Meeting the challenges of globalization

This firm’s globalization process has come with many “lessons learned.”


Martin (Mickey) Reiss, PE, FSFPE, The RJA Group Inc.Back in 1969 when Rolf Jensen founded his fire protection engineering firm, Rolf Jensen + Associates (RJA), the center of the universe was Chicago, our headquarters city. In the beginning, our clients were Chicago-based architecture and engineering (A+E) firms that needed RJA’s expertise in code consulting in order to achieve their innovative building designs while meeting the intent of the life safety codes and standards. Today, our company has offices providing a wide range of services around the world and has participated in projects in more than 60 countries. I can assure you that our firm’s globalization process has come with many “lessons learned.”

Support your clients globally

As we pursued project opportunities, first in the United States and then globally, our primary goal was to deliver our scope of services wherever our clients worked in the world. For example, as the market in China started to emerge, we opened an office in Shanghai and started building a relationship with the Chinese fire officials. When our clients began arriving to do work in China, we were already established there and were able to provide them with a combination of local knowledge and technical expertise. We’ve repeated this strategy as we opened offices in other global locations.

Deploy your technical resources as a team

In engineering consulting firms, the most important resources are our technical staff. In today’s world, our professionals are smart, curious, aggressive, and always looking for a team challenge. Global projects provide the opportunity to marshal resources from throughout the company and focus these strengths on a project in Asia, the Middle East, or anywhere in the world where our clients are operating.

Whether this calls for rotating people in and out of the project site, or relocating them for a specific period of time, we’ve found that global assignments are highly sought after by our best people. They appreciate the opportunity to work together on a challenging project with a variety of teammates in a new setting. What they take away from the experience makes them better, more confident professionals. It also provides them with an opportunity to take some extra time to enjoy the wonderful sights and people in all parts of the world.

Stick to your project management standards

Every client expects a quality solution to a specific challenge. In the engineering consulting profession, as in just about every other type of business, we provide consistent quality performance by adhering to “best practice” project management standards. Just because the project happens to be located in Abu Dhabi or Macau doesn’t change the need to follow proven procedures. You will need to adapt to local requirements, but the basic attention to quality standards should never vary.

Apply the latest proven technology

Notice I didn’t say to be on the “bleeding edge” of technology. That’s a recipe for disaster. But global projects do tend to test the limitations of communications. So you need to make sure your technology gurus evaluate each global opportunity. Technological tools can range from tablets and project management apps to cell phones and file transfer protocol (FTP) sites. Just keep in mind, one reason you’re being chosen to participate in the project undoubtedly is the reputation U.S. firms have for being on the leading edge.

The results can be incredible

In the future when I retire from RJA, I hope that one of my legacies at our company will be the pursuit of a global presence. It started when I joined the company in the early 1990s, and I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to talk with our consultants who have participated in landmark projects all over the world. Going global is not an easy journey, but it is a destination definitely worth the trip.

Martin (Mickey) Reiss is president and CEO of The RJA Group Inc., parent company of Rolf Jensen + Associates Inc. He is a member of the Consulting-Specifying Engineer editorial advisory board.  

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