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Being Part of a Growing Firm… Am I Doing This Right?

By Alexis Eades

I’ve heard it said that there are two kinds of people in life. There are people who see life as a pie, and if one person gets a bigger slice than that means there is less for the other people. And there are people who trust that they can just make or buy another pie. Put differently, there are people who see success as a limited resource and those who know that there’s room for everyone to succeed. I think that really, this is related to how fearful of change a person is as well.

Times are sure a’changin’ here at Colliers Engineering & Design. We are growing rapidly, if you haven’t noticed. And while the idea of change might be scary to some, I think it can help to remember that it can be a really good thing.

But this is easier said than done. As an employee in a growing firm, fear of the unknown might pop up. Well, I recently had the privilege of spending time with our executives and picked up on some words of wisdom about where we are headed and how we want to get there. And for me, I walked away feeling really excited about our company’s future.

Richard Maser, Executive Chairman

For those who don’t know, our firm was founded in October of 1984 by Richard Maser. How did we get from a firm of two people to a firm of almost 2,000? Richard knew that offering diverse services, keeping the firm roughly half private and half public clients, and diversifying in geography would enable us to flourish through good economic times and keep growing through bad ones.

Basically, he knew that diversifying is the name of the game for long term stability. That, and employee retention. He mentioned that he was particularly proud of the fact that our firm has so many long-term employees. I know personally, when I walk down the halls of our  headquarters, I come upon dozens of employees who have worked here for decades.

Kevin Haney, President & CEO

But wait, let’s go back to diversifying. Because when Kevin Haney was brought in first as COO, then promoted to President and CEO, this was all done with diversification in mind. Kevin has made it clear from the start that his goal is for us to expand as a multidiscipline engineering (and now also architecture) firm in every region, and to build up each office’s service offerings.

What he really emphasized, though, was that this growth is not just for the sake of our clients, but for the people within our firm. If expansion means one thing for our employees, it’s opportunity. Employees can also move to different parts of our country and work out of different offices. This creates organic growth for us as a whole and more chances for promotion and furthering your own career. More services and more locations mean that you have the power to redefine your role, where you are, and what your path with us looks like.

Allison Colantuoni, Director of Human Resources/Member, Executive Team

Allison Colantuoni was the founder of both the Women’s Organization (with Michele Ouimet) and the Diversity & Inclusion Committee (with Kevin Haney). She also started the firm’s Human Resources department in 1999 and ran it as a department of one person for years. Now, the department has about a dozen people. Very impressive. She said, “Our goal is to keep our employees safe, happy, and employed, through both global and individual hard times.”

Personally speaking, this sentiment was proven during the pandemic. I know of several times when someone was struck by a health problem and our fellow employees rallied on their behalf. From organizing dinner delivery to one employee’s home to donating vacation time hours, the people in this company continue to amaze me with their generosity and care for each other. This is something about our firm that we all cherish, that some people might fear could go away if we get too big.

Joseph Dopico, COO

Joe Dopico started working for the firm in 1993, when there were only 45 employees. He ran the transportation division for ten years. Joe then became the lead for Civil &Site before becoming COO in 2019. He says that our company’s culture is the same today as it was when there were only 45 people. So he isn’t worried that growth will negatively impact us if we all remain committed to caring about each other as individuals.

He also said that the entrepreneurial style of our business, as well as of course that diversification we mentioned earlier, means that change and growth can only strengthen us. We’ve always been a firm that prioritized individuals having the power to create their own success. And that is now truer than ever.

Leonardo Ponzio, Executive Vice President & CAO

Leo Ponzio is another executive who has had longevity with the company. In fact, he joined the firm in 1987, starting in the field in survey and then moving up to Director of Survey services. Leo then became Executive Vice President & CAO. He emphasized what Kevin has also said many times, that we are not growing for the sake of growing, that we are acquiring firms with likeminded cultures and adding new hires strategically. Leo also said, “The longevity of our leadership is what enables us to grow in a sustainable way.”

Honestly, that was a poignant thing to hear, at least to me. I was sitting in the room with them, as a (let’s face it) pretty inexperienced, young employee. However, I can honestly say that I felt as respected as if I was a discipline leader or a big executive myself. How many twenty-somethings in their post-grad job can joke around with each of the executives at their company? How many can offer their opinions to those executives and feel heard and respected?

We Decide the Culture

I promise this isn’t just a propaganda “we are so great” blurb that anyone told me to write. I just think that Leo is right, that our leadership is unusual. And that their experience and commitment to our company and our culture anchor us through all of the other changes.

After all, it really is the people who make our firm as great as it is. Our employees volunteer to be a part of the Women’s Organization, Green Team, Diversity & Inclusion committee, and Charitable Fridays. Our people really care about each other and maintaining our family-oriented company culture. And what does that mean? That the key to a company maintaining its values is that the employees all do.

Tips for You

The Am I Doing This Right column tends to have actionable tips. So, let’s get down to them. If you find yourself hesitant to accept change at your company, take the time to think about where those fears are coming from. Instead of focusing on those fears as if they’re facts, consider that your worst fears may not become reality. Cross that bridge when you come to it, right?

And, potentially most importantly, I think something we all need to do is to actively engage with employees we don’t know. Take a walk around your office and introduce yourself to people in different departments. If you see a face you don’t recognize, or know that someone is new, say hello! If you know we have new employees in an office outside of yours, you can do that via email, too. Attend events like the Green Team’s beach cleanups, or our company events. It will take a second of bravery, especially for the introverts out there, but it’ll be worth it. Work gets done a whole lot easier when you actually know who you are working with, after all. And I’m not even going to start on the cross-selling opportunities that come up when you regularly talk with people in other departments.

All in all, I guess I’ll sum up by saying stay optimistic, open-minded, and committed to keeping our company a family. To any new employees reading: Welcome. We’re excited for our future together. And to anyone reading this who is considering joining us, I hope this blog revealed a little more about what you can expect from our culture.

Ok, I’ll get off my soap box now, and I’ll see you next time I ask, “Am I Doing This Right?”

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One Response to “Being Part of a Growing Firm… Am I Doing This Right?”

November 11, 2021 at 8:37 am, Joanne Munkelt said:

Great article, as always.

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