April 11

John McGrath, CEO at Advantage Engineers on Building a Strong Company

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Mr. McGrath, Chief Executive Officer of the firm, has over 20 years of experience in the engineering and construction industry and has held senior positions in large national and international engineering and consulting firms.

For the past 20 years, Mr. McGrath has been involved with the acquisition, development, and construction of wireless communications facilities and networks. He has managed the design and construction of hundreds of wireless communications sites in the Mid-Atlantic region and thousands throughout the United States. Mr. McGrath is familiar with building codes, zoning regulations, and construction materials and methods.

[Podcast Transcript Using Artificial Intelligence]

Umar Hameed 0:06
Are you ready to become awesomer? Hello everyone, this is Umar Hameed, your host and welcome to the No Limits Selling Podcast, where industry leaders share their tips, strategies and advice on how to make you better, stronger, faster, get ready for another episode.

Umar Hameed 0:36
Today I have the privilege of sitting down with John McGrath, CEO of Advantage Engineers, welcome to the program.

Umar Hameed 0:42
Thanks Umar. Very happy to be here.

Umar Hameed 0:44
John, right now you guys are heavily into the telecommunication space.

John McGrath 0:48
Yep, we provide telecommunications, infrastructure engineering, we also do geotechnical and environmental, it's another division of ours.

Umar Hameed 0:57
So one of the things that really interests me is the team that you've built, what kind of culture you want to build what you've built, and kind of what are the challenges to make that happen?

John McGrath 1:05
Yeah, so the the industry that we work in is a very fast paced industry, you know, there's, you have to be very reactive. So you need people who have a drive to, you know, serve our customers serve each other in the company, and really, you know, strive to be the best. So, what we've tried to do is hire people and develop people who have those innate abilities. And we've tried to support people and give them opportunities to take on more responsibility and promote people from within, and then really foster their development and reward that kind of behavior that we we strive to develop in people.

Umar Hameed 1:46
How does that pan out practically day to day? Because one of the biggest challenges for for leaders is how do I keep the culture where I want it to be? And it's like a daily challenge. So, so talk to me about some of the challenges and some of the successes.

John McGrath 2:00
Right. So, you know, 10 years ago, nine years ago, when we started this company, I knew everybody in the company by name.

Umar Hameed 2:09
Yes,

John McGrath 2:09
I saw them regularly.

Umar Hameed 2:11
Was a headcount?

John McGrath 2:11
Back then, when we first started, it was about 60 people.

Umar Hameed 2:14
And now?

John McGrath 2:14
And now we're 340

Umar Hameed 2:16
Oh, yeah.

John McGrath 2:16
So you know, spread out over 17 offices over seven different states. So it's difficult to be in touch with people. So you do need to make sure that you create a message in cascaded down through the the organization and that you have people who will carry that message on.

Umar Hameed 2:33
Nice.

John McGrath 2:34
We do work a lot on that on the communication, it can always be better and trying to find the balance of you know, there is always going to be some people who, who want to know everything.

Umar Hameed 2:44
Yes.

John McGrath 2:45
And there are going to be some people who, you know, only want to hear from you every once in a while trying to find the balance between those two, and reach as many people and find that comfort level with them. That's the challenge.

Umar Hameed 2:57
So last year, in 2018, you guys did an acquisition?

John McGrath 3:00
We did?

Umar Hameed 3:01
What was that? Like in terms of, you know, I'm sure they had their own culture and way of doing things. And now they joining your family?

John McGrath 3:07
Yeah.

Umar Hameed 3:08
What's that journey been like? And what were the concerns before you acquired them.

John McGrath 3:12
So the acquisition process was a longer one than than we expected. And a lot of that had to do with that management team. And our sort of feeling each other out and getting to know one another is important that we did that it was actually a larger acquisition than we'd planned to do, we were looking at some smaller ones. It was also on the other side of the country. So you know, just that distance creates challenges. But they had a great culture, and still do, and we've incorporated some of their culture and ours, and we're, you know, merging the two cultures not coming in and saying this is how we're doing things,

Umar Hameed 3:44
Right.

