Catching Up With . . . John Cruikshank

The purpose of our “Catching Up With” articles

When JMC2 first decided to create a monthly e-letter, their first thought was how can they get their business associates engaged in the content and even have a chance to include them in what was sent out.  The idea was to use a Catching Up With article so they could interview someone new each time so that their philosophies, business practices, and achievements could be shared with the group.

As a kick-off to this regular article, it seemed only natural to write about John Cruikshank who is the founder of both JMC2 and this newsletter.  The next Catching Up With article may be about you, but it will definitely be about someone who has played a purposeful and important role in the built environment.  So enjoy this first ever Catching Up With article, and please feel free to send your suggestions on who should be “caught up with” in the future.

There is approximately 57.5 million square miles of above water land on earth consisting of mountains, deserts, plains, plateaus, and other geomorphologies.[1]  So you can see that civil engineers have a fairly large land mass canvas to work with for future transportation, housing, commercial, park, energy production, school, and other public facility projects.

Now back to that the 4,084 square miles known as Los Angeles County.[2]  This is where John Cruikshank has had his firm, JMC2, since 1996.  Before that, the South Bay resident worked as a project and design engineer for Caltrans (District 7 Los Angeles) and two private civil engineering firms, Tudor Engineering Company and Alpha Engineering Group, Inc.

What services does JMC2 offer?

We provide civil engineering and land surveying services, which include planning reports, property mapping, construction plans, and construction support assisting our clients comply with the numerous codes and regulations required by local, state, and federal agencies.

What does a civil engineer do?

My typical answer is that “we do all the engineering required outside of a building’s footprint”, but the reality is we even have to provide the engineering for work done within the building envelope also.  Civil engineers prepare construction documents (plans, technical specifications, and probable cost estimates) for a wide-range of facilities, including building structures and sites, utility pipelines and infrastructure, transportation systems (roads, railways, airports, etc.), dams, waterways, bridges, and parks.  The two big components of what a civil engineer does is accurate document and model existing site conditions then prepare plans to construct the new facility to work within the confines of this existing site.

What does your job entail?

As the principal of a 15-person firm, I spend my time doing a little bit of everything.  I make cold calls to business prospects, write proposals, prepare our marketing material, attend industry events, manage the company, work with clients, and I even still have time to prepare plans along with checking the staff’s work.

Who are your customers?

The short answer is anyone upgrading, remodeling, or developing any piece of property.  This is what makes my job so interesting is the broad-based client list.  I get to work with architects, developers, public agencies, property owners, other engineers, landscape architects, and contractors, and they all see the world through a different prism.

How do you find new customers?

After being in business for so many years and having met and worked with so many terrific people, I have been fortunate to get most of our new clients through referrals.  Still, I attend numerous professional events and advertise in the Blue Book, yellow pages, online, and other media formats just like everyone else.

What should a client look for when hiring a civil engineer or surveyor?

A client prospect should look for stability, experience, and a proven track record.  The work of a civil engineer and the surveyor can make or break a project’s success.  So a client should make sure the civil engineering/surveying firm they hire has been around long enough have gone through the inevitable learning curve, has proper liability insurance, has worked on a project similar enough in nature to understand their project, and can provide references.

What questions should someone have when calling your office for surveying or civil engineering services?

The first question when calling a civil engineer or surveyor should be ‘Do you do projects in this particular city?’  If a project is in a city where we have not worked or is too far away from our office to properly handle, then we will, many times, say that this project could be better handled by another surveyor or engineer.  Then, we can provide a referral to another firm that would be better suited to assist with that project.

Other questions should be about staff availability, what is the full scope of work, how much will each scope of work item cost, how soon could you start, who will be my point of contact, can you send me your firm’s qualifications and some references, and any other question that you see fit.

What do you look for when visiting a project site for the first time?

Every property has its own unique characteristics so it’s imperative that the civil engineer understand the end product usages (parking lots, building types, etc.) before visiting the site for the first time.  While on the site, I try to visualize how the future project will function.  I look at how the site slopes and how rain water drains through the site.  I look for items that are in disrepair and figure out why so our plans can correct these issues.  Finally, I will leave the site and see how surrounding properties interact with this project site (i.e., storm water runoffs flowing onto the site).

How long do projects take?

This is a very difficult question to answer with a lot of specificity because there are so many parties that affect a project’s duration.  Also, it’s important for our client to have critical documents ready to send us such as Title Reports, planned site plans, and the project requirements (from the overseeing public agency).  For our surveying work, it usually takes from 2 to 8 weeks depending on the size and complexity of a site and project requirements.  Civil engineering projects can take from 2 weeks to 2 years (e.g., house sump pump design versus a $50 M LAUSD project).

What is your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge is balancing my time between getting work done and getting new work.

How is the current market?

For JMC2, the market is strong and steady with a mix of previously ‘mothballed’ projects coming back to life, school projects still going steady, and new park projects starting.  Our work spigot shut off June 2007 and hit a low spot March 2009, so we are grateful to have enough work to now be considering hiring staff.  Still, I talk to architects and landscape architects and they are still very low on work.

What projects are most memorable and why?

Most professionals get into our industry because they love to see their ideas come to life, and I became a civil engineer because I had a desire to see the fruits of my labor.  I am very fond of all the projects that we have completed, and I get real pleasure in driving by our work.

What’s the nicest thing a client has ever said to you?  And meanest?

The nicest complement was I had a long time client tell me that I was exceptionally courteous and that they would recommend us without reservations.  It is always great to hear that, but I know this is a very tough business with a lot at stake.  So, on the flip side, I have been to meetings where clients won’t even look at me or shake my hand before or after the meeting.  You need very thick skin to survive in this industry.

What do you love about your job?  And hate?

I love the variety of things I do.  There is no daily routine and every day brings something new.  Even sitting down for this article is enjoyable.  I hate having clients disappointed in our work.

What’s a good day on the job?  And a bad day?

A good day is getting deliverables out on time to the client knowing that our work will meet or exceed their expectations.  A bad day is learning that our work has caused a problem with a project.  Fortunately, there are many more good days then bad, but we have to deal with and learn from the bad days.


To Find Out More

John M. Cruikshank, PE

John M. Cruikshank Consultants, Inc. (dba “JMC2”)

411 N. Harbor Blvd., Ste. 201

San Pedro, CA 90731

310-241-6550 (x228)



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