Small Business, Big Projects
Sep 5, 2012
by Nancy S. Giges ASME.org
With a mechanical engineering degree and several years of experience at a large, Manhattan-based engineering consulting firm under his belt, Laurence J. Barile returned to his roots, a small multidisciplinary firm founded by his father and a partner in White Plains, NY.
That was some 27 years ago, and he has never looked back. Barile literally started from the ground up, sweeping floors from the age of 11 at Damiano Barile Engineers, but after graduating from Manhattan College, he wanted a taste of a larger firm. He was a pioneer in the field of computer-aided drafting and design, and at Syska Hennessey, one of the largest U.S.-based global engineering design firms, he was an early adopter of CAD and drafting software for the firm. He brought those skills to Damiano Barile, where he and the firm have thrived.
The Ideal Size
Barile believes that Damiano Barile's consistency, continuity, and teamwork have been keys to its success. He credits identifying just the ideal size, meaning number of employees, as a major contributor. Over the years, the firm has grown and shrunk, and Barile says "we keep coming back to this sweet spot where we are now." That "sweet spot" consists of 10 employees, mostly engineers, a couple of draftsmen, and administrative staff.
He said the firm has been twice as large at times, but it simply wasn't efficient. "We found that [the additional staff] added overhead, management and human resources requirements that diminished the benefits of being that large. This is our break-even point," he says.
Although a small firm, that hasn't limited Damiano Barile to small projects, especially since the firm offers consulting engineering services in HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems. "Mechanical and electrical work hand-in-hand. There needs to be tight coordination. The mechanical equipment we are putting in a building needs power," he explains. "For the same reason, the plumbing needs to be coordinated. Having all those things in house is tradition on our side, and tradition for a reason."
One recent project Barile points to proudly is a 120,000 sq. ft. elementary school in White Plains. The school is recognized as one of the few truly sustainable school buildings in New York State. The project included geothermal HVAC, high efficiency lighting with daylighting controls, solar domestic hot-water generation, super high-efficiency back-up boiler for redundancy, green roofs, sustainable wood and fabric products, and many other "green" features.
Another recent high-efficiency public project is a new library in Mt. Kisco, NY, that replaced an inefficient, dim, drafty energy hog.
Being consistent and having a good team that works well together promotes productivity, he says, noting that employees tend to come and stay providing continuity. "Shorter" duration at Damiano Barile means employees with three or four years with the firm. With today's often revolving door in many companies, the length of service at Damiano Barile is not insignificant.
"That consistency and continuity lead to good productivity," says Barile. "The guy who is there on day 1 of your project is likely to be the guy there on day 101."
The same continuity also comes from having principal involvement on every project. "The ownership is very close to the people doing the work on the job, and we're involved," he says. "There aren't layers of bureaucracy. The people with the name on the door are intimate with every project."
The firm is very mindful that it is in the service business. "When someone calls, they can speak with someone whose name is on the door to discuss a problem or issue. Every construction project is going to have problems. It's not a matter of whether you have problems but how you deal with problems," says Barile.
Nancy Giges is an independent writer.
We found that [the additional staff] added overhead, management, and human resources requirements that diminished the benefits of being that large.Laurence J. Barile, Damiano Barile Engineers