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Personnel File - September 2009: Engineering

Michael Creed
CEO, McKim & Creed PA

How times have changed. When Michael Creed, 61, co-founded McKim & Creed engineering firm in 1978, he and partner Herb McKim needed little in the way of equipment. “We bought two doors and built legs on them,” he says of their makeshift drafting table. The tools of the trade were simple. All designs were done by hand and required little besides pencils, paper and devices called parallel bars. These days, an engineering company can’t get off the ground without computers and software.

The Winston-Salem native met McKim at N.C. State University, where Creed got a bachelor’s in civil engineering in 1973. He earned a master’s in engineering there the next year and his MBA in 1979 from UNC Chapel Hill. He and McKim worked together as structural engineers in Raleigh for Greenville, S.C.-based J.E. Sirrine Co. and Laseter Hopkins Engineers PC before starting their company. They chose Wilmington because McKim’s father, Herb Sr., was an architect there, and they hoped he would send jobs their way. One of their first projects was designing a building for the National Weather Service at Wilmington International Airport.

By the early 1980s, computer-aided drafting was taking off, and they knew they needed to use the technology to stay competitive. At the time, a personal computer and the software to go with it could cost more than $3,000 — no small sum for a young company. So Creed and McKim told employees if they bought their own computers, they could expense them over time to the company. “The company’s balance sheet was not strong enough in those days to afford several hundred thousands of dollars worth of debt. However, our cash flow was significant to expense several thousand dollars each month.”

About five years ago, the company moved its headquarters to Raleigh because Creed wanted to be closer to his children and grandson. He no longer is a practicing engineer, instead spending his time on managing the firm. It has about 280 employees in North Carolina and 120 in Virginia, Georgia and Florida. Though the firm has taken a hit from the collapse of the housing market — at just under $60 million, revenue last year was down slightly from the previous year — it is concentrating on growth sectors such as transportation and wastewater treatment. “Some experts say clean water is going to be the oil of the 21st century.”