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Raising the bar for engineering consulting services
Barry Skoultchi is the CEO of Whitman, an engineering consulting firm based in Cranbury, New Jersey. Whitman provides an extensive variety of services, such as due diligence, land surveying, structural design and engineering, air quality inspection, energy project development, and much more. Since Barry took over in 2003, the company has acquired several major engineering firms, including Brownworth Engineering and Pro-Tech Energy Solutions. In addition to his role at Whitman, Barry is also a member of American Academy of Environmental Engineers, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the Air & Waste Management Association, the Environmental Business Association of New Jersey, and the Water Environment Federation.
You talked about the Brownworth Engineering acquisition. How was Pro-Tech Energy Solutions deal different?
BARRY SKOULTCHI: I am very proud of Pro-Tech Energy Solutions and the role that we’ve played. First of all, I’ve always had a passion for energy—it’s one of my hobbies, if you will. In 2008–2009, the solar industry started to blossom in the United States, it started to really blossom in New Jersey, and we looked at Pro-Tech as an opportunity where we could make a splash—make a play in the solar market on the construction and development side by also creating a need for engineering for Whitman. In 2009, Whitman became the only investor in Pro-Tech. We provided seed capital for a startup, I actually ran the company for about a year plus, acting as a liaison, providing Whitman resources to help them get on their feet—marketing support, accounting support, administrative support—and it was a great investment. We are now 25% owners in Pro-Tech.
Pro-Tech, their first year in business in 2009, they did roughly $6 million in revenue and they were profitable. In 2014, they did over $60 million in revenue and they’ve been profitable five out of six years.
Can you share a recent success story with us?
The project that we just did in Howell, New Jersey, I personally take a large degree of satisfaction in. I’m very proud of that because we helped a property owner who was stuck, we secured financing for the project, and Pro-Tech Energy and my solar company built it. So, it’s really a trifecta. The project was stalled because the solar market hasn’t been a smooth ride. Like any other industry, there’s been ups and downs. This landowner got his project approved for solar back in 2011, then the industry had a rough ride. He was stuck with the project, stuck with the property, couldn’t do anything with it. I spent almost two years courting him, trying to convince him of the added value that we’d bring to the table, that we’re not just a construction company, that we’re engineers, we understand finance, and he finally drank the Kool-Aid and gave us an opportunity. Within three months after that milestone, we got his project financed through a New Jersey utility, we got all the approvals, we constructed the project, and it’s been operating flawlessly for the past six months.
Where do you see yourself and the company in five, ten years?
Future opportunities for Whitman, I think they’re tremendous. I think they are tremendous because when Todd and I acquired the company, what we realized early on was that the two of us were the bottleneck in the company. Like any growing company, it’s the founders—it’s the people who are the focal point—that can sometimes retard the growth of the company. So what we thought over the last couple of years is we’ve built a tremendous management team, people with many different backgrounds who come at problems in many different ways, and I believe that that foundation is going to allow Whitman to prosper.
What we’ve also done with one of them is we’re planning our own transition. One of the shortcomings of many entrepreneurs is an exit strategy. You don’t go into business, frankly, without having that known and identified. We have our exit strategy. Our exit strategy is to do what our Whitman did with us, to identify a couple of key people, to allow them to build the team, and to transfer the company. One of the other benefits that having a strong management team, and this is really selfish on my part, is it’s allowed me to be a real entrepreneur. I’m no longer involved with the day to day operation of the company. My job is to go out and to find the next Pro-Tech, and that’s what I’m doing.
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