The Hill president and COO travels the world to meet clients and discuss business over a game of golf, or a steak and martini
I live in nearby Princeton which isn’t too far from our corporate headquarters in Marlton, New Jersey. However, my work involves a lot of international travel which takes up at least a quarter to a third of my time.
I wouldn’t say I have much of a ‘normal’ day but, if I’m at home, my typical day starts with my four daughters aged four, seven, seven and eight climbing into bed to wake me.
Due to Hill’s expansion, many of our clients and joint venture companies are now based in the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America. When I’m abroad, a normal day includes meeting with Hill’s international staff, visiting clients, and discussing acquisitions.
Increasingly, we’re conducting long-distance meetings via web conferencing. With international travel becoming more expensive and web conferencing technology so much more sophisticated, it just makes sense. Plus it’s easier on the planet!
The Middle East is very important to us and we’re currently involved in some major projects in that region. While some people think that the business environment is shrinking, Hill has experienced growth by shifting business from places like Abu Dhabi to places like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
As for Latin America, in Mexico we are growing organically, while in Brazil we’re expanding by acquisition. We recently acquired Engineering SA which is a major player in that area with over 400 employees.
I find that there isn’t much differentiation in the business community. Business people tend to like similar things – good food and a drink. So I try to have as many business conversations outside the conference room as I can.
In a more comfortable environment, you can really get to know clients. I usually take them somewhere nice, where the restaurant serves a good steak and a nice martini. However, some of our clients would rather go to a pub so we do that, too.
In my experience, there’s no better place to build a business relationship than on a golf course. Also, when we can, we like to provide our clients with tickets to major US sporting activities like American football and baseball games. Some of Hill’s US clients are public sector firms, so regulations keep them from being able to accept sports tickets. But our private sector clients enjoy them very much.
A great deal of my working life is involved with the sales and business development-side of our company. I am very involved in this process, from proof reading proposals to participation in the marketing side of the business.
Hill’s success has largely been due to the fact that we’ve maintained a strong client-focus for all of the 35 years we’ve been in business. As a result, when we consider possible acquisitions, we tend to look at firms that are also client-focused and growth-oriented since growth is crucial to our business strategy.
Much of my working life is devoted to possible acquisitions and, in fact, my last venture to London was for this exact reason. We’re looking at a very exciting possibility but, since we’re in the early stages, it’s too soon to say more. Some people believe that the UK market has bottomed out, but we think the recovery there will be much quicker than anticipated – possibly in the next two to three years!
Since Hill became a public company in 2006, I have spent a lot of time interacting with our shareholders. This process can sometimes be frustrating, due to the fact that many shareholders are MBAs in their 20s and 30s with limited practical knowledge, experience or understanding of business models. They want, and expect, immediate growth. Our job is to help them understand that, while Hill is not Google!, we’ve undeniably experienced fantastic growth in the past five years.
David L. Richter is president and chief operating officer at Hill International based at the headquarters in Marlton, New Jersey.
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