Head of growing company finds it's time to expand management


Loren D. Jensen was a professor at Johns Hopkins University when, in 1973, he left the school to found an environmental service company, EA Engineering, Science and Technology with employees. Last year, he and the board decided that the 750-worker company had grown sufficiently large and complex to warrant hiring a president. Edward V. Lower, a long-time Union Carbide Corp. executive, became president on June 1.

Q. What was it that made you decide it was time to expand the management ranks and bring on a president?

A. Well, we've grown over the last five years, we've grown at a compounded rate of something of the order of 35 percent and revenues are now approaching $60 million a year. We've gone from essentially four offices to 16. We now have jobs from Florida to Alaska.

Q. Was this something you had always planned to do or did something happen that made you think it was necessary?

A. The decision to do it was really a function of me being obviously pushed at getting everything done that needed to be done, and so last summer I met with my board of directors and proposed to them that we set about the task of defining the new job and then finding someone to fill it . . . The whole appointment of a president and the separation of the president's job from the chief executive's job, is, to me, one of evolution. It's a natural time for us to do this. Our complexity could be served very well by it. We're having a lot of fun now. I feel strongly that I need to watch what's going on at the frontiers of the company. I need Ted Lower here to operate, managing the operational aspects on a day-to-day basis.

Q. Is it difficult, as a founder, to give up a piece of the leadership?

A. It wasn't and it isn't difficult for me because I have an exciting job to do, and I guess one way of thinking of my job today, is that it's been too exciting. I've had a little more excitement than I think I bargained for.

Q. We should all have those problems.

A. Yes. It's really been my delight to be able to restructure our organizational units here at corporate to accommodate someone from the outside. First of all, because we need and have benefit in having someone come in from the outside of the company and bring with them a host of experiences in other large companies successfully, not only within national boundaries of the United States but international company. Someone with a, you know, a breadth of experience in a number of areas.

Q. There's not a twinge of the founder in you that says that this company is become too big for me to get my arms around anymore?

A. No. Well, I certainly have that twinge. It's been more than a twinge in the last two or three years. I have genuinely found myself over-committed. But it's a change I'm very willing to make. I know that there is a body of experience and maybe history of people like me not being able to give up control. The reality is that the control in this company is delegated quite directly into the regional businesses that we operate. I have never really had absolute control of this firm, anymore than a managing partner of a big law firm has control of that if he is administrating everything. So my, my, I'm really looking forward to having the luxury of being able to do some of the things that I think I do really well. And with the comfort that somebody at my side is there watching the detail very closely . . .

Q. What advice would you give to another person or company considering a similar expansion of management? What were the warning signs that tipped you off that it was necessary?

A. Struggles to find appointments with employees who are carrying major responsibilities and are serving important jobs. If you have to fight to get the time on your agenda to see people internally, if you find yourself postponing and rescheduling outside business meetings, sometimes with clients, and frequently with investors even, if you're a public company. If you are working hard and you can't accommodate the schedule, and you find yourself at the edge of your preparation for each meeting you're going into . . . you're way overextended.

Q. How would you divide the job up? I imagine it's not just half of the chairmanship. You must be changing your job as well.

A. There are three parts of my job historically that have been really important. One has been the business of just running the corporation and meeting with internal department heads at the corporate level, meeting with divisional people across the United States in our various offices. That's been at least 60 or 65 percent of my time. We've done some acquisitions. We've also done some mergers, we've done some expansions into new business areas. Twenty-five percent of my time in the last two years doing that. And the balance of my time has been spent with clients, employees and shareholders. And the reality is that going forward, I'm planning most of my time divided up between seeing employees and being involved in watching, but also being aware of what are employees are really doing. Dealing with clients on a senior executive level, just checking in to see how we're doing, what their perception of our utility to their problem solving is, having more time with investors who are becoming more and more interested. Those are time-demanding things that are rather important.

Q. It sounds as though you're taking the tasks that you enjoy and that you're good at.

A. Yes. I enjoy working with employees. It's really a spinoff of my old teaching days. We have marvelous professional people working for us, and in the last few years, I've gotten so busy that I'm not spending the time, giving them enough of " 'at-a-boy" recognition and " 'at-a- girl" recognition that is the really sensible thing to do if they want to have the best and the brightest stay with you.

Q. So if someone were considering a move like this, you would advise them to design those jobs carefully and maybe not just take a traditional approach that you find in a business textbook?

A. Well, I certainly will be involved very heavily in strategic, directional activities within the company, but in a services-oriented business our assets go home at night. So I feel that in the last few years I've gotten more distant from the rank-and-file employees than it is safe or sound to be. I'm going to do something about that. Clients, you know, are our bread and butter and we need to have someone at my level go out and just check and see and ask the simple question, are we doing what you expect to do and if we're doing it well, how do we stand competitively? If you don't ask those questions, you'll never get an answer. And I don't really believe that you can get those from polls. When I go in and ask an old client or a new client a question, they're very taken back by me asking the question for starters.

Q. When you were talking with potential candidates did you have reach an agreement that gave the president enough duties to make it worth his while?

A. I think I had to, certainly in the case of Ted Lower, I think he wanted to be convinced that he was not going to have a problem with me and that I would give him the responsibility with no controls . . . My plan is to go away in August and take a year-end vacation and when I come back in early September, I'm going to come back to a new job description for me.

Q. What do you think it's going to mean for the company?

A. Well, I think it'll change our performance. I'm going to be very, very disappointed if it doesn't do that.

Q. Is this part of a larger reorganization of the company?

A. Well, right now we don't foresee a major reorganization and we have done some absorption of a subsidiary that we have been operating . . . And as I've said to employees and to investors recently, I'm not going anywhere, except on vacation.

Q. Have you found employees concerned when they heard the news?

A. Well, I think that there was a lot of the kind of reaction that is not unusual. They say, "Are you really ready for this?" And I've said generally and in a joking way, "Boy, am I ready for this." But the reality is I am very ready for it.

Q. There must come a point when a founder pauses for a moment and says, "Wow, we're not a little firm anymore."

A. Well, I'll tell you. The job has changed so much over the years . . . I have so much more help in specialty job holders that are in place. I think I'm having more fun now than I had in the early days. I certainly don't spend time on boats in the Chesapeake Bay except when I'm sailing with my son. But I also am not doing the payroll on Friday nights at home either, and so it is nice to be able to delegate jobs that you don't do all that well anyway to people who do a much better job at it.

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