates has 221 employees and a projected annual revenue of $20 million for 2004, said Charles Stevens, director of marketing for the firm.
R.A. Smith & Associates and its private sector civil engineering division, National Survey & Engineering, have touched nearly every building in downtown Milwaukee, nearly every mall in southeastern Wisconsin and have continuous contract work with 24 Wisconsin municipalities.
R.A. Smith and National Survey & Engineering have completed civil surveying, planning and civil engineering services in 25 states, Canada and Spain, Smith said. The surveying sector of R.A. Smith and National Survey & Engineering is one of the largest in the Midwest and has performed more than 500,000 surveys on more than 160,000 properties since Smith acquired National Survey & Engineering in 1994.
Smith says he has guided his employees and treated his clients by his three working philosophies: quality, innovation and stability. In the cutthroat world of business, Smith said he has depended on reputation and handshakes to build a successful, stable and honest company.
"We have grown because we have taken our commitment seriously," Smith said. "My strongest bond is my handshake. I do not uphold to contracts where I charge for every phone conversation or any additional work we do on a project. I don’t want that kind of reputation, and I have been told for years that my way is unique and shows that people matter."
The growth strategy Smith has set for R.A. Smith and National Survey & Engineering includes increasing annual revenue by 12 percent and hiring 10 to 20 new employees annually. So far in 2004, Smith has hired 27 employees.
Every three years, R.A. Smith and National Survey & Engineering executives undertake specific planning sessions to determine if the next step for growth is through the addition of services, the opening of a new office or the acquisition of an existing company.
"We definitely feel that we are a market-driven company and not a service-driven company," Smith said. "We are good at a lot of things, but if the market does not want the service, then we are going to be out of business. We are constantly exploring ourselves and the market, and constantly adding new services that help us grow organically from within and geographically by expanding our region."
R.A. Smith recently added landscape architecture and irrigation design, global information systems (GIS) and community planning to its roster of services.
The R.A. Smith and National Survey & Engineering headquarters are located at 16745 W. Bluemound Road, Brookfield. The company added a second location in Oshkosh in 1998 and opened a third location in June in Pittsburgh.
Smith said the company is planning to open another location in Appleton by the end of the first quarter of 2005.
National Survey & Engineering currently is focusing on regional malls and most of the Pabst Farms property in Oconomowoc, along with other projects, Smith said.
The Mills Corp., Arlington, Va., a company that develops large malls, including Gurnee Mills in Gurnee, Ill., has been a long-time client of National Survey & Engineering, Smith said. When National Survey & Engineering began work on the Pittsburgh Mills Mall, the company saw opportunities in the marketplace that led to the new location.
"Pittsburgh is going through a marvelous transition," Stevens said. "What used to be known as an old steel mill or a rust belt now has a strong educational base and an increasing amount of tech companies. The market for engineering is competitive, but most firms are built around the steel industry. We came in with land development and other special skill sets that can handle some tough issues and needed services."
R.A. Smith also is looking to continue its expansions in Wisconsin and Illinois, Smith said, targeting Madison and the northern suburbs of Chicago such as Libertyville and Lake Forest for new clients.
"The Pittsburgh office has been up and running for six months, and we are pleased with the progress that we have made," Smith said. "It was our first venture out of Wisconsin, and if it is successful, we will be looking at other states."
Employees at R.A. Smith and National Survey & Engineering share his three founding philosophies, Smith said.
When he hires new employees, Smith said, he asks them about their goals and their ambitions.
"We know that priorities change with age, money, health, legal issues, family and relationships, and we spend a lot of time checking in on employees to talk about their current five-year plan," Smith said. "We encourage people to open up and tell them to share their plan, even if it includes no longer working with the firm."
Through price, workmanship, timeliness, innovation and quality-based engineering, Smith said R.A. Smith and National Survey & Engineering are on a 30-year path to become a global company.
"This is only a first-generation company," Smith said. "We have a lot of growing left to do."
R.A. Smith & Associates
OWNERS: Richard A. Smith, president
Location: 16745 W. Bluemound Rd., Suite 200, Brookfield
Services: Civil engineering, planning, surveying and technical services to state, federal government. National Survey & Engineering, a division of R.A. Smith & Associates, provides civil engineering, surveying and technical services to the private sector.
web site: www.rasmith.com
December 17, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI