Indicted Birdsall Services Group – Lessons to be Learned

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The media headlines read INDICTED NJ ENGINNERING FIRM, BIRDSALL SERVICES GROUP, SOLD FOR $5.6 MILLION TO CALIFORNIA FIRM. The winning bidder at the auction, PARTNER ASSESSMENT, immediately pledged that it won’t make political contributions in New Jersey. PARTNER ASSESSMENT took over BIRDSALL’s existing contracts and future revenue, which include several major government funded projects. About 135 of Birdsall’s 325 employees have remained with the company. PARTNER ASSESSMENT has about 250 employees in 24 offices. 7 former Birdsall executives pleaded not guilty on “pay to play” charges.

Ugly huh?

As a resident of New Jersey, an advocate for economic development, a growth strategist focused on privately held midsized companies, and a long time board member for the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce…the story generates mixed feelings for me.  Plus FELLOW level training from the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) and my experience as a board member leaves me asking questions.

  • Who was serving on the BIRDSALL GROUP board of directors? 
  • What was the board’s role?
  • If the leaders of the company were actually trying to circumvent government regulations related to political contributions, were their board members aware?  Informed? In agreement? involved?
  • Had anyone asked the tough questions?

I can just hear many peoples’ response reading my questions.  “How naïve is she?  Of course they knew!  Come on, the company is based in New Jersey.”  Folks, I have seen many changes and a great deal of progress in New Jersey despite this state’s challenges. You cannot automatically assume that the board was fully informed or involved.

Plus, this blog is about growing companies, not NJ politics.  Many privately held companies have no independent board members. Ask yourself if your board (if it exists) would have asked tough questions about how your firm is winning big government contracts?  Would you have welcomed the candid discussion about the pros and cons of testing the limits of what has been “normal for years” versus fully legal and ethical? Who sits on your board? People who have agreed with whatever you want to do?

A review of a company’s ethics is in my own due diligence when I am vetted as a possible board member. When it comes to engineering firms in any state, I would know to ask how the firm approaches the role of township engineer and interacts with politicians. Those are early questions in that process.

  • So am I a more prepared and appropriate board member for your privately held company if I had never been invited to serve on BIRDSALL’s board?  Accepted the invitation, spoke up, and had to resign?

OR

  •   Would I be a qualified board member for your midsized company if I had served on the Birdsall board as it grew and was still active as the government charges started to come in?

Growth. Wealth. Success.  It’s all pretty intoxicating. If the growth and success of your business led you to consider unethical or illegal approaches, would your board be able to prevent what happened to the Birdsall Group?

About Aldonna Ambler:
Known as The Growth Strategist®, Aldonna Ambler built and grew a suite of companies to help midsized B2B companies achieve accelerated growth with sustained profitability® A Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), Ambler has addressed over 2000 audiences and hosted a syndicated online talk show about growth strategies for 9 years. As a growth financing intermediary, Ambler raised over $1 Bil dollars for midsized companies. The winner of over 2 dozen prestigious national and statewide "entrepreneur of the year" awards, Ambler is available to speak about “profitable growth during any economy” and/or serve on the board of a growth-oriented privately-held company.

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