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Q&A with Wayne Swafford, P.E.

Q&A with Wayne Swafford, P.E.

Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam’s president discusses business development and marketing for growing AEC firms.

By Bob Drake

In late December, Wayne Swafford, P.E., president of Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc. (LAN; www.lan-inc.com), participated in an email interview highlighting LAN, his career, and views about business development and marketing. Swafford, who became LAN’s president in March 2018, is a structural engineer with more than 30 years of experience and has managed the operations and finances of several organizations.

Previously, he served Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. as vice president of facility operations, responsible for planning, design, and construction of a $1 billion multi-year capital program as well as the operations of 140 facilities. Prior to that, he served AECOM Technology Corporation as a senior vice president responsible for planning and design of transportation infrastructure in the Midwest, Southeast, and eastern U.S. He also served as a principal at Teng & Associates.

Swafford holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago. He served UIUC’s civil engineering department as an alumni board advisor for nearly a decade. He also has served professional organizations in various capacities, including chairing American Society of Civil Engineers’ transportation and project management groups in Chicago, and as a vice president and on the board of directors of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Illinois.

Wayne Swafford, P.E., who became president of Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam in March 2018, is a structural engineer with more than 30 years of experience who has managed the operations and finances of several organizations. Photo: Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam

LAN is a full-service consulting firm offering planning, engineering, and program management services. Founded in 1935, LAN has grown from a small Houston firm to a national leader in the heavy civil infrastructure engineering industry. A division of Leo A Daly, an international architecture/engineering firm, LAN has access to the expertise of nearly 800 professionals in 31 offices across the country.

Civil + Structural Engineer (C+S): Briefly, what was your path to your current position as president at Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam?

Wayne Swafford: After earning my degree in civil engineering from the UIUC, my first job was at a 12-person civil engineering firm in a small town in central Illinois. We served communities that did not have full-time engineers on their staff. I worked on a wide range of projects, both public and private. One of the most unusual projects I worked on was converting a large grocery store into a discotheque! My day-to-day activity was not routine. We did what had to be done for the day. Some days I would be designing small bridges; other days I would be surveying or inspecting sewers for condition assessments.

Early on, I learned an important lesson. It became apparent to me that doing the engineering work was only one half of being a civil engineer. The other half that is just as important is communicating with people you are working with to bring the project together. I immediately realized the importance of writing, speaking, and working collaboratively in teams.

Then, I went back to UIUC and got my master’s degree in civil engineering. After that, I was hired by a national engineering firm as a structural engineer to work on large transportation infrastructure projects such as major highways and commuter/transit rail systems. My career followed a path of promotions through the technical ladder, then through the management ladder. I was promoted from structural engineer to structural team lead to project manager to structural department manager.

Along the way, I got my master’s degree in business administration to broaden my horizons and view of life.  From project management, I transitioned into business management and started managing the operations and finances of several technical organizations. This, ultimately, led to my current role as president at LAN, which is the top of the business management path.

Wayne Swafford discusses project plans with LAN Engineers Elizabeth O’Brien and Eric Hernandez. Photo: Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam

C+S: How does your varied experience impact or inform your current role?

Swafford: All of us are impacted by the experiences that we have lived. I have been fortunate to work in several industries on different projects in locations throughout the country. I have been able to draw on this breadth of experience to bring different insights to situations. Whether it’s a flood control project or a highway or an industrial building, the business process is the same.

For example, during my last job, I transitioned from heavy civil/infrastructure to the health care industry. What I found surprising was that the project development and funding process for health care facility projects is extraordinarily similar to the funding acquisition process for a highway project through the National Environmental Policy Act. Some of the details might be different, but the overall thinking, flow, and the decision-making process are the same.

Working in different sectors has also helped me approach different scenarios from a holistic perspective. When developing an infrastructure solution, engineering efficiency is not the only criteria. You also need to consider the different business, community, and other stakeholder criteria.

For my current role, that’s what I have been able to bring to the table. I can look at issues in different ways and help our clients in a way that goes beyond just the most efficient engineering solution.

C+S: How is LAN organized and managed — i.e., geography, service line, or other — and how do you share expertise and workload across the organization?

Swafford: We are organized around the markets we serve — Infrastructure, Transportation, and Facilities. Each market group is responsible for how they serve our customers in different geographies. We have invested in IT to help facilitate sharing work across geographies so we can have teams in various cities working on the same project.

Having said that, there is no good substitute for face-to-face interaction. We encourage our staff, when appropriate, to travel and work with each other so they can form relationships beyond just exchanging information on a project. To become an effective team, you must understand the people you work with and form relationships.

From a geographic perspective, while we originated in Texas, we are expanding our presence in California and the Midwest region. It is a benefit to us and to our clients to have staff in different locations for two big reasons. First, it allows us to balance out geographic workload fluctuations. More importantly, we have found that the expertise and experience we gain in one geography benefits our customers in other geographies.

C+S: What is LAN’s process for developing short- and longer-term business plans?

Swafford: We use both a top-down and bottom-up approach to develop short- and long-term business plans.  The top-down approach involves gathering information from our strategic development/marketing group about long-term direction of the markets. They look at various industry groups that forecast trends, evaluate how much money will be spent on water and wastewater infrastructure, highways, railroads, etc., and analyze the current issues and challenges. They also look to identify the future trends in the industry such as smart technologies, resilience to natural events, etc.

