“Our goal is to continue to grow while making sure we’re protecting the assets of the company. Our Benesch team gives us the ability to look forward against what we want to accomplish and build the structure, policies and procedures to support and enable success.”
- Michael Weidner
ACRT started as a mom-and-pop business in 1985 providing appraisal, consulting, research and training, primarily in the areas of urban forestry and environmental services. Today ACRT Services is the parent company of ACRT, ACRT Pacific and Bermex, serving the utilities industry with independent vegetation management consulting, metering and other operational services, and arborist training. Below is a testimonial from Michael Weidner, CEO of ACRT Services.
Your vegetation management services pride themselves on being independent. How is that different from the rest of your industry?
Basically everyone we compete with in consulting with utilities about vegetation management is owned by a tree care company, which has a vested interest in doing tree work. We don’t trim trees, but we help utilities evaluate and make decisions about what should be done and make sure it’s done properly. Because we don’t have a vested interest, we can help utilities make the right decisions that don’t cost them more money.
Most of what we do is called pre-inspection, where we go out ahead of the tree care crews; look at what needs be done; talk to the land owners/homeowners; create a work plan; and provide that to the utility, which then bids out the work to the tree care companies. So we are the eyes and ears of the utility, but we’re making the intellectual decisions on what needs to be done for the right-of-way, communicating that with the public at large, and then providing that information back to the utilities. Once the tree trimmers come through and do the work, we typically come back and audit the work to make sure it was done to specifications and the industry’s many standards.
It sounds very specialized.
There’s no degree in what we do; we have to train people. We put professional foresters, most of whom have college degrees in something “green”—environmental, horticulture, forestry—and then we teach them how to do the job. We also do arborist training for utilities, cities and individuals. We currently work in most states and have worked in every state at one time or another, and we have offices spread out across the country. Most of our people work out of their vehicles and out of our customers’ offices.
How did you start working with Benesch?
Through Alan Rothenbuecher. We’ve been working with Alan for about 15 years, and continued that relationship when he moved to Benesch a few years ago. That move gave us access to a lot more bandwidth and services from other people within the group. We work with Shaylor Steele on a regular basis for our ESOP and our retirement planning. We also did a corporate restructure not that long ago and had a really solid team from Benesch that helped us go through a reorganization that helped us deal with risk and create ACRT Services as a holding company along with three operating companies.
That seems like a significant achievement.
The biggest challenge of the reorganization was that we have grown so much. We’ve doubled in size every 5 years for the last 20 years. We’ve also diversified; we acquired Bermex in 2015, a metering services division that has been in business for 40 years and that has doubled in the last three years since we purchased it.
When we bought Bermex, Alan and the team were actively involved. It was very impressive how cleanly everything worked. There’s always going to be problems, but we are an open organization and talk about situations with our internal leadership and with our key partners. We’re not much for leaving stones unturned.
The reality is that as we grow and diversify, we need more help on the legal end. Because our goal is to continue to grow, and we’re a 100% ESOP company, we have to do things to make sure we’re protecting the assets of the company. That’s one of the values the team at Benesch has brought us—the ability to look forward against what we’re trying to accomplish and build the structure, policies and procedures to support and enable success.
What do you like about working with Benesch?
Responsiveness. We ask a question; we get an answer. It may not be in the moment, but we rely on Alan and the team to get us the right answers the first time, not guesses. And it’s best practices, too. As you grow you go from a little mom-and-pop to a mid-size company, you have to build a process within your company to manage risk and liabilities, and Alan has been instrumental in helping us achieve that. It’s a friendly, collegial relationship.
What’s exciting in the works? Keep doing what you’re doing? Looking to grow?
We’re always looking to grow. We have doubled in size every 5 years, and to get to the next stage will be a monumental task. That will probably happen by growing our existing accounts and adding new clients to our existing service lines, as well as expanding services and looking for other acquisition types.