Patience and Adaptability, Keys to P2S' Export Success
Patience and Adaptability, Keys to P2S’ Export Success
This episode of Export Nation features P2S’ associate principal and director of the commissioning department, David Howard, and the Irvine and San Jose studio commissioning leader of P2S, Mehdi Heydari. P2S is an engineering, commissioning, and construction management firm offering customized design services to customers across multiple industries. Terri Batch, a senior international trade specialist also joins the discussion.
[00:00:03] Derrick Small: On this episode of Export Nation, we speak with P2S’ associate principal and director of the commissioning department, David Howard, and the Irvine and San Jose studio commissioning leader, Mehdi Heydari. P2S is an engineering, commissioning, and construction management firm offering customized design services to clients across multiple industries. We are also joined by Terri Batch, a senior international trade specialist with the US Commercial Service.
Thank you for joining us today. Let’s get right into it. Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your role in the company? David, let’s go with you first.
[00:00:43] David Howard: Good morning. I’d like to say that I’m very grateful for being here today. My name is David Howard. I’m an associate principal and director of the commissioning department at P2S. The last six years, I’ve been leading P2S CX in expanding the services we provide and building a world-class team of commissioning agents. I’ve been in the construction industry for 33 years, the last 12 years as a commissioning authority.
I spent 21 years working my way up the ladder from an apprentice carpenter to journeyman to foreman, and finally, a project superintendent. The last three years, working with Terri has been a great experience as we have decided to get into the overseas market. With that, I will let my international market leader introduce himself. Mehdi?
[00:01:34] Mehdi Heydari: Thank you, David, and good morning, everyone. Thank you for having me. My name is Mehdi Heydari. I’m the Irvine and San Jose Commissioning studio Leader and international market leader with P2S, working under David. I have over 20 years of experience in the construction industry in cross-functional roles. Now in P2S, my primary focus is on developing the P2S market overseas. I’m heavily involved with business development and creating opportunities in international market, including working for about two year now with Terri and her colleagues in different US embassies, which is a unique experience for me.
[00:02:26] Derrick: Well, thank you. Tell me a little bit about P2S and what P2S is doing and maybe some of the history of the inception of the company.
[00:02:40] David: Well, P2S is an engineering firm located in Long Beach, California. In addition to our mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, and technology design, we are providing construction management and commissioning services. We service many types of industries like higher education, healthcare, aerospace, and aviation, just to name a few. We have focused on innovative sustainable solutions in P2S for the last 30 years.
While we help clients make their dreams a reality, we also build infrastructure that helps push the world to a greener, more efficient future. This makes our high-quality project stand out is one of the reasons why we have been recognized with numerous awards such as the top 30 engineering firm, the top 40 electrical design firm, and an elite engineering firm in North America.
We have also received numerous awards about our office culture like being nominated the best firm to work for by the Zweig Group and one of the best places to work in the US by Glassdoor. As I said, we recently celebrated our 30th anniversary. We currently have 280 employees right across our offices in Long Beach, Irvine, San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Seattle.
[00:04:06] Derrick: You said you were voted— What was that you were voted for with Glassdoor?
[00:04:13] David: We are one of the best places to work.
[00:04:15] Derrick: Why do you think that is?
[00:04:18] David: I think it’s because of the culture that the Peterson brothers brought to their company 30 years ago, how they wanted it to be, and they’ve developed a culture at P2S, which actually makes— a lot of folks are very happy with it. We do a lot of extracurricular activities. We celebrate different holidays. Just the way that everybody gets along. We’re a very diverse company. We have folks from all over the world and we bring all of those talents together and all of that cultural that comes there is celebrated within the company, and it really makes it a wonderful place to go to work. When you go there, it’s not like you’re going to a nine to five job, you’re making a difference. That’s one of the reasons why people love it.
[00:05:18] Derrick: Oh, great. Thank you, that’s good to hear. Then what started your export journey? How did that begin?
[00:05:30] David: Well, before I came to P2S, we had actually commissioned a museum down in Panama City. Very unique, took a very long time to be done, was finished right when I came to P2S to take over the commissioning department. That was like we had it in our past, but we just never really moved forward. We grew the export business because of the innovative culture that we mentioned before.
What do we mean by innovative culture? Well, one example is something that we call the P2S incubator. It is a think tank where engineers from diverse engineering backgrounds meet on a regular basis, discuss new ideas and potential solutions by one another. This interaction with a very diverse background of engineering from those who are in technology to mechanicals et cetera, really is, how would you put this, the gist of the innovation that we wanted to see. We want to know that we’re the best. We don’t want to be right out there in front, because sometimes when you’re the first in doing something, it doesn’t work out very well.
