Embracing Change

WithersRavenel
Written by Pauline Müller

The future belongs to those who adapt fastest. It’s no wonder, then, that WithersRavenel has a bright and uncompromising future to look forward to after four decades of providing top-notch land development and municipal consultant services. As reflected in its robust 18 percent annual growth rate in recent years, the company adapts to clients’ needs with ease.

It appears to be all in a day’s work for this team of more than 400 people. With its vast range of capabilities, there is little this company cannot do to create success for its people and its clients. Its digital-driven asset management program is one of those services, optimizing through essential life cycle forecasting and costing for transportation systems, water and sewer systems, and facilities.

WithersRavenel is flying high and deservedly so. While celebrating four decades of serving industries in need of engineering, surveying, and planning, the company is also celebrating the opening of a new office in uptown Charlotte, North Carolina. Its headquarters will also have a new home in the Rogers Building in Cary, just over two hours from Charlotte.

“We don’t grow for growth’s sake,” says Jim Canfield, President. “We grow to make a difference, to provide more opportunity for our team.” With a tenure of nearly 40 years, Canfield is a proponent of nurturing relationships, and so is the rest of the team.

“It’s like a marriage. You want them to last forever, and that’s how you build relationships through the hard times: through perseverance, caring, and really trusting in each other,” says Brock Storrusten, Chief Strategy Officer, highlighting the importance of “assuming positive intent as we move through change.”

This has proven beneficial, as is evident in the hefty collection of awards the company has brought home. WithersRavenel received the Zweig Hot Firm award at number 36 earlier this year for employee expansion and fiscal solidity over the past three years, improving its spot on the charts by nine positions since 2022. Alongside this, it won the Business North Carolina Mid-Market Fast 40 Award for the third time in three years, celebrating its strong approach to business strategy. There was also a fifth-consecutive-year achievement when the company was honored with a Triangle Business Journal Fast 50 award in November 2023.

“The company’s success is about our common-sense approach, our salt of the earth, get-it-done mentality. Our people are very collaborative, innovative, and entrepreneurial. They have integrity, and we live our core values every day,” says Storrusten.

The firm’s vigorous growth is partially attributed to its novel approach to elevating customer experience. It is armed with a group of client experience managers (CXMs) skilled in ensuring that clients are heard while understanding the company’s capabilities. The company also prides itself on transparency and providing customers with open lines of communication and easy access to decision-makers and management. Thanks to their knowledge in a range of fields, WithersRavenel’s professionals handle client portfolios with a depth of understanding that would not be possible otherwise.

In tandem with the CXM process, WithersRavenel developed an employee experience tool to keep checks and balances on all its relationships. Furthermore, the company developed what it calls ‘The WithersRavenel Way.’ Based on its core values, these 26 fundamental behaviors guide the team with intentionalism and passion to look forward and plan with their people and their clients to pre-empt any potential issues, mitigate problems, or even solve them before they can occur.

“Our main goal is to be perfectly aligned with what your needs are and to be a solution provider for you no matter what your challenges are,” says Eddie Staley, Chief Experience and Innovation Officer (CXIO). Adding to everybody’s best interests is the fact that, as an employee stock ownership program (ESOP) company, every employee has an owner’s interest in the success of their clients and people.

The CXM program was founded in 2016 when the notion was unheard of in the industry. In collaboration with Client Savvy, a firm that helps companies understand what their customers want, WithersRavenel developed a client feedback tool process that seamlessly integrates with its delivery system, allowing customers to easily respond with their thoughts on service and product delivery every step of the way. This tool allows the company to improve its services and client experience and, more importantly, guides the team on how to get there together.

The initiative has paid dividends. As a proud recipient of the CX-cellence award from Client Savvy for the sixth consecutive year and the Zweig Excellence in Client Experience Gold Award in 2023 and Silver in 2022, the company’s reputation for service excellence is well established.

But that is not all the technology WithersRavenel introduced in the past few years; the team launched WRT, via an innovation portal open to everyone in the firm with innovation concepts they want explored for implementation. As well as employee input, it also invites innovation requests from clients. A recent example is the development of LiftCommand, software that tracks flow across civil infrastructure between pump stations and treatment plants. In addition, the software supports local governments in the permitting process.

WithersRavenel also helped develop comprehensive land-use investment decision software and implementation that saves cities tremendous amounts of money as it establishes, compares, and analyzes existing sewer capacity and expansion demands based on future urban planning trends.

