Mark Zweig / Staff photo
Fayetteville entrepreneur Mark Zweig enjoys fixing things.
Fixing dilapidated houses and commercial properties. Fixing struggling companies. Shaping the minds of budding entrepreneurs.
He’s been doing so here in Fayetteville for nearly 20 years, and during that time, it’s difficult to think of anyone in town who’s done more to alter the landscape of this city.
Zweig currently runs two companies here in town, Zweig Group – a company that consults with architecture and engineering firms on a variety of topics as well as publishes a popular newsletter and a magazine for professionals in those fields, and Mark Zweig Inc., a residential and commercial construction, remodeling, and rental business. He is also an Executive in Residence at the University of Arkansas, where he teaches two courses per semester on starting entrepreneurial ventures and running a small business.
You could say he wears a lot of hats, and in fact, he literally does that too.
Zweig got his start in business at a local bike shop in his native Kirkwood, Missouri when he was just 12 years old.
“My dad said, ‘You should go down there and tell them you’ll work for free, and if they like you, they can pay you a buck an hour,'” he recalls. “So they hired me for a buck an hour.”
Zweig had a passion then – and still to this today – for bikes and old cars, and he quickly found a way to make money buying and selling them. “I found out I could make a lot of money working at these bike shops,” he said. “By the end, I was knocking down $700 a week and I was still in high school.”
From there, he went on to get an undergraduate degree at SIU Carbondale in Illinois, where he finished in just three years. He got his MBA just a year after that, and began working in the construction and development business, and later in architecture and engineering, at a handful of firms around the country.
He moved around some, living in Memphis and Fort Worth before landing in Boston in around 1988. It was there that he started Mark Zweig and Associates, the company that would later become his highly successful current business, The Zweig Group.
The Zweig Group
Not unlike its founder, the Zweig Group does a little bit of everything. The company focuses on serving the architecture and engineering field with a variety of services including strategic planning, business planning, help with mergers and acquisitions, valuation, recruiting, marketing, and others.
In addition to the consulting services, the company also publishes a magazine called Civil + Structural Engineer, and an industry newsletter called The Zweig Letter, and conducts about 50 seminars around the country each year.
The story of how it ended up in Fayetteville is relatively interesting as well.
Zweig started the company, then called Mark Zweig and Associates, in Boston in the late 80s. He built the company into an Inc. 500 firm, and eventually sold the business, and planned to essentially retire.
Around that time, he began teaching a once per week course at the University of Arkansas, and his then wife had ties to the region which eventually led the couple to move to town in 2003.
Zweig said he had options on where to teach at the time, but Fayetteville stood out.
“It’s a very entrepreneurial area,” he said. “It’s always rated as one of the top places to start a business venture in the US. Plus it’s just a beautiful area.”
While in Fayetteville, Zweig started a construction and remodeling company called Mark Zweig Inc., and worked to restore homes while he taught entrepreneurship at the UA.
In 2010, the lender for the folks who purchased his original business had seized the company, and called Zweig asking him to come back to run it.
After a bit of hesitation, he agreed, and Zweig got to do for the company he founded what he had done for so many others over the years. He brought it back to life.
“We had to turn around a huge mess,” he said. “We owed everyone. They had judgements against them in Boston where they had moved out of the office in the middle of the night.
“We cleaned all that up, and we got everything on the straight and narrow, moved our headquarters to Fayetteville, and got the company profitable again.”
Zweig bought the company back from the lender in 2012, and had it back on the Inc. 500 list that next year.
The company, headquartered at 1200 N. College in Fayetteville, now employs more than 30 people in Fayetteville.
Zweig’s gig at the University of Arkansas was supposed to be his retirement job.
He teaches two classes – a course on New Venture Development in the fall, and a class on Small Enterprise Management every spring, offering two sections of each class.
Zweig had been a teaching assistant while he got his MBA, and also taught briefly at a junior college in the late 1980s, so teaching wasn’t completely foreign to him when he arrived at the UA.
He enjoys teaching for a variety of reasons, he said.
“In entrepreneurship, you can have knowledge that is about an inch deep thats six miles wide,” he said. “I feel like teaching is something I can do for the rest of my life.”
Zweig said he has hired several of his star pupils over the years at his businesses. Other well known students of his locally include Fayettechill founder, Mo Elliot, and Omar Kasim, who recently opened Con Quesos on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Building (and rebuilding) the city
The Zweig Group is Zweig’s largest company, but he may be best known in Fayetteville for his construction and remodeling work.
He started doing remodels – doing much of the work himself – on his own homes over the years, and quickly realized there was a demand for his style of building in Fayetteville.
“I started with my own house, and then I did a house on Lafayette that we called Sweet Lafayette,” he said. “After that, we’d just do them about one at a time. I was really just looking for something to do. We’d find a place that was in rough shape, buy it, gut them to the studs, add onto them, bring them up to code, fix everything, make everything right, and see what we could do with it.
“What we found was a niche,” he said.
Since then, “Mark Zweig homes” have sprouted up all over the city, and those who know it can almost immediately spot his signature style.
He’s also expanded that business to begin building homes from scratch for other folks, as well as into commercial developments as well.
Currently, Zweig has some high profile projects in the works in Fayetteville, including an apartment project at the site of the former Twin Arch Motel, a large condo project on Church Avenue across from Nightbird Books, and a renovation of the former Flying Dog building on College Avenue that will eventually become his new offices.
With the A&E consulting company, the construction business, and the entrepreneurship teaching job at the UA, Zweig’s three occupations may seem a little bit random and unrelated. He insists there is a common thread, however.
“I enjoy improving things,” he said. “As a management consultant, you have to go into these companies and fix them. I like that better than a start up, just as I like doing renovations better than doing a new building. I like the constraints. I just like the process of improving.”
Zweig says that’s another one of the things he loves about Fayetteville. He’ll never run out of projects.
“Just look at North College,” he said. “If you look at NWA, the natural terrain is as beautiful here as it is anywhere, but it’s been spoiled by a lot of bad buildings. The possibilities are endless.”