In a one-on-one interview with Zweig Group, a global leader in products and services to the (AEC) industry, Paul DiDonato, the President and CEO of ATI, recently shared his insights on industry trends and challenges, and his journey from a Founding Principal to CEO.

As one of the original founders of ATI, nearly 30 years ago, Mr. DiDonato set out to build a firm that focused on developing high-value innovative solutions, an unmatched commitment to client satisfaction, and a strong team to make it all happen.

Over the course of his career, he has experienced the ups and downs of the industry. He’s carried the company through two major recessions: 2001 and 2008, led multiple beneficial acquisitions and has gone through countless trials and errors that have helped advance ATI over the years – making it what it is today.

Here’s his take on some of the most pressing issues facing the A/E industry today.

You can read the full Zweig Letter article HERE.

If the worker shortage continues, do you see wages increasing to encourage more talent to enter the AEC space, or will technology be used to counter the reduced workforce?

We do see pressures on salary increases. We also see technology as a key to higher productivity which has resulted in higher revenue per employee. Revenue per employee has doubled in the last 15 years, in fact, more than doubled while working relatively normal working hours. We believe that compensation, while important, is not as important as retaining the best and most talented. At ATI, we work on team quality, work, and challenges provided, weekly ongoing mentoring and training, and quality staff supervision. These are all hallmarks of retention.

With regard to compensation, the market is very competitive, but we are not of the mindset that more money results in better candidates. We use several salary guides, including Zweig Group’s salary and compensation surveys, to determine the market rate and also take into account the standard of living cost increases in our office regions.

To ensure a proper fit for the company, we engage a large number of participants in interviewing candidates and use personality profiles to assist in the decision-making process. This provides certain assurances that the new hire is in alignment with ATI’s culture and expectations. In addition, in times of short-term support needs, we use our wide range of part-time consultants and staffing agencies for outsourced services. This has been an effective way for our team to monitor short- and long-term backlog against company-wide staff capacity so that we can assess what our staffing needs will be months in advance and assure that our recruitment is in alignment with the timing of hires. With an eye toward the future, we are constantly evaluating practices, hiring trends, and the latest technology to determine if they are a good fit for ATI.

When did you have the most fun running your firm, and what were the hallmarks of that time in your professional life?

Nearly 30 years ago, I was a founding principal of ATI. I will carry those memories with me forever. The best of those memories are commemorated and shared with the ATI’s team as folklore. I’ve also experienced the survival of two major recessions: 2001 and 2008. Recovery from the Great Recession has been the most remarkable and has resulted in the most memorable. That recovery resulted in a tipping point for us by creating space to recruit the greatest team of individuals in the history of ATI, across all three California offices, and has allowed me to shift my energies to the fun part or our business – spending more time with clients, pursuing strategic opportunities, and mentoring.

There have been many hallmarks in my career, but the most rewarding was the successful acquisition of ATI by AC Martin Group, a 113-year-old, renowned Los Angeles firm. The honor of being valued by such a prestigious firm and team of people simply reinforces the incredible success we had in building a multi-discipline, multi-office enterprise. With the acquisition, we now have the capability of leveraging a staff of more than 200 employees with expertise in multiple markets. Most importantly, the acquisition has further energized the entire ATI team with the prospects of securing larger, more pre-eminent projects.

Internal transition is expensive. How do you “sell” this investment opportunity for your next generation of principals? How do you prepare them for the next step?

Preparing the next generation of leaders has been a key element of ATI’s ongoing succession planning initiatives. Through this process, we developed a direct line of succession for all of the senior leadership nearing retirement age and established a springboard for younger staff to reach more senior positions within ATI.

Our leadership team includes managing principals, senior principals, principals, senior associates, and associates. Each year, the leadership team goes through a nomination process to add additional eligible employees who are evaluated against a highly defined criterion to determine who is eligible to become a company associate. Nominees are then voted upon and the final determination is made by ATI’s senior leadership team. Once an employee becomes an associate, they are placed on a Leadership Board with collateral responsibilities for various strategic action plans and other company-wide improvement initiatives. Regular reports are first presented to the senior leadership team and then to the entire company. This has been a great way to challenge junior staff to reach new goals for themselves through professional and personal growth.

Continue the full Zweig Letter article HERE.


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