John McGrath 3:44
you know, integration, you know, as companies, there's, you know, there's process and policy that you need to integrate, but the culture, you know, you have to be willing to, to learn from what other people have done and how they've been successful and what they've been able to do with their team and adopt the best parts of that. And that's what we're trying to do.

Umar Hameed 4:02
Is their CEO still around.

John McGrath 4:04
He is Yes, he's actively involved in the, in the business, he's running the West Coast operations for us. And he and I talk regularly and have a great relationship.

Umar Hameed 4:13
So what's been the biggest surprise for you in this acquisition, what you thought it would be and what it turned out to be?

John McGrath 4:19
You know, I think the biggest surprise is the, the, just the, what we talked talked about before, being able to get in touch with people and, you know, some people desire more and more contact and that's hard to do when, you know, there are those all the time. And we've had, you know, some some growing pains in the last year or two, we're managing growth elsewhere. So that's, that's been difficult and we want to make sure we get out and see people as much as possible. You know, the other thing is, you know, the the it's always easy to underestimate people's unwillingness to change or fear of change.

Umar Hameed 4:59
Yes.

John McGrath 4:59
Our way Putting it. And that's not everyone, but there are going to be some people who, you know, when they're comfortable, any kind of change, it may even be for the better. It just is not, doesn't feel good to them. And managing that process and managing people's emotions and, and, and how we roll out changes. That's been a bit of a challenge. But I think we've done a great job of overcoming it with some of our, our management team.

Umar Hameed 5:25
For other leaders listening to this, if you were doing the hair, the three or four things you need to really be aware of when you're acquiring another company, off the top of your head, what would they be? Make sure you?

John McGrath 5:36
Well, I would say, absolutely make sure that you understand the culture, and it doesn't have to be a cultural fit perfectly, right? There's, there's no two families that are the same, there's no two companies that are the same, no two people that are insane,

Umar Hameed 5:48
Right.

John McGrath 5:49
But plenty of people get along and merge, you know, into couples and companies do the same thing. So but making sure there's an understanding what the culture is, and we did that we spent a lot of...

Umar Hameed 5:59
Nice.

John McGrath 5:59
...doing that. The other thing you need to think about is is what parts of your culture you are, you know, you have to keep and what you have to make sure remain part of the company and other parts that you think, you know, can be improved upon or can be merged with the other company. And the third thing I would say is that you make time, you have to make time. And that's hard, you know, when you're trying to do everything else and trying to manage a growing company. But that time is important.

Umar Hameed 6:30
So let's change topics. Something exciting for a lot of people is the promise of 5G networks coming in. Give us a snapshot of what is 5G, and then we'll talk about how this impacts your company.

John McGrath 6:40
Right. So 5G is essentially the fifth generation 5G, it's the next generation of wireless technology. And really what it's going to do is increase exponentially the speed of wireless connectivity. So 4G, you know, which most of us have on our smartphones now. You can go look up something on your your phone when you're out in the street, and you get it pretty quickly. But if you try and download a song or music or video of some sort, you know, sometimes it takes a little longer. 5G is really the next phase where it's going to be much faster up to 100 times faster. Now that's you know, yet to be proven out in the real world because they're just starting to build the 5G networks. But the promises up to 100 times faster. And the connectivity is going to be at least in major urban areas is going to be it's going to take some time to build it out, probably a five to 10 year build out. But that count activity is going to be everywhere. We won't have as many drop calls because it's going to be on a smaller network. In other words, less tower sites and more small cells, so along the roadways. So what does that do for us? Well, it gives us better connectivity, but it also moves into the area of the Internet of Things, IoT into driverless vehicles, autonomous vehicles, everything that is going to be connected to the the internet or or some sort of a network is going to be done wirelessly in the future. So that's what 5G is going to do. That's the promise of 5G. There's a lot of work to get there, though.

Umar Hameed 8:15
It just in terms of megabits per second. What are we talking about?

