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Urbitran Group has improved many city transport systems over the years. Michael Horodniceanu revealed its strategy of growth by acquisition to Ruari McCallion Businessexcellence September 07 76 Known to many as Dr. H, Michael Horodniceanu’s name should be familiar enough to New Yorkers: he was the city’s traffic commissioner from 1986-90. “As a professional, how could I pass on the opportunity to run the most challenging traffic and transit system in the world?” he said. The opportunity arose from his involvement with Urbitran Group, of which he is CEO. The company began in 1973, offering expertise in transportation planning and traffic engineering. “The founders were all university professors, and they aren’t noted for being well-paid,” he said. “We looked for consulting opportunities to help us make ends meet.” Urbitran’s advantage was that it was able to offer clients better services, faster. “Our university’s computer back then occupied 13,000 square feet. It probably had the power of one of today’s desktop PCs but it meant that we could offer clients high-speed simulations, which others couldn’t.” Urbitran began with just four people; Horodniceanu was able to leave the university and work full-time in 1980. It now has over 200 staff. It’s been a story of evolution, innovation and insight. Urbitran’s appeal is that it isn’t a case-study specialist, designer or project manager, nor even a one-stop shop of all three. “We don’t try to sell clients a bridge, or a road or whatever; we solve problems,” Horodniceanu said. “Anyone can design a bridge or a building but not everyone can get it approved. One of our strengths is on the creative and social interaction side—getting community and governmental approvals.” He holds an opinion that some may find surprising. “Transportation isn’t an engineering profession, it’s a social science that uses engineering tools,” he said. Part of the point is that traffic movement is about statistics, so the reaction of a population to changes in its environment (and traffic is part of its environment) is a sociological discipline. Urbitran has been particularly successful in garage parking since an acquisition it made in 1992. “In that year, we bought RAMP, one of the oldest parking design companies in the country.” An effective parking strategy is part of an effective traffic management strategy. Innovative approaches can make a huge difference to capacity and effectiveness, as Horodniceanu explained. “RAMP, when founded in 1920, had a particular patent on a parking garage design, which utilized the travelway for parking, rather than a series of flat areas approached by a helix. It’s a very effective use of space. As such RAMP became the only company who could design these kinds of garages. One of its highest-profile sites being the parking garage at the Rockefeller Centre in New York City.” Not only is that facility an efficient use of space, it was an elegant and innovative design that fits in with the ethos of the building it serves. Urbitran continued this tradition and made its mission “to achieve effective solutions in manners other than the norm”. The garage top at St John’s University in Queens is a 3,000-seat soccer stadium. In West Palm Beach, Florida, the parking Slicker cities

September 07 Businessexcellence 77 garage is sandwiched between the County Police shooting range at the lower level and a helipad on the roof. “Urbitran parking garages are never just parking spaces, but rather an effective, multipurpose utilization of space, with opportunities to increase revenue or to add value to the surrounding community.” Urbitran has evolved to become what Horodniceanu describes as “a group of boutiques in a mall”. It’s organized into four groups, covering an array of services including traffi c & transportation planning and engineering; travel demand forecasting, bus rapid transit planning, urban and master planning, architectural design and infrastructure design and construction management/inspection services. There is much consolidation going on in the consulting industry today and companies like Urbitran could be squeezed out if they do not expand. “Fifteen to 20 years ago, I would have been delighted with revenues of $35 million per year,” Horodniceanu explained. “Now, we have to accept that size is an issue. If we’re presented with a multi-billion dollar project, we can’t compete with the global companies. We are now actively pursuing a policy of expansion, by acquisition and/ or merger. We’re evolving from our initial, entrepreneurial phase to a more organized, corporate structure. We hired a new COO three years ago, who implemented fi nancial controls, upgraded our business software, created new managerial tools for our project managers and so on. He’s helped us to understand the perils of not doing well and the opportunities that come with doing business properly. With the right fi nancial tools, we’re well-placed to take Urbitran to the next level.” Urbitran Group