We like to be just right behind that, but learning from others and moving forward. We get these solutions that we run by one another. This is an excellent way for us to hash out innovative solution for our company and for our clients. It is where we refine and actualize our commissioning management service. It was Mehdi and his colleague, Bryant, who is just another studio leader that runs my LAX office that brought the idea of commissioning management service to my attention, and how we could use it to service the international market. I thought it was a great idea, so we immediately ran it by the P2S incubator advisory board.
After we got the approval from the board and the help that we needed, we hit the ground running. This was in September 2019. Since then, we started our journey towards the international market. Prior to that, somebody suggested I go to the US Saudi Business Council, a little meeting for a company called Mashroat. It was actually my first introduction, and this was in March of 2019. It was a unique experience.
[00:08:12] Derrick: Maybe you could tell me then how you were introduced to the US Commercial Service. How did that relationship start?
[00:08:19] David: I think Mehdi should answer this one because he was the one that got us going and between him and our director of marketing, that’s where all that took— Mehdi?
[00:08:33] Mehdi: Yes, that is an interesting one. Indeed, he swam against the current on this. After the idea of providing the commissioning management service or CXMS for short, got approved as one of the P2S incubator project, we start reaching out to the US embassies in Gulf cooperation countries to help us find potential clients or partner. We reach out to the embassies in United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, and Kingdom of Saudi. They all responded promptly and told us about how the US Commercial Service helps company penetrate international market. Specifically, they pointed us to the US Export Assistance Center in Los Angeles. That is where we were introduced to Terri.
We had a call with Terri to discuss our commissioning service and our plan to expand internationally. Right away after this meeting, she invited us to a meeting with a high-ranking group from the Kingdom of Saudi visiting California on a trade mission. Since then, we have worked with Terri on our international partner search among the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Saudi, Qatar and recently in Turkey.
[00:10:05] Derrick: Okay. Terri, really quickly, a company like P2S calls you, what differentiates whether you move them forward in the process or point them to other resources before moving them forward in the start of that relationship? How do you go about it?
[00:10:27] Terri: Well, I tell you, when I was introduced to P2S I was really impressed by them, because not only did they have all of their leadership was committed to pursuing international, but they also had a really strong background domestically. They’ve done several projects, very notable projects in the Los Angeles area, and on the west coast. So, you know that they have the expertise to do what they say that they are looking to do. Then they were also very focused. They didn’t come and say, “Okay, we just want a project.” They were very specific about what project they wanted, and they also knew what region of the world that they wanted to pursue.
Because they came to me and they were ready to pursue international, it was really easy to help a company like P2S. I didn’t have to convince them that they should be looking international, they knew that there were international opportunities for them. They just needed to meet the right people and have the right introduction so that they could pursue those types of opportunities. It has been a real pleasure working with them.
[00:11:43] Derrick: Okay, thank you. Back to P2S, Mehdi mentioned the commissioning management service, can someone tell me a little bit more about that?
[00:11:55] David: Sure, I can answer that question. First, we should explain what commissioning is. Most people don’t know what building system commissioning is. The commissioning is a systematic quality assurance process that spans the entire design and construction process of a building, even into the occupancy phase. Basically, commissioning ensures that the project’s outcome is in line with the client original intention. The commissioning process requires the commissioning agent to review the design documents, develop a commissioning plan, pre-functional … work, functional performance tests, and other commissioning-related documents all developing in our office.
As part of the commissioning process we have also visited the project, witnessing the testing systems, startups, installation verification, et cetera. We realized that we could make the entire process remote by using a third party, such as a local architect or engineering firm, to help us in leading and witnessing the test with our direction, or if possible, we may even train the building owner and their employees to do so.
Through commissioning management service, we have the capability to service any market in the world, whether that is US military bases, foreign government projects, really any international project. Once the idea was fully formed, we started to reach out to the US Embassy in the GCC countries to help us find the right partner. That was what led us to the US Commercial Services.
[00:13:37] Derrick: Now, why was it important to make the process remote?
[00:13:43] David: Commissioning can be expensive if you have to travel overseas to do a lot of work. By eliminating the travel costs, you save the client and the owners money, but they also get the product. By making it remote, the way we’ve perfected on the Long Beach civic project, which actually was our testbed, we didn’t know it at the time but it worked out the way we were looking at is the idea that Mehdi and Brian used to develop this process. We were able to have the general contractor and their subs do a lot of the work which saved everybody a lot of money.
