As Sirish Samba rose through the ranks at municipal engineering firm McCombs Frank Roos Associates, the company was sinking around him. Today, though, Samba is at the helm of a renamed, more diversified firm that’s on the rise.
In 1994, MFRA hired Samba as an engineer-in-training. He worked days with the wastewater team and evenings with the land projects group. His hard work encouraged his superiors to move him up the ladder, until he was named CEO in 2008. At that time, MFRA was struggling to find work, due to the poor economy. In a move of desperation, Samba proposed to the private equity owner that he’d personally take on a $5 million principal loan to buy the company.
Samba knew from his experience that taking that risk would not be enough to find the company work while the recession limited available contracts. Samba needed to reinvent MFRA, and one of the key changes has been rebranding as Sambatek Inc. “The name change reflects a change in how we operate,” Samba said. “This isn’t McCombs Frank Roos anymore, this is Sambatek. … You embrace change by rebranding.”
Another change was filing as a Minority Business Enterprise and Small Business Entreprise with the state of Minnesota in 2009.
“In land development, we live and die by previous performance. Race doesn’t matter to me,” said Samba, who was born in India. “But I thought as a CEO, it is my fiduciary duty to look for opportunities wherever they are.”
Samba branched out from municipal contracts, pursuing other public-sector projects, where doors were opened for his business as an MBE and SBE.
It was in Bismarck, N.D., that Sambatek got its first big break. Sambatek partnered with a larger company as a sub-consultant on a series of North Dakota Department of Transportation projects.
After building relationships with that agency, Samba got noticed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Metro Transit. In 2013, Sambatek was made a prime consultant for Metro Transit.
Organizations like the Metropolitan Council and MnDOT take special interest in working with minority-owned and small businesses like Sambatek, helping the company find work in large projects like light rail and U.S. Bank Stadium.
Samba recognized that for his company to experience the most market security and growth potential, he could not specialize in any one type of project. MFRA originally focused on local government projects within the Twin Cities area, but Sambatek’s work has branched off into a number of project types that include transit, industrial office buildings and mixed-use projects.
The diversified approach has paid dividends for Sambatek. The firm has doubled its employee count and nearly tripled its revenue since 2009, comparable to the best numbers of MFRA’s glory days.
According to Project Manager Jeff Orosz, who worked for both MFRA and Sambatek, the latter has surpassed the old name in cross-market recognition.
“Some older clients still say MFRA,” Orosz said. “But across all markets, Sambatek has become more well-known.”