Partner Engineering and Science, Inc.
4 Keys to Success
Business View Magazine interviews CEO Joe Derhake and COO Monique Burrola, of Partner Engineering and Science, Inc., for our focus on Leaders in Sustainability.
How does an engineering company go from a startup working out of a garage to the dominant market leader in just a few short years? That’s a question Joe Derhake, PE, CEO of Partner Engineering and Science, Inc. gets asked all the time. That and “what does Partner do?”
If you’re in the commercial real estate business, there’s a good chance you have heard of Partner. “We are the nation’s largest due diligence firm,” Derhake explains. “If you buy a commercial property, you’d probably order at least five different products from us: an environmental report; a property condition report; an ALTA land title survey; a city zoning study; and in California, most likely, a seismic study.” Known for helping real estate professionals understand “the science of real estate,” Partner provides full-service engineering, environmental, and energy consulting and design services throughout the Americas and Europe.
Reflecting on how they achieved such swift success, Joe and his partner Monique Burrola, COO, explain that it was less about their business strategy and more about their values. As they contemplate Partner’s growth to date and future aspirations, four key strategies stand out.
- Put People First
Derhake reflects, “In 2007, Monique Burrola and I, and seven other people founded the company with the mission of being the best home for professionals who do what we do, which is providing services for commercial real estate professionals in the areas of environmental consulting, sustainability, engineering, and building assessment services. It’s a bit unique to have an internal-focused mission statement. Many companies focus externally on doing everything their clients need. We’re more focused on the people in the industry that the clients respect, and what it takes for us to be a good home for the most talented people.”
That strategy worked incredibly well, and people are still signing up. Today, Partner has over 800 talented employees with a dominating U.S. presence, as well as offices in Europe and Canada. Stateside, there are 40 offices spread out across all major markets. “Basically, anywhere that has a baseball team, we have an office,” Derhake quips. The largest – company headquarters in Torrance, California – is an impressive 20,000-sq.-ft. facility. Within the first seven years of existence, Partner went from $0 to $100 million in revenue, and 2019 is approaching $170 million.
How do they attract and keep good talent? “Talented employees need to be paid well, of course,” notes Burrola. “But then, a firm needs to have a lot of other intangibles to differentiate themselves. Some of the most important to us are demonstrating appreciation, allowing employees the freedom to take care of clients, and giving them the technical tools and platforms to thrive more efficiently.”
With such growth, it is a constant balance between maintaining a positive company culture, fostering entrepreneurship as a central core value, and the need to cultivate an army of talented professionals. “Having enough people to do the work is a challenge,” Burrola admits. “We meet that demand with recruitment, but also with team development. We believe in growing people from within. We have several opportunities for people to come together for career advancement. We bring all our new hires to town three times a year to do onboarding, make connections, and build relationships. That’s how the work gets done – people working together, even if they don’t sit in the same office. Because we organize around our clients, and not geographically, teams might be scattered across the country, working together in different time zones, so building those relationships is really important.”
Partner’s commitment to culture has paid off in terms of loyalty. “All of the original founders are still with the company today,” explains Burrola, “so that really speaks to a certain longevity and stability. And frankly, they want to be here.”
- Striving for Excellence in Service Offerings and Technology
For Partner, being the best means offering a multidisciplinary approach to anyone involved at all stages of a real estate asset’s lifecycle – from initial due diligence and design, to development and construction, to ongoing maintenance and optimization. Derhake notes, “We organize around everything a customer buying or operating commercial real estate needs in the engineering world. Bundling is part of our strategy. Other companies may require you to go to several different firms to get all these things done, whereas we take care of everything, nationally, in the engineering space.” Partner’s clients span all aspects of corporate and commercial real estate, from lenders, investors and owners, to developers, government entities, agencies, attorneys, and architects, among others.
Being the best also means investing in the right tools and technology. Partner is committed to integrating technology into its core services and future product innovations. The company employs six full-time programmers, buys software, builds its own software, and customizes software, both to save people time and to deliver better products to clients. “We’ve been able to highly customize our project database to do exactly what we need it to do,” says Burrola. “If an employee has an idea to make their life easier or more efficient, we can do it quickly because we have the resources in-house.”
- Sustainability & Resiliency: Be Part of the Solution
Climate change and building resiliency for natural disasters are growing considerations in the engineering space. Partner is helping the commercial real estate world prepare for, and respond to, these changes while integrating sustainability into their own corporate footprint.
Walking the walk when it comes to sustainability, Partner’s company headquarters is located in a fully-renovated, old telecom building, now powered by solar energy and using indoor plant walls to clean CO2 and maintain air quality. Just two years after Partner Engineering and Science’s establishment, their sister company Partner Energy was founded to provide energy efficiency and sustainability services for the commercial real estate world. Partner also established a rapidly growing solar/renewables group focused on designing utility scale solar farms and providing alternative energy solutions for the commercial real estate industry.
“I really believe solar can be the solution,” says Derhake. But, as he explains, Partner doesn’t view sustainability as “a religion”; the aim is to find the sweet spot where it makes great financial sense for their clients. “It blows your mind to hear it, but solar is less expensive than coal. In terms of the levelized cost of energy, meaning the cost to build and operate the coal plant compared to the cost to build and operate the solar farm, solar is cheaper.” That wasn’t always the case, as Derhake explains: “In the last five years, solar panels, like flat-screen TVs, have gotten cheaper and cheaper. It’s really changing the solar industry. You do not need subsidies anymore. And we’re part of that trend too; our designs are getting more efficient and that reduces the cost of energy from solar.”
Building resiliency has become another growing concern for the commercial real estate industry. Derhake reports, “We have a group of structural engineers that are providing seismic risk assessments and retrofits to make buildings more resilient. We’ve responded to hurricanes, proactively, where we help people understand how to make their real estate more resilient, and reactively after the hurricane, when we try to clear a building of hazards like mold or asbestos so they can go back in.”
- Be Proud of How You Get There
Growing staff and resources spurs Partner’s thriving business, but growing the right way is equally important. While Partner has executed several key and well-timed industry acquisitions, most of their growth has been organic. Ultimately, they would like their growth to be a natural reflection of the initiatives and objectives that originally inspired Partner’s founders to start the company.
“We’ve been on several Fastest Growing Lists – for Inc. 5,000, there are only about 100 firms that have been on it as long as us. But who cares if we grow 50 percent, or five percent, or not at all? Let’s just be proud of how we get there,” Derhake says. Burrola adds: “When our executive team explores any new big ideas for the company, our most significant consideration is our mission statement, and most often, we end up adopting values-based decisions.”
Sticking to their values and internal mission has guided Partner’s growth into a market leading firm and trusted brand. As they look ahead to achieving even bigger goals and innovating products for an ever-changing real estate landscape, those values will continue to be guiding foundation for all they do.
AT A GLANCE
Who: Partner Engineering and Science Inc.
What: Full-service engineering, environmental, and energy consulting and design services
Where: Headquarters in Torrance, CA
Partner Energy – www.ptrenergy.com
A thoughtful approach to energy efficiency and sustainability is key to daily operations, accessing capital, maintaining compliance, and demonstrating a commitment to ESG. Partner Energy’s engineers and consultants support sustainability goals throughout a building’s lifecycle. Our technical expertise and policy insight helps clients develop and implement strategies that endure. firstname.lastname@example.org.