My original fee for Long Beach Civic Center was $1.6 million, and by having the general contractor and their subs do the actual commissioning tests better, that fee was cut down to just 600,000, where we were able to develop the documents and all that. It is a significant cost saving to clients especially overseas due to the travel costs. That’s why we developed it.
[00:15:06] Derrick: Got you. I don’t know if we asked the question about COVID at all but how did that impact you real quick before we move on? COVID-19, how did that impact the company?
[00:15:20] David: Basically what ended up happening is we sent most people home. We put them into their own home offices. We provided them with monitors, computers and webcams and everything that they needed to be able to stay functional and stay productive. We adapted it. It has affected some, but we came through it pretty good. The markets were hit but we were essential according to the State of California so we saved it.
[00:16:00] Derrick: Yes. I only ask because with something like the Commissioning Management Service I would think that that would help a little bit. Meaning that you didn’t have to necessarily travel as much so that’s why-
[00:16:17] David: Now our local projects, of course we still went out in the field, we maintained all the protocols necessary. We do a lot of work at the Los Angeles World Airport now LAX. We do a lot of work there. We were under all of that scrutiny. For the overseas, [unintelligible 00:16:38] one of the things that we did was delay us a year.
We had hoped to get this off the ground a year ago but once COVID hit and everything went lock down, we still reached out, we still had the virtual offices, we have had some virtual meetings with clients but we have never been able to actually make that move to go over there yet. We are in the process of doing that now.
[00:17:10]Derrick: Of course. All right. Thank you, David. Then maybe why the Middle East and the Gulf accounts or countries?
[00:17:18] David: It seems that Mehdi has a very special interest in that part of the world.
[00:17:24]Derrick: Okay. [chuckles]
[00:17:27] Mehdi: Yes, that’s true. However, familiarity with the construction industry in GCC countries actually was not my primary reason for targeting it as our primary market. The construction industry in that area is enormous but the building commissioning system is not yet very established. We saw this as an opportunity to step in and claim our stake. There are very many low hanging fruit for building to save energy, improve project quality and be more sustainable. The means to fix this issue is through commissioning. This was the perfect opportunity to utilize our service in this part of the world.
Of course, as soon as we started to establish partnership with the themes and people in the region, opportunities grew from there. Once the ball is rolling with a project like this, it’s hard to stop and we don’t want to stop. There is a lot of great projects and partnerships waiting to be uncovered in the upcoming years and we are really excited about that.
[00:18:48] Derrick: How did you know there was a lot of opportunities out there in that region of the world?
[00:18:54] Mehdi: We see the trends of the people who start to reaching out to us and we see that it’s really growing. After we threw out the name, the name of P2S over there in different conferences, the events, we see that people are starting to reaching out to us and they are curious to now what we are doing and how we can help them to address their needs. Terri can also tell more about this and share with you how the people are starting more and more to reach out to us and figure it out how to make a partnership for that.
[00:19:49] Derrick: Yes. Terri, what do you think about the Middle East and Gulf Council— In your experience, what have you found, is that a good region to start, is that region really looking for construction and engineering firms?
[00:20:04] Terri: You know what? I would have to say absolutely. There are pockets around the world where the US design and construction companies really are competitive, and I don’t want to say dominate but dominate is probably an appropriate term. In the Middle East there’s a lot of US company activity. I will say this, when I first met P2S, they came to me at a very good time because the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had been very aggressive in terms of reaching out and wanting to partner with US companies. So P2S was really in a good position to introduce them to the Saudi authorities that came. I know that David mentioned having meetings with some Saudi companies at a trade mission that came to California.
Even their government has been promoting partnerships with US companies and trying to get more US companies to come over and be involved in there as they change how their society is basically designed and set up. That’s a lot of US ingenuity that’s taking place in that market. Then when you look at markets like the UAE and Qatar and other markets in the region, we have a very strong presence there and they want to work with US businesses. It wasn’t a hard sell to get P2S in front of companies and for them to be able to explain their commissioning services and what value that they can bring to the process.
I would say a lot of the conversations that we’ve had with various different companies, private sector companies, they’re all intrigued by what they do. They see the need in their projects to have that expertise because it does help them to save on costs. It helps them to be more efficient. It also helps to make sure the projects run smoothly. It’s definitely a valuable service that is marketable and not only in the Middle East. I think when they’re ready, they can look at other regions of the world, but the Middle East has been a good region for them to start out with.
[00:22:41] Derrick: David, back to you. What are some of the key characteristics P2S looks for in partners or prospective clients internationally?
