Prior to founding Harrington Group in 1986, I had the realization that there were many other companies in the engineering/consulting industry not behaving ethically. They would tell clients one thing while behaving completely different behind closed doors. I thought I could do better. So I founded Harrington Group with the belief that a fire protection engineering and property loss control consulting firm could achieve success while maintaining integrity.

Being open, honest, and straight forward helped to create the foundation for success, but success was not guaranteed. We still needed to invest years of time and hard work so that business could develop.

Baptism By Fire

Our original business plan included a principal service offering that assisted corporations solve their fire protection problems for a significantly decreased capital investment. At the same time, those solutions were leveraged to win greatly reduced property insurance premiums.  However, shortly after entering the market, the insurance industry went through its own mini-recession. Most people weren’t effected, but the cornerstone of the Harrington Group business plan was destroyed. In a few short months, the largest potential stream of revenue dried up and I had to change course.

Since we knew what we stood for, we were able to change course and pull through. As the economy was growing throughout the late 80’s, we worked hard to carve out a position one project at a time. Slowly, we grew a client base of architectural and engineering firms driven by new construction, providing them fire protection services that included system design and code consulting.

After the recession in the early 90’s, many of those clients had closed their doors since new construction projects had essentially ceased. Like any other small business survivor, we had to dig up whatever business we could – nothing just fell in our lap. By late 1991, despite our best efforts, we were staring at the last drops of cash flow. We had just about two weeks left before facing the harsh reality of shutting our own doors.

Learning to Soar

To stay afloat during the recession, some businesses paid bills late, or never at all. They cut corners, padded invoices, and misinformed their clients and their sub-consultants. These short-term strategies helped some firms to keep their doors open temporarily, but in the long term, they did not flourish, and today, many of them are gone. Harrington Group, being a sub-consultant to many of these firms, was severely hurt by these tactics, but we never reverted to them ourselves.  Instead, we actually extended credit to several our our clients to help them weather the storm.  One of these firms is one of our best clients today, nearly 20 years later.

We resisted the temptation to panic, think short-term, and bend our principals to survive.  Instead, we doubled our efforts and threw a lot of mud against the wall. Most of it fell off, but a little bit stuck. Every new project that stuck we completed with singular focus on the needs of the client and delivered significant measurable value.  We treated each client with honesty and transparency and solved their fire protection problems in meaningful ways.  We learned from each experience.  Eventually, we became very good at slinging mud and most of it was sticking. It was a hard, repetitive effort, but eventually it provided the force to lift the firm off the ground so we could start flying. A few short years later, we were soaring.

By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.