Fleis & VandenBrink (F&V), which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in January, has reached a milestone in staffing with the hiring of its 200th employee.
Larry Fleis, along with his friend and partner Steve Vanden Brink, started the multi-discipline engineering firm in 1993 in Grand Rapids.
“Considering that our company started with just Steve and I and has grown to over 200 is incredible to me,” said Fleis, co-founder and Chairman of the Board. “We’ve grown a client base and expanded services in a Michigan market that really hasn’t grown that much since we started.”
Today the firm has seven offices in Michigan and two in Indiana. F&V also has two sister companies, FV Construction (FVC) and FV Operations & Resources Management, Inc. (FVOP).
“We started as two civil engineers and today we are a major player in the engineering industry in Michigan and Indiana,” Fleis added.
“I never imagined F&V would be 100 people, let alone 200, when I joined in the summer of 1993,” said Paul R. Galdes, PE, F&V president, principal and first engineer hired. “The growth is a result of taking care of clients to the point that we have become the go-to firm for many municipalities, agencies and developers.”
The firm was recently recognized as the 30th fastest growing engineering company in the United States and Canada over the last three years.
Rich Grant, PE, Principal Emeritus and former Manager of the Process Engineering Group, said reaching 200 employees is “pretty cool.”
“What it means is that people stick around and they like working at F&V,” said Grant, who started at F&V in 1997. “So many of the first employees are still with us.”
In the beginning, the firm offered just the “bread and butter” municipal engineering services – water, sewer and roads. The first employees were originally part-time and spouses of the co-founders – Jackie Fleis and Therese Vanden Brink.
F&V expanded from just one office in Grand Rapids, to one in Traverse City in 2000 and Muskegon in 2001.
“I have been here through the addition of the other six offices and many, many staff,” said John DeVol, PE, a Senior Associate and office manager in Traverse City who started at F&V in 2004. “Although the company has grown, our core values have really stayed the same. We value our people and take care of our clients.”
“Reaching 200 is pretty incredible,” said Gary Bartow, an Associate and co-manager of the East Michigan Services Group. “We have grown the firm in a careful and strategic path to allow for financial success and provided our clients with the personal service they have received since the firm was started.”
Bartow, who has been managing the Midland office since he joined F&V in 2008, is optimistic about the firm’s future.
“As we move forward, we need to be committed to providing our clients with exceptional service and taking care of their needs,” Bartow said. “We need to be sensitive to the changing economic conditions and look at opportunities that will assist with our continued growth and profitability.”
The growing client base enabled the firm to expand services from typical municipal road and utility work to full environmental, process, survey, design-build, water and wastewater operations, traffic, architectural, landscape architectural and even emergency management services.
“Experienced professionals from other backgrounds have brought new ideas as well as validated that many of our processes are as good as or better than what they have seen,” Galdes noted. “The growth has also brought in significant young talent and energy.”
“F&V’s growth is more than just butts in seats,” said Kendall Beck, PE, Land Development Group manager who joined F&V in 2005. “It’s new services and expanded opportunities, hard work and a lot of creative thinking.”
Deb Lajoice, an administrative assistant for the East Michigan Services Group, said she’s seen the staff “increase considerably” since she joined in 2010.
“It’s very exciting, but what is even more amazing is to hear the president of F&V call all staff members by their names,” Lajoice said. “It shows that every staff member is important to him.”
Galdes said clients’ confidence that F&V will not only do the job technically, but ethically, has been a big plus.
“There is nothing more satisfying to me than when a client says that they ‘trust’ that we will make recommendations or act in their best interest,” Galdes said. “Our staff knows that doing what’s right for the client only leads to more work in the long term.”
Lisa Easterwood, a project manager/planner in Grand Blanc, said the firm’s growth reflects client happiness and repeat business.
“Clients continue to bring us work that requires us to hire more people,” said Easterwood, who joined F&V in 2010. “And our reputation is such that we appeal to new talent as a fun company they want to work for.”
Elaine Venema, PE, project engineer/manager with the Water Resources Group, credits much of F&V’s growth to its ability to tap into state funding sources and beat out competitors.
“This is a great time to be part of the excellent team here and to continue our history of doing what we say we’re going to do and keeping our clients happy,” said Venema, who started with F&V in 2006. “It says a lot about not just our management team, but about the entire company – how we all have our jobs to do to keep things on the right track.”
As far as the future of the firm, the sky may be the limit.
“The future is bright,” Galdes said. “I really believe that our employees can take this company to all new heights if they choose and continue valuing the things F&V has traditionally valued.”
“I tell every person that interviews with us that the sky is the limit here,” DeVol said. “We just need to continue to work hard to make sure that the growth we have experienced does not become a bubble.
“The work is out there, but everyone in the company needs to do their part to deliver quality service to our clients and keep them coming back again and again. Who knows, maybe in 10 years we can talk about having 500 people!”