[00:22:55] David: One of the keys to partnerships for us is to find a win-win situation. Our goal is to pursue a new pool of interests and ﬁnd a way to work together so all parties benefit more than they would by working individually. Partnerships opportunities are not always obvious. It takes some time to identify our strengths in the target market and search out partners from there.
With the Commissioning Management Service, of course, we need a local partner to break into the market. However, before pursuing partnerships, we always ask ourselves what the potential partner might need from us and how we can beneﬁt one another if we pursue a project together. Understanding our competitive advantage in the target market is crucial to us.
We spend a lot of time trying to get a sense of what makes us stand out. Once we get a sense of our advantages in the local market, we start to look for potential clients and partners that can fill our needs just as much as we fill theirs. Now, we do this both internationally and domestically. We’re currently expanding not just overseas with our services, but we’re expanding to other regions of the United States and North America.
[00:24:12] Derrick: What was the privilege you ﬁnd you have in this market?
[00:24:19] David: I think one of the things that we’ve seen looking at the Middle East, especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we found a partnership that hopefully in the next week or so we’ll finally sign our MOU. One of the things that we discovered with this partner was we fulfill a need that they don’t have and we can provide them with our commissioning services, not just the CxMS but the full commissioning services. In fact, one of the things that we’re very good at at P2S is training our personnel. One of the things that we will have to do when we go overseas to the Middle East is we will hire local trainers once we establish ourselves there, which we plan on doing by the end of the year.
[00:25:20] Derrick: Perfect. In what ways has the US Commercial Service helped P2S to step into the international market?
[00:25:31] David: The expertise that they provided us, the inside knowledge, as Terri alluded to you, everything she said we did. rrHe’s the expert in this, and were just the little foundings trying to find our way in the wilderness. With her shepherding us through this process, we’ve fully embraced everything that she said. It was a pleasure how it all worked. We just listened and did our things.
[00:26:06] Derrick: Great. Terri, we were chatting a little earlier, do you think there’s a general hesitancy at first dealing with some companies?
[00:26:17] Terri: I think so. The US Commercial Service is a government agency and we deal with the private sector here in the US day in and day out. One of our challenges as a government agency is the private sector doesn’t want to deal with the government or might have some hesitancy thinking that we don’t really know what we’re talking about or there’s a trust issue.
I find that when I’m working with companies, and if I suggest something to them, they may or may not do it. I think for P2S what has been really good about working with them is that everything I suggest if there’s a trade mission, or if there’s a virtual conference this past year that we’ve been doing, and I send it to them, and I say, “Hey, you guys should sign up for this,” they sign up for it. Or if there’s a really good webinar about multilateral development banks or any type of programs that we’re developing, they have been participating. I think that that gives them a deeper understanding of the markets. It gives them a deeper knowledge of what they need to do as a company, and it helps them to be successful. They are the exact type of client that I like to work with, because I don’t have to convince them, they are poised and ready to go after different opportunities.
We’ve also pursued some of our services. We did virtual international partner searches for them and set up meetings, one on one meetings for them to meet with architects and potential partners in the market and that has been good for them as well. I will also say this, another thing that they did, which was very helpful for our colleagues in international markets, is they created their own webinar where they talked about what commissioning services is, what is that service? Sometimes we lack the knowledge of what their expertise is so they really help to educate us on what their company is, what they do, what is their value proposition so that helps our colleagues and their target markets to be able to better represent them to potential partners for projects and their markets. It really has been a good partnership working hand in hand with them. Again, they’ve been very receptive to a lot of the advice or recommendations that either myself or our colleagues in their target markets have recommended to them.
[00:29:06] Derrick: Mehdi, what are some feature export prospects?
[00:29:12] Mehdi: Well, the US Commercial Service gave us clarity on international market needs and how our commissioning management service can fill them. With this clarity we were able to identify more opportunities in our target markets which led us to expand our service to the international market. We now have a family of service to offer to the international market including commissioning, facility assessment, sustainable development, a climate action plan, and decarbonization via increasing building efficiency.
Geographically we are studying the market in Turkey and Europe now, and looking for breakthrough opportunity. In the meantime, we want to continue to expand in GCC countries and strengthen the foundation that we have been building over there.
[00:30:16] Derrick: Okay, perfect. Okay. We’re coming down to— Just before we take off, I always like to get some pieces of advice that maybe other companies or other subscribers may be able to take with them and do something with. Is there any pieces of advice, David and Mehdi, that you could offer?
