Case Studies

McMahon Associates Inc.

Solving Transportation Problems

McMahon Associates Inc. (McMahon Associates), an award-winning company of transportation engineers and planners, provides the East Coast with full coverage. McMahon Associates has 12 offices dotted along the East Coast, spanning from Florida to Massachusetts, with its headquarters located just outside of Philadelphia in Fort Washington, Pa.

Joe McMahon, founder and chairman of the board of McMahon Associates, has led the company since 1976, when it was just him in the office. However, the company has experienced significant growth since its founding, which continued through the recent economic downturn.

As a leader in its field, McMahon Associates works for public and private clients. The amount of success the firm has experienced in 37 years is in part due to Joe’s personal drive and his learning what to do, and what not to do, as an engineer and executive.

Engineers First and Foremost

McMahon Associates devises long-range traffic solutions, while anticipating and managing potential future maintenance issues. “Our start was in traffic engineering and traffic impact studies,” explains Joe. He goes on to note that he and his wife set up an operation in his kitchen, managing traffic flow for development projects.

Although the company embraces change, knowing it’s the key to evolving and lasting in a fluctuating marketplace, it sticks to what it does best: “We’re engineers,” says Joe. “We see the bigger picture. Clients bring their problems to us and we work with them to solve them.”

Solving problems for longtime clients, such as Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (Penn D.O.T.) and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC), as well as the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and many townships and cities (e.g., Philadelphia, Pa.; Cambridge, Mass.; Fort Myers, Fla.; Pawtucket, R.I.), is McMahon Associates’ expertise.

According to Joe, the focus for the immediate future is on the implementation of a recently constructed five-year strategic plan, as the company ramps up its design-build work and continues to secure large public sector contracts.  While focused on the core engineering business, the plan also embraces change through an IT-based asset management program, Tracking Real-time Assets Infrastructure Systems and Reporting (TRAISR), which is a major investment in the future.

Partnering for Success

“We partner with really large firms,” says Joe. “We want the big guys to come to us.” In turn, McMahon Associates doesn’t try to outgrow its role but instead keeps its focus on transportation. “We don’t want to compete with our clients,” he continues.

Public agencies and commercial developers hire McMahon Associates to provide several transportation services, which include: traffic engineering, planning, feasibility studies, design, and construction observation and management. The company also creates intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and ensures the safety of dams, water resources and bridges.

The idea has long been to diversify, cast a wide geographical net and secure equal amounts of work from the public and private sectors. Over the years, McMahon Associates has learned that it can’t control the economy, but it can control its finances.

“I learned to manage our finances from day one,” says Joe. Through recessions and hard times – downsizing from 25 to 12 employees in the early ’90s, experiencing zero profit and taking no salary in 1992, as well as double-mortgaging his home – Joe has kept McMahon Associates afloat.

In order to get by during the recession of the early 1990s, McMahon Associates went after corporate clients, such as Walmart and Lowes. “We knew they’d pay their bills,” says Joe. The company also increased work in the public sector, which continues to provide copious projects.

The public side of business remains a reliable source of work today and was again relied upon in 2008. Around this time business slowed in Florida, yet grew in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions; Joe credits geographical diversification as the reason why the firm was able to grow throughout the most recent recession. Now, the company has approximately 125 full-time equivalent employees and provides, what Joe says, has been the focus from the start, and the reason why he founded his own firm: work-life balance.

A Redistribution of Work

Right out of Villanova with a bachelor’s of civil engineering degree, Joe joined an elite consulting firm, run in part by a founder of the American Public Transit Association, and worked to transition private transit companies to the public sector as they were bought out in the late 1960s and ’70s when profitability plunged.

Halfway through this decade-long transition, the consulting firm was acquired by Booz Allen Hamilton. Joe cut his project management teeth during this time, but burnt himself out on travel, which comprised 60 percent of his work week. “I was traveling from Philadelphia to San Francisco every week,” Joe explains, adding with a laugh that, “McMahon Associates offices are all on the East Coast. The founder does not like jet lag.” Plus, he says, “I chose to get to know my kids.”

There was no downtime for Joe after leaving Booz Allen: within a few days a call came in recruiting him as a traffic engineer. It was then that Joe and his wife, with a portable electric typewriter on the kitchen counter, began doing traffic impact studies for development-related projects, such as residential projects with local approvals. “I said to myself, ‘Wow, this might be a business,'” tells Joe.

Sure enough, McMahon Associates is now a go-to firm, well-known for its engineering expertise and broad-reaching abilities. In 2005, the company joined the American Council of Engineering Companies and continues to find the membership valuable today. “We learn more from the mistakes of others than through personal trial and error,” he explains. In particular, the lessons of others helped McMahon Associates save $150,000 while upgrading its accounting software.

The Future is Secure

As it grows, McMahon Associates’ mission remains to provide exceptional client service while focusing on employee success. One way the company achieves this is through exceptional internal communication and another is by offering its highly-valued employees – of which a fair amount have been with the firm for decades – a piece of the pie through ownership.

In 2002, Joe went from being the lone, 100-percent shareholder to sharing a piece of the rock with some major folks. Now, 28 shareholders – six of which are members of the executive board – own the company, together. McMahon Associates keeps its employees in the know in terms of financial information, as well.

“I firmly believe in people having knowledge,” he says. Every year Joe delivers a State of the Firm address at the annual meeting of shareholders, and then takes this information on the road to each and every office.

What it really boils down to is attitude; Joe is an optimist. “Optimism is at the core of what McMahon Associates is about,” Joe says proudly. “We believe we can solve problems.” And, the company does just that, while also gaining attention and numerous awards for being both a highly desirable workplace and a top engineering firm. McMahon Associates Inc. has no plans of slowing down in 2014.

Published on: August 5, 2014

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