Authors: Peiffer Brandt, Rob Ori, and Samantha Villegas
Raftelis recently acquired Florida-based Public Resources Management Group (PRMG). This adds 12 consultants to the roster, bringing the total Raftelis staff count to more than 100 across the US. Both firms have been around since the early 1990s, often in competition with each other, though PRMG was focused primarily in Florida and the Southeastern U.S. Though both offer expertise in the water, sewer, and stormwater sectors, PRMG brings added capabilities to the firm in the electric, natural gas, and solid waste markets.
Raftelis communications consultant Sam Villegas sat down with PRMG CEO Rob Ori and Raftelis President and CEO Peiffer Brandt to discuss their future together. The following is an excerpt from the interview. You can listen to the full audio version below.
Samantha Villegas: First, I was wondering if you both would take a minute to tell us about yourselves. Rob, can we start with you?
Rob Ori: Sure, I am president of PRMG. I started the company back in 1994. We just hit our 25th year anniversary, so we’re really proud of that. I am a certified public accountant, and I’ve been doing utility rates and financial consulting for local governments for about 41 years. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I love what we do. It’s always exciting and I learn something new every day.
Peiffer Brandt: I have been with Raftelis for a little over 21 years. I’ve had a chance to work for utilities around the country on financial and rate issues. It’s been a very fulfilling career and it is exciting work, helping utilities with something as precious and life sustaining as water.
SV: What’s something about each of you that people wouldn’t know from your bio or resume?
RO: I’m a big camper, and a person who likes to be in the woods and the outdoors. My wife and I have been camping for 21 years. That’s tent camping, by the way – we still sleep on the ground and it’s a lot of fun. Also, in my earlier life, I was a surfer. Being from Florida, that’s something you do, and you’d never see that on my resume.
SV: Very, very cool. I like to camp too, but I’m more of a glamper as they say. Peiffer, how about you?
PB: I love to play golf. But, unfortunately between job and kids, I don’t get an opportunity to play that much. One other thing is I’m finishing a term as the president of my class at Princeton University, and we just had our 25th reunion. It was interesting to be that involved with the university in that capacity, to see how the university works and understand that a little bit better.
RO: There is one thing I want to add. The other thing I really like to do is to go fishing, and every other year we’ve been going to Alaska to fish out there. And Peiffer doesn’t know this yet, but I’m going to get him out to fish in Alaska with us here in the next couple of years.
PB: Yeah, I will go. I would love that.
SV: Very cool. Well, let’s continue with you Peiffer. How, how did the idea come about to bring the two companies together?
PB: We’ve always been very impressed with PRMG and their strength in the Florida market. Seven years ago, we hired Tony Hairston to lead our Orlando office. Tony had worked for PRMG for the past 15 years before joining us, and over time, he continued to check in with PRMG every so often just to see how things were going. And then, Tony and I talked, and we thought maybe we ought to throw this idea of an acquisition out there and see if there might be some interest. So, Tony contacted Rob to test the waters, and he sensed that there might be some interest. After doing that, he set up a lunch meeting and, as they say, the rest is history.
SV: Peiffer, you said you have always been impressed by PRMG. What are some things that were impressive to you?
PB: They’re very client focused and, as a result, they’ve been able to maintain strong client relationships and keep clients. So that aspect was very attractive, and I also think it’s consistent with how we try to do things. So, I thought it’d be a natural fit for us to come together.
SV: Rob, same question, as the CEO of PRMG why was this a good idea for you all?
RO: Well, we needed to plan for the succession of our firm to the future. I’ll echo what Peiffer said. We’ve known about Raftelis for 25 years, basically since we started the firm. I have been impressed with their national presence and all the work that they’ve done. To me it was kind of the perfect fit. We’d rather be with a relatively small firm and keep the family type atmosphere which Raftelis has. Second, they have a strong financial focus, which is what we have. Third, they promote value for their clients and that’s one of our major drivers and objectives. You mentioned that we do solid waste, electric, and natural gas and we do chilled water and governmental services. And Raftelis provides areas of expertise that we don’t, like affordability, management services, IT services, and the national perspective. So, it seemed like a good fit and we’re very excited.