John McGrath 8:20
I think we're talking about 200...

Umar Hameed 8:23
Megabits. Okay, that would be impressive. As a company that supports the telecommunications industry, how does that factor into your planning? Because there's still nebulous now, but you need to plan for it.

John McGrath 8:34
Yep.

Umar Hameed 8:35
So talk to me about envisioning the future in that way.

John McGrath 8:38
Yeah, it's definitely coming into clarity now. But 5G has been you know, you said it, right, the promise of 5G, there's been a promise of 5G and discussion of 5G for probably about the last three years,

Umar Hameed 8:51
Right.

John McGrath 8:51
And there were technological challenges and you know, hurdles that they had to get over. But even at the beginning of last year, in 2018, they talked about both 2018 will be the year of 5G, well, it wasn't. But now it's definitely starting to be built out. And, you know, the, the carriers, the major wireless carriers are starting to commit capex to it. So we have a little bit better visibility, but not not perfect visibility. So we have to glean as much information as we can, both from our clients and our, you know, industry colleagues, Industry analysts, and then do our own evaluation as to what that means to us and...

Umar Hameed 9:31
Right.

John McGrath 9:31
...what we can do to, you know, capture the opportunities. But also be careful not to get out too far ahead of it, right? We have to manage our growth and be responsible in our growth, because it's great to chase after that bright, shiny object. But if you chase after too quickly, you might trip and fall

Umar Hameed 9:49
And there's phrase from Silicon Valley. It's great to be on the leading edge, but not the bleeding edge.

John McGrath 9:54
Yes, exactly. Right. That's a great way to put it.

Umar Hameed 9:57
How do you maintain relationships with large accounts where you're seeing more as a partner, where you come into their planning of things, how do you make that happen? And do you do it directly? Or do you have to get some of your charges to go do it? for them to do it? Do you coach them on it?

John McGrath 10:13
Yeah. So, you know, again, it used to be, you know, when we first started our company, I was one, I was the primary contact with all the clients. And now that's changed. And I'm further removed. So yes, we have, you know, at the regional level, we have project managers and other client managers who are in regular contact with the customer. But we're trying to develop a relate the relationships, and we have some relationships at the national level now. So that does two things for us, it gives us an opportunity to get better information about what they're planning, right, so we can respond more quickly to their needs. And it also gives us an opportunity to weigh in on providing our expertise, our consulting, to what that means for them, and how we can help them and plan for their next phase of build out.

Umar Hameed 11:04
As you look out to the future of your company. It's a good company, but you've probably seen a great company. What does that look like, as you guys grow, and you get more people coming in? How do you want the company to evolve?

John McGrath 11:16
You know, I want us to be, we're striving for excellence, right? And not perfection, but excellence. And, you know, that, again, gets back to the people that we're hiring and supporting the people that we have, and giving them the opportunity to do more, and then rewarding them for promotions and other rewards. So what we want it to look like is, you know, people love to come to work, people feel, you know, work hard, but at the end of the day feel like they've accomplished something. And they've contributed something to not only the company, but the the world at large. And people say, Well, you know, your smartphone, what were you contributing, and I remind people on a regular basis that, you know, when I was growing up, I was a kid, I saw a terrible accident one time, and we were stuck in traffic, because of it. And, you know, I remember vividly somebody running past us on the road to run back to a gas station that was about...

Umar Hameed 12:14
To make a phone call?

John McGrath 12:14
...20, 20 blocks back to make a phone call from a payphone. Well, you know, now when things happen, you know, people have their phones, they can call, they can, you know, the the even, uh, you know, so that's a, that's a, you know, a big scary thing it helps us with, but, you know, taking pictures of your your kids and saying them to the grandparents.

Umar Hameed 12:36
Yeah, amazing.

John McGrath 12:37
It's amazing that we can do that. And we're playing a role in that, you know, you know, a smaller role, but we're playing a role. And it's a significant role. When you to take it on individually.