For the bottom-up approach, our business group directors and team leaders in each market — Infrastructure, Transportation, and Facilities — glean information from our clients on capital plans and programs. We scan what’s on the horizon for each of our clients, the services we can offer, and then reconcile this with macro-level industry trends.

An analogy that I like to use is that of buggy whips and cars. The people who were making buggy whips saw a huge decline in business when cars came into the picture. We want to make sure we are not trapped in the buggy whip business and be prepared to serve the long-term needs of our clients. We will make buggy whips as long as there is a demand for them. We just need to be prepared for when the demand diminishes.

C+S: How do those plans drive marketing and business development efforts?

Swafford: The plans drive our investment in expertise and approaches to delivery of projects that align with market/client needs. We give more attention to opportunities that help us position our business better for future work.

From a demographic perspective, we know the trends show the growth is toward urban areas. Usually, urban areas are trying to deal with the expansion of population beyond their borders and the infrastructure needed to keep up with that growth. But today, urban areas are also grappling with questions about what they are going to do with their existing infrastructure. Most of our infrastructure in urban cores have reached the end of their useful life.

Consequently, we are positioning ourselves to help our clients sustain their infrastructure assets both in the horizontal side (utilities) and the vertical side (facilities). We are doing more and more work related to infrastructure/asset inventories and condition assessments. We are also doing more work to understand technologies that can be deployed once we know more about these infrastructure assets.

For example, once we know a pipe is deteriorating, we are putting more emphasis on the types of technologies that might be deployed to extend the life of these pipes. At the same time, we are helping clients to start planning for redundancies in their systems when they need to do repairs or replacements.   

But at the end of the day, I believe our most effective marketing/business development strategy is delivering great work for our clients.

C+S: How have marketing and business development at engineering firms changed during the last 10 years or so, and what changes have been the most significant?

Swafford: When I started, a lot of the marketing and business development was based upon personal relationships with clients. And these relationships were developed during lunches/dinners or on golf courses. Today, relationships are developed by getting in the trenches with the clients, understanding their real needs and the problems behind their problems. This has allowed us to come up with better solutions for their issues. And, in turn, clients trust our expertise and ability to deliver projects.

Also, the workforce has become more diverse. At LAN, we are fortunate to have employees with different backgrounds, races, expertise, and experiences and that has allowed us to better understand our clients’ needs and solve their problems.

C+S: In a healthy and competitive market, what are some of the risks and roadblocks in business development for an engineering firm?

Swafford: To differentiate themselves in this competitive market, engineering firms sometimes try to push the envelope too far to come up with “innovative” solutions. But, these solutions can be risky, especially from a cost standpoint. By convincing yourself that you must do something different, you may create an unworkable or unbuildable situation. In an era where finances are a challenge, it is critical that we develop responsible solutions that provide clients value for the money they are spending on the project.

As far as roadblocks, engineers can be conservative when it comes to marketing and business development. The typical thought process that engineers have is that a solution provided by one civil engineering firm can be provided by any other civil engineering firm. It’s difficult to create and sell around differentiation if you can’t articulate what makes your solution unique. It is important that engineering firms are aware of this mindset and work on changing it to better sell their services to clients.

C+S: In today’s market, can partnering and joint ventures play important roles in firm growth and business development? If so, how does LAN seek those opportunities?

Wayne Swafford and LAN’s Vice President and Facilities Team Leader JP Grom discuss program management services offered by the firm for school districts in Texas. Photo: Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam

Swafford: Partnering and joint ventures definitely help with firm growth. We often seek opportunities to partner with firms that offer capabilities that complement ours.  We like to partner with firms that have similar cultures and values and can complement our skills and expertise. Having the right partner, whether we are a prime consultant, sub-consultant or joint venture, is essential for us to serve our clients.

We typically look for these opportunities through the various professional groups our employees participate in. We encourage our staff to stay connected and develop relationships with other people in the industry through these professional groups. It not only helps employees with their own professional development but also benefits our firm in the long run.

C+S: What are some successful marketing and business development efforts you’ve seen recently, either at LAN or at other firms?

Swafford: One of our biggest marketing and business development successes that we had recently was in the asset management space. A few months ago, a major city in Texas wanted to do an asset management of its vertical (facilities) and horizontal (utilities) structures. (The city split the solicitation into two, one for vertical and one for horizontal assets.)

Over the last few years, our Facilities group has been providing asset management services to independent school districts in Texas. The group was also expanding these services to some of the state’s agencies. At the same time, our Infrastructure group has been assisting our clients with inventory and condition assessment of their horizontal assets, which is the first phase for developing asset management programs.

When the asset management solicitation came out, our Facilities and Infrastructure Groups saw an opportunity to combine their skills and expertise. At the same time, we also partnered with a global asset management firm with municipal finance expertise to complement our engineering expertise. By combining the skills of two of our business groups and partnering with a non-traditional firm working in a different space, we won both projects. We will be serving as the prime for the vertical portion while our partner will be the prime for the horizontal portion.

And the third critical element of this success is that we chose the right client to put all the pieces together. While we have had many successes recently at LAN, I am especially proud of this win.