Cathie Anderson: Couple sell energy-consulting company they built

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013 - 10:17 am

Lisa Heschong and Douglas Mahone met while pursuing master's degrees in architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They graduated, married, had a baby and then struck out for California.

About 20 years ago, they founded the Heschong Mahone Group and began working with the California Energy Commission, eventually helping to develop the most stringent energy codes in the country for new buildings. Their firm also consults with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District as it works to make buildings produce as much power as they consume.

Such contracts and a specialized knowledge base made Gold River's Heschong Mahone an attractive firm to acquire.

Indeed, when the two co-founders signaled to Morrissey Goodale, the Boston-based merger and acquisition consultants, that they were ready to put their firm up for sale, two dozen prospective suitors from around the globe took a close look. A dozen held senior-level talks; eight requested all-day, face-to-face meetings; three proffered bids.

Last week, Heschong Mahone formally announced it had been acquired by TRC Companies Inc. for an undisclosed sum. An engineering and consulting management company based outside Hartford, Conn., TRC trades publicly on the New York Stock Exchange and brought in $301 million in direct revenue in fiscal 2012.

Mahone said TRC made the highest bid, in the seven figures, but he and Heschong gravitated to TRC because the company cultures meshed. HMG's 40 employees not only retain their positions but also gain the resources to consult nationally, Mahone said.

"More and more states are starting to make significant investments … in making their utility companies more energy-efficient," Mahone said. "As those opportunities continue to develop and literally hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in this across the country, it's attracting a lot of bigger players, bigger players with more staff and more resources and more geographic reach, and to continue to compete and to grow in this industry, it helps to have those resources ourselves."

Mahone and Heschong, now in their 60s, had an eye toward retirement when they put their firm up for sale, but that won't come for years. TRC executives are asking the Gold River duo to advise them on other niche firms to acquire.

Lombard's on a mission

Margaret Lombard understands how consumers make shopping decisions.

That's what she told me, and I'm inclined to believe her because Mission Foods just tripled its business with her employer, Roseville-based AugustineIdeas. The marketing and communications agency brought in $5.2 million in revenue in 2012 but projects revenue in excess of $6 million in 2013.

Mission Foods, which sells salsas, tortillas and tortilla chips, began work with AugustineIdeas last year, testing whether the firm could help improve its incremental sales.

"Our report card is real-time sales. Every day, those scan reports come, and they show exactly what moved at every store, for every product … ," said Lombard, vice president of shopper marketing. "There's no hiding. It's not like … you put out a TV spot and hope you sell cars at some point. There's real accountability."

Lombard says AugustineIdeas tries to influence consumers as often as possible along the path to purchase. It could be an ad, an article, a blog, in-store samples or special promotions.

"Say we do a promotion, for instance, that ties into the dairy department where the shopper buys eggs and artisan tortillas," Lombard explained, "and we provide recipe ideas and some support, and then, the egg sales go up and they're buying tortillas and they're making a breakfast burrito that they maybe had never thought about making."

The key is identifying promotions that benefit not only the client but also the retailer, Lombard said. Her 17 years in marketing at Raley's, three or four of them as vice president for marketing, showed her what benefits grocers and what brand partnerships should be cultivated.

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