Hot Company: Coffey Engineering
Ask what boosted his success with Coffey Engineering and Surveying in Laramie and he’ll credit lessons learned while being knocked about on the fields and hardboards at Laramie High School, the University of Wyoming, Northwest College in Powell and the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.
The height-challenged can take heart – Coffey hasn’t dunked a basketball since the Laramie Rotary Club played the Harlem Ambassadors two years ago – and he said it was his last dunk. He needed three attempts.
“Injuries have slowed me down quite a bit,” Coffey said, and smiled.
He said that schooling outside the classrooms helped a novice businessman navigate Coffey Engineering when his father died in 2005 and turn a family business into a legacy business.
He “absolutely” believes athletics teaches life lessons and helps steer his business.
“You spend an entire winter and spring trying to not only improve yourself but improve together as a team,” Coffey said. “How is that different than trying to become good at a career? You learn how to set goals for yourself, understand what needs to be improved upon, you work on improving those things you can, then you follow the guidance of a leader to execute a game plan and compete, which, honestly, is exactly the same process in business.”
Successful and growing businesses, he added, do that.
Coffey Engineering expanded from 15 to 22 employees overnight when it purchased Westwood Professional Services in Loveland last year. Coffey Engineering was honored last November at Gov. Matt Mead’s Business Forum as one of Wyoming’s success stories.
Coffey laughs when told now isn’t supposed to be a time to expand a business.
“The economy in the Rocky Mountain West seems to be on the verge of a boom,” he said, “and we need to grow our company to provide an opportunity for our existing employees, serve our existing clients and serve our market.”
Coffey offers a range of civil engineering, land surveying and geospatial expertise – from construction materials testing and land platting to 3-D scanning and custom GIS mapping. Coffey serves the Mountain West, North and South Dakota and Nebraska.
The now-business-assertive Coffey is a far cry from the Coffey who voluntarily thrust himself into the business when his father, Joe, died.
He was working for Inberg-Miller Engineers (he loves surveying – it combines math and history) in Powell when his wife accepted a teaching position in Laramie, and he was looking for a different career path in the company at its Cheyenne office.
The couple learned his father had terminal cancer the day they started looking for a house in Laramie. Joe Coffey died 30 days later.
His father had never asked Dave to join the family business, and Coffey said he doesn’t regret pursuing other opportunities. He gained a set of skills at Inberg-Miller he would not have learned otherwise. Inberg-Miller operated the company as a business, Coffey said. Guidelines and processes made the company viable and long-lived.
“Most of those processes did not exist in my father’s business,” said Coffey. “They all resided in his authority.”
In other words, Coffey didn’t want to maintain the company’s status quo by stepping into his father’s shoes.
“I didn’t want this to be the Dave Coffey show,” he said. “I wanted to use the momentum and reputation of my dad’s company and grow into a legacy business.”
He immersed himself in business books and learned cash management and forecasting, understanding financials and administrative management from the Wyoming Technology Business Center in Laramie.
“A lot of the things I learned on the fly, but those guys showed me what it meant to lead a business,” he said.
He had another asset going for him. He didn’t realize until thrust into a strong leadership position that people listened to what he said.
“It may be physical intimidation; I don’t know,” he said. “I’m a pretty big guy, but I think I have some innate leadership skills. I tell this to people. I’m doing right now what I was meant to do – leading and providing a vision for my company.”
His efforts gained traction in 2007 and said he weeded out problem clients his father had by increasing fees that matched the company’s expertise.
Some returned. A few didn’t.
Commitment to community involvement could be another factor in his business success. The company participated in almost every University of Wyoming capital-improvement project through the last six years.
“Helping UW grow has been extremely satisfying,” he said. “Watching the campus become more beautiful has been outstanding.”
He’s also involved in Laramie flexing its economic-development muscles.
“The only way to improve our community is by creating jobs,” he said. “Being involved in the Laramie Economic Development Corporation has given me insight into how we recruit businesses and how we help existing businesses grow.”
And for Coffey, seeing successes in that regard, he said, has been “extremely satisfying.”