Umar Hameed 12:47
I saw this company, I forget the name of it right now, their solution was patient goes into the hospital for diabetes, when they get released, there's a high likelihood they're going to be back. And when they come back, it's going to be $15,000 a day expense. And so what this company does is they give everybody a smartphone, a scale to weigh themselves as Bluetooth enabled, a glucose monitor and a blood pressure monitor. And so every day, they basically check in on those devices, it beams the information to HQ. And if they didn't do it that day, they got a call from a coach saying, "Hey, what's going on?" And they're reducing hospital visits, like radically, and it would not be possible if it wasn't for the connected smartphone.

John McGrath 13:31
Right. Yeah. And it does have an amazing health implication, you know, I'm wearing an Apple Watch. And I signed up for the, the the Heart Study,

Umar Hameed 13:41
Yes.

John McGrath 13:41
The International Heart Study using smartwatches. And, you know, there's several instances where, you know, that kind of activity is saved people's lives, you know, that's they've been alerted that they're, you know, heart rhythms wrong. And, you know, they goes right to their phone, and they, they can call somebody. So it's a it's an amazing time for the type of technology.

Umar Hameed 14:03
Yeah, we live in this amazing world, I'd heard this one company, what they're doing is they have fitbits, quote, unquote, for cows. And so the interesting part was this number one, the cows can go milk themselves whenever they want to, they just when they're ready to milk, I go about that as well. Yes, but the thing that made me just amazed me was they monitored the gait of the cow, they can tell if a cow is getting sick and what the sickness is, but usually a week or so before it would have been normally diagnosed. So just by monitoring that data, and that's all comes from being connected. Fascinating times.

John McGrath 14:38
They should just follow the cows on Instagram they know soon

Umar Hameed 14:40
[Laugh] Oh, here's a silly cow thing. What's the difference between a cow that's named and one that isn't named 60 gallons of milk a year, more production if you name it, Gladys or whatever you talk to say, "Hey Gladys, how are you doing today?"

John McGrath 14:55
[Garbled] That goes to you know, appreciating and having connection to your

Umar Hameed 15:00
Yeah.

John McGrath 15:01
Yeah.

Umar Hameed 15:01
Before we part company, if you were advising a new CEO, on a startup, that they've got this idea, and they're getting their first staff coming on board to make this happen, what would be the few things that they should keep an eye on that would allow them to shorten the cycle to building a great company?

John McGrath 15:19
You know, I think you need to make a connection with people.

Umar Hameed 15:22
Absolutely.

John McGrath 15:22
And there's

Umar Hameed 15:23
And cows.

John McGrath 15:24
And cows, that's right. But, you know, again, it goes back to the time making that time, that's time well spent, if you spend 15-20 minutes with some of your key people, not even talking about, you know, the business or their problems, just getting to know them, getting to connect with them about what's going on in their life on a regular basis, you know, once a week, once or once a month, whatever it is, one making sure that they know you really do care about them. And it's you know, it's important, and to just giving them the opportunity to develop that comfort level with you. So, you know, when they have bigger issues, whether it's at home, or whether it's at work, they can come to you and say, Hey, listen, I've got something going on, here's what's happening, and really let them you know, have that level of comfort that they can come to you. So time is a big thing. And then, you know, making sure you're setting the expectations. It's it's incredibly important for everyone, and makes your life a lot easier. So and there's two. So you can when you do talk about their progress, you can look at it and say, are we meeting the goals that we set out? And when you do that, it's an easy conversation, whether they are whether they're not, you know, we have expectations, and you're meeting them and that's great, or, hey, you're meeting most of them. There's a couple of other falling short, let's talk about those. Let's see what we can do to improve on this.

Umar Hameed 16:51
Brilliant john, thanks for sitting down with me.

John McGrath 16:53
Umar it's great. My pleasure. Thank you so much.

Umar Hameed 16:55
If you enjoyed this episode, please go to iTunes and leave a five-star rating. And if you're looking for more tools, go to my website at nolimitsselling.com. I've got a free mind training course there, that's going to teach you some insights from the world of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and that is the fastest way to get better results.


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