"I wasn't a big advocate of (strategic) planning," was the first comment by Iver Skavdal, president and CEO of Winzler & Kelly.
Winzler & Kelly, founded almost 60 years ago in Eureka, now has corporate offices in Santa Rosa, 10 other offices from Portland to Guam and 300 employees. Not only has the engineering company been a financially successful firm, it has also won several business and industry awards such as Zweig Letter's "Hot 100 Fastest Growing Firms in the Country." CE News has ranked the firm as one of the "Top 50 Best Engineering Firms to Work For" five years in a row and ENR Magazine ranks Winzler & Kelly annually in the Top 500 Design Firms nationally.
The firm's Candlestick Point/Hunter's Point Redevelopment Project is featured in this month's edition of Engineering Inc.
Mr. Skavdal agreed to answer questions about how his firm's strategic planning process has evolved along with its growth.
Q. Ms. Luttrell: What has been your experience with planning at Winzler & Kelly?
A. Mr. Skavdal: I don't like unproductive time, and I used to associate planning with bureaucracy and documents that sit on a shelf. When I was just starting my career with the firm, up in the home office in Eureka, I observed the managers and leaders go off on planning weekends. They came back to work, and nothing was said about what took place. I didn't see anything that came of it.
Then in the mid-'90s, things here started to get more complicated. We had expanded, there were new owners (I was one of them), there was a recession, and we had three offices, not just one. We realized we had to get more coordinated in running our business.
We tried different approaches and consultants and learned as we went. We settled into a system of a three-year planning cycle, doing it ourselves with internal leadership. We involved our top leadership group of about 10 people and developed a formal schedule and process. We did an annual operations plan, and every three years we did a "strategic plan." The plans were then shared with the company's leadership.
Q. Ms. Luttrell: How would you describe that era of planning?
A. Mr. Skavdal: They were good plans. They served us well. However, I would now say they were operational, not strategic, more of a "triage-type planning." We addressed our weaknesses and made plans for correction. For example, in 2002, we identified a need for a dedicated HR function. We subsequently went out and found someone to do that for us, and it has been very successful. The operational planning we did helped us to establish a good infrastructure and good business practices.
Q. Ms. Luttrell: What were some of the benefits of that planning?
A. Mr. Skavdal: When I first started participating, before I was the CEO, I was a skeptic. Then I began to realize that the plans had made a difference. We didn't exactly follow our plan, but it set our minds to our goals and intentions and to solving major problems. Perhaps most important, when opportunities came along, we were ready to go; we didn't have to gather the troops and get consensus. We could move quickly on opportunities for growth and expansion that came our way.