[00:30:38] David: Yes, I would offer that they need to look at this as a long-term commitment. Especially if they’re thinking of exporting their services. You need to be patient to get your name out there. Like I said, it’s been a long process. COVID kind of extended that process a little bit, but you need to get your name out there and establish some relationships and [inaudible 00:31:02] really good. Don’t overextend yourself. Don’t put too many irons in the fire.
Now, be very focused about what you’re doing. Like any other business you’re dealing with locally, if you don’t have the proper response to the market’s need, it’s not going to work. You need to be able to adapt your services to their needs because when you’re going overseas, you need to know the culture. You need to know how business is run and you need to adapt to that. That’s one of the things that I emphasize is we learn their culture and we do it the way they do it. … our services, and our product, but in the end, … unless you know the culture, don’t go. Utilize resources that you get and get the right people to do it.
[00:32:07] Mehdi: I would like also to add that you need to be flexible and keep your mindset open throughout the whole process of entering an international market. New opportunity will appear and you need to be ready to adapt to them. This is what happened to us. We had started this with a totally remote business model, but as we learn more about the market our business model evolved into having boots on the ground with our P2S Middle-East team.
[00:32:44] Derrick: All right. Perfect. Thank you. Terri, did you want to say anything before we close?
[00:32:49] Terri: No. I think they’re good. They’ve captured it all. It’s great advice and it’s very consistent with what other companies that are service companies like themselves, and the advice that I hear them give, you got to be patient and you got to be persistent and you got to keep at it. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it will happen.
[00:33:14] David: Yes. You got to be adaptive. You might come here with one idea of what you’re looking at and as Mehdi said, it morphs. We originally came here looking just to do CxMS, just hang out, do our thing, [unintelligible 00:33:31]. We’re about ready to sign our partnership agreements and working on how to put some boots on the ground in Saudi Arabia. We made the adaption and changed my business plan for the next five years k[inaudible 00:33:55].
[00:33:55] Terri: [laughs] That’s good. I think that’s great. That’s good advice too, is being adaptive because sometimes, like you said, you go in with one thing in mind and then when you start talking to people, you realize, “Oh, we need to shift a little bit to meet the demand of the market,” and that’s what you guys are doing and it’s great. I love what you’re doing and I’m wishing you a lot of success and a lot of new projects in the region.
[00:34:26] Derrick: Wonderful. Okay. Well, tell us how people could contact P2S or you David or Mehdi if they want to get in contact for any reason?
[00:34:36] David: Well, our headquarters is in Long Beach, California where our main office is and people can reach out to Mehdi or me by email or make a phone call. We’re always happy to take people’s calls and explain our services. Our website is www.p2sinc.com. All our contact info, phone numbers, emails are there. It is all available on the website. Feel free to reach out to Mehdi or myself. I really want to sing Terri’s praises because what she’s
done for us has been awesome. I’m an old veteran of the Marine Corps and federal worker who have been VA, I’m not saying words about it. This has been so wonderful over the last two years of this steady help, advice, and moving the ball forward that Terri and her team has done for us. I really, really want to tell you, Terri, how much I really appreciate all you’ve done for us.
[00:35:57] Terri: Thank you. That makes it all worth it to me. I think, again, as a federal government employee, we do get a bad rap sometimes, but when our jobs help companies and the companies see results from the work that we do, it makes it all worth it, and it makes it very rewarding, and so it really is my pleasure. Again, I just look forward to continue to support you and seeing you continue to grow, your company to grow. What a story to tell, and to say that “Hey, it was because of the US government that we were able to do this,” is really the cherry on top to everything.
Also, coming out of COVID the last year and a half and seeing so many businesses go out of business, it’s good to see your business is still thriving, and you’re expanding. It’s really a good success story that companies are rebounding and not just looking internally in the US but looking globally, and that there’s a role that we have to play with the Commerce Department to help you do that. It’s definitely my pleasure.
[00:37:15] David: Well, thank you so much.
[00:37:16] Derrick: This podcast is intended to provide information that may be of assistance to US companies. Statements made by Export Nation podcast guests reflect the views and opinions of that individual. This podcast does not constitute an endorsement by the US Commercial Service of the individual, his or her employer, or affiliated entity, the specific information provided, resources mentioned, or products or services endorsed or offered by that individual, and his or her employer, or affiliated entity.
The US Commercial Service assumes no responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of the information provided by the guests, or for the decisions made in reliance on any information provided by the guests in this podcast. The information provided in this podcast does not constitute legal advice. Thank you for listening to this episode of Export Nation, brought to you by the US Commercial Service. For more information on how you can get started exporting, please visit www.trade.gov.
[00:38:25] [END OF AUDIO]