PB: Let me just add a couple of things on that. One is that we do have a similar culture, and I think that’s so critical to success when two firms are coming together. Also, the market continues to grow in Florida, so we wanted to have a stronger presence there. As people move around, water issues are only going to grow – and particularly in areas like Florida, Texas, and California, that are all high-growth, coastal areas. Tony and Mike Rocca, who have led our Florida practice, have done a great job establishing a toe hold for us in Florida. But we realized we needed to do more to have a greater presence, so we’re excited.
SV: Rob, you mentioned that your staff is as excited as you are about this. What are they most excited about do you think?
RO: Well, you’d think they’d be concerned about uncertainty in an acquisition, but I think this brings them more certainty that their careers will continue to move on. They see a lot of benefit and excitement from the Raftelis platform with the national perspective, the clients, the increased services. I think they’re all excited about that – that their careers, not only will continue to grow, but be enhanced. And they sense that, and it’s powerful.
SV: Staying with you, Rob, being 41 years in, what do you foresee are some trends in our space over the next five years, and how are we, together, uniquely qualified to excel in that space?
RO: I think the marketplace is changing quite a bit. Climate change is a big issue. We’ve been talking with Alexandria, Virginia about that. They have issues with sea level rise from the Potomac River and they’re constructing over $400 million worth of tunnels for combined sewer overflows. So, I see a dynamic shift in our clients’ needs – whether it’s climate change, or population shifts, or lack of capital reinvestment, which we all know is a big issue in our sector, and couple that with affordability and knowledge of your customer base. Together, we have a group of professionals that have kind of seen it all and are living the change, and I think that provides our clients value.
SV: And Peiffer, building on that premise, what do you see happening for Raftelis in the next 5 and 10 years, to really seize those opportunities and help Raftelis be a solutions provider for our clients given all these changes that municipalities and utilities are going through?
PB: Well, we certainly are striving to broaden our services within the water industry. For example, we see a great need for utilities to do a better job communicating with their stakeholders and their customers. So, we’re really focused on growing our strategic communications practice. Certainly, the issues that Rob has talked about as well, on top of rates that are increasing faster than inflation. Rates are becoming a bigger portion of a customer’s discretionary income, and as that happens, customers are going to expect more from their utilities, so utilities need to be able to communicate better with their customers. We’ve also been enhancing our capability to assist utilities with integrated planning. We’ve made some key hires recently to add some skill sets there. We believe we bring more of a financial perspective to integrated planning. Also, our combined qualifications with PRMG will provide the springboard we need to really move more deeply into solid waste, energy, and general government consulting, and I think a lot of the things that we do well in water and wastewater are transferable to those other areas. I think water is going to continue to grow in importance for the public and I agree with Rob that water is much more important now. It’s a bigger cost and it’s getting more press. It’s not under the radar like it used to be.
RO: That’s exactly right, and there are a lot of reasons for that. The cost itself is one reason. But two, it used to be water by itself. Now it’s water to wastewater to reclaimed water to stormwater, so you’ve got the full cycle of water resources. The emphasis is on connectivity in everything, because water is becoming scarce. As Peiffer was talking, I started thinking of the importance of integrated planning against the variety of issues and trends utilities face such as regionalization, joint agreements with local governments, creating authorities, all with the intent of producing a better product and lowering costs to make it more affordable. I think those trends are going to continue and get stronger. If you amplify those with the effects of climate change, it’s going to hasten those activities, and we’re primed to be able to serve those needs as they change.
SV: I think that we have a lot of work to do in front of us, but with the added bench strength from the folks at PRMG, we’re really well positioned to bring that service to our clients. I thank you guys for your time and you can learn more about Raftelis’ services and projects by visiting www.raftelis.com, and be sure to follow us on LinkedIn.