Happiness Is a Warm Place and a Good Bottom Line

An entrepreneurial alumna shares her business success story.

By the time we entered the 21st century, there were nearly 50,000 engineering services firms, employing more than 850,000 workers. Thinking about all the engineers-turned-entrepreneurs who lead these companies reminds me of the commercial about NCAA athletes who “will go pro in something other than sports.”

January marked the 25th anniversary of my civil engineering firm EMCS, Inc. I graduated from Purdue, worked for a Wisconsin-based consulting firm, and obtained my P.E. before founding EMCS. My parents raised me with the entrepreneurial gene. Long before arriving at the School of Civil Engineering, I knew what a balance sheet was, that you need a sales goal, and that your people are your most important business asset.

In engineering, this is especially true. My company wouldn’t have the reputation it has today without our talented and dedicated engineers and people who support them. Nothing makes success more challenging than to have to work against people, or within a system, where the “vision” is not shared. As a business owner, you must be prepared to invest in your people: training, perks, and spending personal time with them (one-on-one) to know what they need to be successful. If you can’t show that you value them and can’t provide opportunities to challenge and inspire them, they soon won’t be working for you—or worse yet, they’ll be working against you.

Entrepreneurship requires a host of skills in addition to those learned in the engineering classroom. In my first three years in business, I earned my MBA. Not officially, but that was when I developed my first business plan, formed a chart of accounts, and chose between a cash-basis and an accrual-basis accounting system. I also established a line of credit, a cafeteria-style employee benefit program, and a pension plan and obtained business insurance, including professional liability insurance.

Entrepreneurs wear lots of hats. Your job includes planning, goal setting, tracking, and monitoring both projects and the bottom line. When you get started, you are the sales department, the human resources department, the copy center, and the janitor. You get to work long hours: “24/7” thanks to e-mail, the Internet, and the time you spend on your pillow (wide awake practicing your collection calls, marketing presentations, employee “lessons,” and explanations for your banker). You get to learn that there are cycles in business and “this too shall pass.”

There is a silver lining. While studying engineering, you gained two of the most important skills an entrepreneur will need to be successful. Engineers are pros at problem solving and resourcefulness. There isn’t an academic curriculum that does a better job of birthing great thinkers who can deliver great solutions.

I remember when we hired our four first new grads in 1990. An exciting milestone: to have reached the point of having the project delivery structure in place to effectively develop these young engineers. We helped them transition from the classroom to balancing project schedules, budgets, and client expectations as they continued to gain experience. My greatest satisfaction has come from impacting the lives of young people and seeing them grow with the many successful projects our team has delivered.

- Rosalie Morgan, Owner, EMCS, Inc.