May 27

Executive Spotlight: James Koch, President of Federal Programs and Services for Michael Baker International


James Koch, president of Federal Programs and Services for Michael Baker International, recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz regarding how the company’s realignment and the new structure has driven value for its customers as well as renewed its focus on the federal marketplace.

In addition, Koch discussed the core values of Michael Baker’s company culture, how they are driving the company’s workflow and success in the competitive marketplace as well as its next steps and growth initiatives moving forward during the latest Executive Spotlight interview.

“Our owners, leaders and colleagues, are committed to our clients, each other and our teaming partners. We invest in our talented staff and the overall company in order to provide the services and end results clients have been accustomed to over the past 82 years since our founding.”

You can read the full interview with James Koch below:

ExecutiveBiz: What can you tell us about the company’s recent growth initiatives and how you’re driving value for your customers through contract awards, acquisitions and other aspects across the federal sector?

James Koch: “At Michael Baker International, we have realistic but ambitious goals. We are focused on internal double-digit growth in both sales and net revenue with the corresponding growth in the backlog.  With our three verticals of Federal Programs and Services, Infrastructure, and Technology and Consulting Services, we have made the transition to a full-service engineering and consulting company.

Within the federal vertical, the majority of our work has been with the Department of Defense, Department of Energy and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. However, we have provided support to over 25 government agencies and expect to increase that number with our renewed focus on federal civilian agencies.

One of the prime reasons for growth is our ability to recruit and retain talent.  Last year, our voluntary turnover was in the single digits and so far this year our turnover is well below the industry average.  A flat organizational structure where we push decision authority and responsibility to the appropriate level enables us to be extremely agile and responsive.  Our culture

We do a lot of work internationally; specifically, we have delivered projects on all seven continents. This overseas work goes back to the 1950s when the founder of the company, Michael Baker, Jr. was providing consulting services within the Middle East.  Within the United States, we were even a designer of record for parts of the Trans Alaska Pipeline.

We provide a great service for our clients and Michael Baker is a client-first organization. Many companies advertise that, but what we feel differentiates us is that we go the extra mile to learn about client expectations and ensure everything is crystal clear.  Once this is done, we move forward together as one project team focused on a successful outcome.”

ExecutiveBiz: How has the recent realignment of Michael Baker’s company structure helped to drive value for your customers and renewed your focus in the federal market?

James Koch: “As of this year, Michael Baker International is more than 80 years old. We started off as a civil engineering firm and our services have evolved alongside our customers. We’ve taken the next step based on market conditions and our clients’ expectations.

Our new structure brings the value of a matrix organization to our clients.   It better integrates the work done in our offices and regions making the organization even flatter.  Our new organization takes the ideas and practices that were often unique to one client and can now bring those to clients across the spectrum.

Within the federal market, we have an enterprise focus.  We bring talent to the project no matter where the talent resides geographically.  Many people in the industry know us for our vast experience on all aspects of horizontal work.  What they don’t realize is that we have very robust architectural, mechanical/electrical/plumbing, fire protection, and planning practices.  Our enterprise approach on federal projects brings this talent to the project with a practice-centric approach.

Often in federal pursuits, the value and expertise one gains in non-federal work is not considered.  Our realignment has given us the ability to cross-train individuals and assure they bring their non-federal project expertise to federal projects.  So, we might not get the non-federal projects in the proposal qualifications, we can bring that individual expertise to the proposal and subsequent projects.

The focus on sustainability, resiliency and cybersecurity is now done at the company level.  Before, we were doing such services for individual clients.  The lessons, and often, the solutions were the same – now we can aggregate that knowledge and bring it to the clients.

ExecutiveBiz: What are the core values that are important to your company’s culture? How has your team developed its workflow and ability to drive success in such a competitive market?

James Koch: “At Michael Baker, the golden rule is the standard and that sums up our core value.

Workflow is fundamentally bringing talent to the client.  We recruit and retain talent.  It’s important for us to recruit talented people with the same basic values that are central to our company and culture. Salary concerns are important, but that’s only part of the equation.

If your people aren’t happy with the culture and don’t feel comfortable in the working environment, it doesn’t matter how much someone is paid.  We strive to provide an environment for professional and personal growth. We continually assess our benefits, our internal practices, our talent management, etc. to provide an environment that satisfies our colleagues.

We look for people who have the fundamental skills that are core to their respective disciplines.  Yet, we have moved on from finding the perfect fit, the proverbial unicorn.  If we find someone with our core values, the necessary technical skills, and the desire to grow professionally and personally, we know we can develop their talent.  We have created an environment to promote such growth.

We want our people to collaborate and get along with each other professionally. Not everyone we hire is going to remain with us for their entire career; we treat people well when we recruit, while they are with the company, but also when they depart. Though this industry is large, it is small, so you never know when you will be working with someone as a client or on a project team.

Michael Baker International is looking for people who want to be here, people who look at this as more than just a job. All of this comes back to our mission to deliver for our clients. Simply put, we can’t provide what our clients need if we can’t deliver the appropriate talent and expertise.

We are as competitive as anyone else, especially in this sector, and our flexibility in terms of location is significant. As previously mentioned, we are a learning organization.  We modify our approach given the changes in the market and the overall environment.

Recently, we have opened our aperture to a more robust hybrid workforce.  In all honestly, we’ve been driving a hybrid workforce for some time because our staff is already spread across the globe but we expanded this approach to the total workforce.

Success is about delivering the right talent at the appropriate quality level to satisfy the client’s expectations. At Michael Baker International, we know we have the appropriate formula to meet those expectations.”



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