A forensic consultant ramps up fast…

Gene K. Baxter, Ph.D., P.E. – Baxter Engineering

I met Gene a dozen years ago through a professional group in Phoenix. A mechanical engineer, Gene specializes in forensic consulting (accident investigations, product failures, etc.) Typical clients are attorneys or insurance companies that need a professional to investigate and assist in legal proceedings and, if it goes to trial, to act as an expert witness.

Gene had started a local professional group, the Forensic Group
, composed of a range of forensic experts — engineers, accountants, nurses, and more. Since I had done some forensic work myself, he invited me to join and attend their monthly meetings.

Although curious about the Forensic Group, I was even more curious how Gene got into this particular business. His story was most fascinating.

It was Friday, February 12, 1993, and Gene was suddenly out of work. Intrigued by both consulting and forensics for some time, he hung out his shingle as a Forensic Consulting Engineer two days later — Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1993.

The good news is that Gene had very solid credentials — a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, and a Professional Engineer’s (PE) license. The bad news is that he had no prior experience in forensic work, although he had experience as a consulting engineer while employed by GE.

So what to do? Gene went to the law library at a nearby state university, picked up some law magazines, and reviewed the consultant ads in the back of those magazines. He then called several of the consultants to see how they got started in their business.

One of these forensic engineers was Roger Boisjoly, who you may recognize as the Whistleblower (Roger’s term is Truthteller) prior to the Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster in 1986. It turns out that Roger lived only a few miles from Gene, so they got together for lunch.  (Roger’s story is so interesting we’ll cover it in a subsequent post.)

Soon after the lunch with Roger, Gene contacted another local forensic engineer, and had lunch with him, too. Both engineers were very gracious in sharing ideas and encouragement. They did not see Gene as a competitor, but as a potential colleague.

Gene thought likewise. Since he enjoyed meeting both, he suggested a third lunch with all three of them. One of them brought along a fourth friend who did forensic accounting. Over lunch, they decided to meet once a month to discuss their mutual interest in forensics, and thus, the Forensic Group was born.

Gene’s first consulting job came from this network.
A few months after their first meeting, Roger asked if Gene was interested in a job related to a hospital  HVAC (heating, ventilating & air conditioning) system. Thanks to that referral and the help from his group, Gene’s business was off and running.

Over the years, Gene has received several referrals from this network. Likewise, Gene has steered many jobs to others in the network when they were better qualified to handle the job. It has been mutually beneficial for everyone.

Gene pursued other avenues too — always a good strategy.
There is no “silver bullet” when marketing a consulting practice.  As one example, Gene started calling insurance companies to see if there was any interest in his services.

Although it took a number of phone calls, Gene hit pay dirt with one automobile insurer. They retained Gene to review rear end collisions. He became their “low-speed rear-end” expert, which resulted in dozens of consultations for this client alone.

By end of the year, Gene was making almost as much as he had as an employee. While not usually the case for a startup, it shows what diligence and determination can accomplish. That, and the help of some newfound friends.

Although semi-retired, Gene is still active, and the group he formed still meets monthly. If you are interested, you can visit Gene’s web site at www.forensicgroup.com. You can find Gene’s information there, too.

A quick disclaimer. I no longer pursue forensic work, but I’ll discuss forensic consulting in a future post. As Gene says, it can be both intellectually and financially rewarding.

Do you have a success story to share?  If so, please send it in.

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