While there have been many notable project successes over the years, a few stand out, like Chatham Park, a development of more than 7,000 acres in Pittsboro, near Raleigh, North Carolina. The biggest of its kind on the East Coast, this breathtaking development is earmarked for completion in 2035 and will feature well over 20,000 residential units, for which WithersRavenel is the lead designer and engineer of private and some public projects within the mixed-use development. Complete with commercial zones, schools, a nature reserve, greenways, trails, and much more, the project is already making waves in the region.

Beyond the sheer amount of work it has done in the private arena, WithersRavenel has also helped secure an incredible amount of money for municipalities and counties needing new infrastructure. “With the acquisition of Martin-McGill (a funding consulting firm) nearly six years ago, we’ve acquired close to $1 billion’s worth of funding for our municipal clients to help them expand water and sewer lines, treatment facilities, and to build parks… to do all the things that local governments need to do,” Staley says of the assistance the company has given to help municipalities secure state funding and grants to help update and safeguard aging infrastructure.

One case in point is the commendable work the team did in Selma, within Johnston County, North Carolina, where the company was called in to help solve the aged infrastructure issue that was keeping the community from growing and holding it hostage economically. WithersRavenel stepped up and helped secure more than $15 million in state funding that has returned hope and profitable prospects to the people of Selma. The company looks forward to being a part of more such stories as the country looks to replace infrastructure throughout.

Indeed, WithersRavenel’s history is one of trailblazing and unwavering positivity. Innovative and tenacious to the core, engineers and founders Tony Withers and Sam Ravenel started the company in an economic downturn, circa 1983. Following a period of strategic hires during which it built its team to around 40 people, the company thrived, growing and adding services that developers needed.

After two decades of service, Staley is still impressed with the firm’s tradition of being an early adopter of next-generation ideas. He was originally appointed to run the geographic information systems (GIS) development division—the first of its kind at the time, to his knowledge. He was also instrumental in securing local government contracts for the firm, and today, the market share between its government and private work is about equal, which was a strategic objective for the firm to provide business resiliency through market changes.

Team members’ core strengths and weaknesses are assessed and analyzed to ensure that every person brings their unique set of skills and strengths to their position. In addition, nobody is forced to work onsite; instead, people are invited to work from wherever is best for them through a spirit of accountability and trust. The result, since the beginning of COVID-19, has been surprisingly progressive, cultivating a more connected, productive workplace than anyone could have imagined.

Continuing education is another priority. To achieve this, the company committed to establishing the WithersRavenel University (WRU) Leadership Academy, which will soon offer a selection of subjects and fields of study to support wellness and personal development, technical and leadership development, succession planning, and other fields.

The company also hosts an annual Owners’ Day where the previous year is celebrated and the future is discussed, usually combined with a charitable activity in the community.

“This year, being our 40th anniversary, was a very special day of owners gathering together,” says Staley. “While we are over 400 people, we still feel like a team of 40. We feel like a family. We’re all here to mentor and make each other better.” It is these close ties that strengthen the team, reminding everyone of why they choose to be here. Some of the company’s staff even left previous positions to join and be part of the action.

Awards for its staff satisfaction are yet another reminder. The Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) has honored the firm with several awards since 2021, bestowing upon it another Well Workplace Award in 2023 following a gold award last year. Coming out on top in its category in the 2022 annual local ‘Healthiest Employers’ awards program followed a fourth position just the previous year.

“We are a destination place to work, and the work we do is a by-product of who we are… We’re a gathering place for talent,” says Staley, who admits that finding people of the caliber WithersRavenel favors is tough and a part of why the company looks after its people so well.

It also does a lot to cultivate talent in young people through STEM school programs and more. “We attend and are highly engaged in almost every civil engineering program throughout several southeastern states, getting to know students who are going through their training,” Staley adds.

In this way, the company supports and fosters local talent in ways that go above and beyond what many others in the industry are prepared to do. WithersRavenel also supports programs like the Miracle League where children with disabilities play baseball and are supported with a buddy system; firm co-founder Tony Withers helped bring the Miracle League to the North Carolina Triangle and the firm continues to support the organization through volunteer days. This creates community and allows them to become the best version of themselves alongside company team members.

By improving the future for others, WithersRavenel also improves its own. Looking toward expanding services further throughout the United States with a focus on expanding the number of offices in operation beyond its dominant North Carolina presence to the southeastern United States, the company is putting every effort into establishing itself as a leader in the American market based on its innovative services and well-formulated strategies.

Building communities is at the core of the company’s pride in the work it does, and so the team is committed to keeping up the good work, getting it done, and growing its people, clients, and markets. Its commitment to adapting and evolving remains constant, particularly concerning communities in dire need of upgraded infrastructure and helping communities grow through resilient development. By staying the course and investing in game-changing technology, this thought leader is ready to take on whatever the future holds.

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