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Scandal plagued Broward airport contractor ousts chairman

pbsjLogoBy Dan Christensen

The slow motion fall of embattled PBS&J boss John Zumwalt moved rapidly toward closure over the weekend with the announcement that he was replaced as company chairman and would soon resign.

Zumwalt’s ouster by PBS&J shareholders after five years as the company’s powerful chairman and chief executive officer was a surprise. His decision to leave on March 1 “for personal reasons” was an about-face.

John Zumwalt

John Zumwalt

Three weeks ago, Zumwalt informed employee-shareholders he would step down as day to day CEO later this year to spend “the coming months” developing PBSJ’s plans for future growth. He said nothing about giving up the chairman’s post, and had sought re-election to the board.

PBS&J is among Florida’s largest government contractors and donates heavily to political campaigns. In Broward, its highest profile job today is as co-leader of the design engineering team for the county’s $810 million runway expansion at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

PBS&J President Robert Paulsen, 57, was named to replace Zumwalt, 58. Paulsen, who joined PBS&J in 1986, will also become CEO while the executive search for a new, permanent CEO is underway, the announcement said.

“We are fortunate to have Bob, with his experience and steady influence, available to help us through this leadership transition,” said board member and chief operating officer Wayne J. Overman, according to a company press release.

Company spokeswoman Kathe Riley Jackson could not be reached for comment over the past two days.

Robert Paulsen

Robert Paulsen

Zumwalt, who was on top at PBS&J for much of the past decade, departs amid recent embarrassing disclosures about his personal involvement in a corporate pay to play scandal uncovered in 2006, and news of an internal investigation into possible criminal violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act at PBS&J International.

The company has said it has alerted the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission to the possible wrongdoing.

Shares in PBS&J, which switched its corporate headquarters from South Florida to Tampa in 2007, are not publicly traded. The company is privately held by employee-shareholders. Currently, the company has about 3,800 employees.

Zumwalt’s ouster happened at the company’s annual meeting in Tampa on Saturday.

Sources said independent board director Frank Stasiowski resigned just before the meeting. He had also been a member of the company’s audit committee, which is investigating the possible criminality at the PBS&J International subsidiary.

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  • It should be noted that any impropriety insofar as campaign finance violations were for actions pre-2005, resulting in the indictment of three former company executives. The company worked diligently to establish controls to prevent any such violations in the time since (and have been scrutinized at ever level by the FEC), so your continual incinuation that PBS&J somehow won the FTL airport project as a result of shady political contributions is baseless and brings into question your journalistic integrity. You further fail to remind the reader that many of these problems (including the campaign contribution scandal) date back to a massive embezzlement scheme by the former CFO, Scott DeLoach and his cronies, which effectively cost the company’s employee shareholders $100M, including the $36M they stole,the massive investigation costs, and the voluntary repayment of overcharges to clients that resulted from inflated overhead rates due to the embezzlement. While the troubles may make for good press, the better story is in how PBSJ stood up and addressed its problems up front and honestly with its clients. It is important to note that following the embezzlement scandal, PBS&J did not lose a single client wholly because it took immediate action to correct the issues and acted with integrity and honesty. I am a proud PBSJ employee and shareholder and I am pleased that our leadership chooses to address its issues transparently and openly, even if it opens up the company to more scrutiny from bloggers like yourself.

  • High five to you KB. PBS&J is a Company built on honesty, integrity, and fairness. We take very seriously our responsibility to “uphold high standards of business conduct.” As a long-time employee of this Company, I can tell you Mr. Christiansen, that your puny, ignorant, and sorry expose` could be so different and worthwhile if you choose to look at the long history of successes this great Company has enjoyed for 50 years. I am proud to be a PBS&J employee, and proud that the possible violation you describe was brought to light through our own diligent internal processes, in the same way that the embezzlement of 5 years ago was brought to light. I am grateful that this Company is solid!! We have survived the embezzlement and we will continue to survive!!

    Love your country — put your energies towards some good, positive press.

  • The two responses from the current staff members were anticipated. They are watching their hard earned investment qucikly evaporate.
    The problem for PBS&J was never about the staff. They are a fine group of people who deserved better from the appointed leaders.
    Do a Google search and read about the career ending escapades of Richard A. Wickett, Chairman of the Board and former CFO, Michael Dye, President, Scott DeLoach CFO and what took place under their watch and how long they were operating in a manner that crippled the company.
    There lies the problem. A handful of guys left unchecked did as they pleased. The latest incident involving the International group may turn out to be nothing but the recently appointed President of the division has been terminated.
    I am sure the PR spin will be that our executive team has been cleared and that they had nothing to do with this.
    That approach to business is what is at the heart of the problem. No one at the head of the company is ever at fault. They hire ethics advisors. Just asking are they still on board.
    The buck stops with the leadership. Wake up JL, this has nothing to do with your country and your desire for “good news” blogs, it has to do with what is right.
    If PBS&J is to grow and survive, there had better be new leadership.

  • This is the kind of article you could never read in MH or SS anymore. If you ever could. The problem with ad subsidized news is that the readers and the customers are not the same thing.
    Great article!

  • This just proves that the entire airport expansion is likely an unnecessary taxpayer-subsidized fraudulent boondogle.

  • This article was well written with facts. The comments that J L made were immature.(puny,ignorant,& sorry expose)
    My suggestion is that J L reread the article & then apologize. As for K B mentioning that political shady contributions is baseless as to how they got the contract. K B should also reread the article. The writer states that PBS&J is among Florida’s
    largest government contractors and donates heavily to political campaigns. K B should not twist what the journalist wrote. As for integrity & honesty, K B & J L fall short. The employee response, it hit the mark.

    P. S. Thank you Dan Christensen for writing this.
    We need more excellent writers like you !

    Lisa

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