Project Management Institute

Keys to growing a minority- or woman-owned business

Concerns of Project Managers

Nancy C. Myers, Promatech, Inc., Riverside, New Jersey

Government support for women- and minority-owned firms in the construction industry is a mixed bag. Some government agencies/authorities have supportive programs; with others, it's “business as usual.” However, growing a firm from fledgling (small individual jobs) to teaming partner (small piece of a large project) to a full-fledged prime contractor is fraught with sleepless nights and tough choices.

Scene #1: Some large GC/CM/AE firms. “This RFP requires MBE/WBEs on our team. “Darn rules. ‘Anybody know any good firms?” Puzzled sighs. “What piece of the job can we afford to give away?” Quizzical looks. “Any firms out there we can count on?” Shrugged shoulders.

Scene #2: Small firm RFP review meeting. “Why can't we get on a team for this job?” Baffled look. “We can't get a fair chance at construction work; there's too much prejudice.” Defeated sigh. “We've registered at a zillion agencies and nobody ever calls us.” Gloom and doom.

Somewhat exaggerated? Maybe, but the underlying truth remains that despite multiple government R&R (registration and referral) programs for minorities and women, the confidence factor remains elusive, communication is cloudy and, too often, an adversarial climate exists. The current government-funded programs to develop minority and women-owned businesses:

  • Are redundant and uncoordinated (different forms and requirements)
  • Fail to address the different needs of the large or the small firms
  • Do not reduce the disparity of goals vs. actual awards for MBE/WBEs.

As we examine the adversarial CM/GC/AE vs. MBE/WBE perspectives (see chart), it is clear that a “Bridge Program” like the NYC School Construction Authority Mentor Program and our own CM2 Value Added Program can have a major impact on QA/QC and breaking down communication barriers. (Pro. matech has had the privilege to help develop this program.) However, until similar programs are launched at other government agencies, it is incumbent upon all minority- and women-owned firms to build our own bridges through individual efforts.

Small firms can take several important steps to build their MBE/WBE Business. Because of the government targets/goals for MBE/WBE participation on contracts, securing a spot on project teams with prime contractors is essential. Certainly direct mail and telephone outreach to prime contractors in your industry is a first introduction. This will get you into a database or file, but does not guarantee that you will be tapped for a team. You must take extra steps when you identify a project on which you want to work. Here are some suggestions:

  • 1. Read the RFP thoroughly and clearly identify the services your firm can offer the project team. When prime contractors read the RFP, they will look for units of the project that can be segmented effectively to meet their MBE/WBE goals.
  • 2. Prepare your marketing literature in vertical markets (transportation, schools, health care) and in services (cost estimating, scheduling, painting) so that you can customize your submissions to the prime contractors. Assembling a proposal is like a puzzle. Never offer services that don't fit.
  • 3. Direct Your phone calls and mail, with attachments focused on a specific RFP, to the project manager for that proposal. Most firms are segmented into vertical markets with ability to borrow talent from other offices, so the right contact is important.
  • 4. Understand how proposal teams are coordinated in large firms. Although centralized files often exist with marketing/business development executives making team decisions, project managers, engineers, and other specialists often contribute to the decisions. Develop relationships at multiple levels in each organization. The menu of local, regional and national groups is endless. Promatech sees particular value not only in organizations like PWC (Professional Women In Construction, founded in New York in 1980), but also National Industry Groups like CMAA (Construction Management Association of America), The Women's Transportation Seminar, and APTA (American Public Transit Association).
  • 5. Relationships are built in many different ways. One of the best opportunities to generate confidence in you as an individual is to not only join professional organizations, but also to become active in them. After all, organizations are only as strong as each member's contribution. People serious about their profession are usually active in industry organizations.
  • 6. Seminars, courses, conferences and meetings provide disjointed but essential educational opportunities. As an example, the Regional Alliance for Small Contractors “Managing Growth” classes taught by private/public executives offer not only relevant construction instructions, but also another opportunity to interface with potential teaming partners. These programs are especially valuable.
  • 7. The key words in marketing your company are persistence and repetition. Focus your efforts and become a specialist, so that you will become recognized for that specialty when the need arises. Nothing, of course, can build your reputation better than the quality of your work. Nothing can ruin your reputation faster than promising more than you can deliver.

I believe there has never been a better marketing environment for quality minority- and women-owned businesses. As the construction market accelerates, those firms (both large and small) that have laid the foundation for good teaming relationships should grow and profit from their efforts. Some of the primes who demonstrate serious partnering commitments with small firms will benefit from their confidence and mentoring. As Promatech continues to grow and strengthen our teaming relationships, we have an additional commitment to lend a helping hand to fledgling firms. And so it goes.   ❏

THE ADVERSARIAL CLIMATE

The adversarial climate between the prime construction managers/general contractors and the minority and women contractors continues despite a plethora of legislation and programs. Depending on which side of the fence you sit, there are legitimate differences of opinion and views. Each side contributes to the adversarial climate—and each can learn how to improve communication by listening to the other's perspective.

CM/GC PERSPECTIVE M/W/DBE PERSPECTIVE
  • Use of same M/W/DBE firms over and over
  • Use of “fronts” instead of legitimate M/W/DBE firms
  • Indefinite percentage and low level assignment commitment to M/W/DBE
  • M/W/DBE firms excluded from planning, and project management meeting
  • CM/GC monitoring of M/W/DBE firm creates adversarial rather than helpful relationship
  • CM/GC not alerted to burgeoning issues before they become potential schedule delays and cost overruns
  • Block new M/W/DBE firms
  • Distrust of CM/GC compliance policies
  • Stifle M/W/DBE ability to plan and grow. May promise more than they can do
  • No clear direction. M/W/DBE unaware of “big picture” strategy
  • M/W/DBE reluctant to seek technical assistance when needed, fearful of recrimination and loss of future work
  • Narrow perspective on large projects prevents early identification of problems and impact potential
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POLARIZATION AND DISTRUST

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Nancy C. Myers is senior vice president for business development at Promatech, Inc. She has extensive knowledge of both private and public RFQ and RFP requirements and procedures. She has been responsible for multi-million-dollar construction and computer-related pre-qualifications and technical proposal submissions at Hill International and Datapro Research Corporation (McGraw-Hill).

Joining Promatech in 1992, Ms. Myers presently has responsibilities for construction management business development, corporate marketing programs, public relations, RFP and RFQ preparation, and development of joint venture and prime contract revenue. In addition, she has direct responsibility for the minority- and women-owned business enterprise Mentor Program, which is designed to encourage and foster growth of disadvantaged businesses.

She received a B.S. in mad-wing from Rutgers University and an A.B.A. in business/psychology from Burlington College.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PMNETwork • March 1994

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