On May 1, 1990, when I was appointed President of Urban, I quietly thought to myself, if health, and my Board would allow, I will have, by age 65, completed a marathon of sorts, going 26.2 here at Urban – 26 years and two months. While this run, on occasion, has been challenging, I have enjoyed every minute of every path traveled professionally, civically, and with family and friends.
This will be my final article in an Urban publication, for in a few short months I will be stepping back as President/CEO and passing the reins on to an already accomplished leadership team led by Kenneth R. Fulmer, PE – an Urban lifer who knows our business, knows our clients, and has garnered well earned respect from all within our organization, and from many within the industry.
The editors of “excellence” have asked me to share my story, the good and the bad, and to focus on what “we” have accomplished.
Learn From Others
Many have heard me say, “Learn from others (co-workers, industry leaders, authors), accept mistakes, but do not repeat them, and help all that you can along the way. Design and build it as if you were to own it for life, and you will always be pleased with the outcome, as will our clients, and, if funded and maintained, it will last for generations.” Ian McHarg’s book Design with Nature, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, Jane Jacob’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities and Patrick Cairo’s, The Power Broker, helped shape in me a belief that I am proud to see prevails and permeates every practice area here at Urban. We are custodians of what we have been given, and it is our responsibility to preserve and enhance the natural and built environment for generations to come.
It is not what we do, but rather why we do it that matters.
Those that read our excellence publications know of the exciting and meaningful work we have done in the communities we serve. Throughout the country we have successfully undertaken many of the biggest challenges of the last half century. Our repeat clients are many and are greatly appreciated. Through service and relationships that often span decades, we have learned, solved challenges, and grown together. And along the way, when problems occurred, our clients quickly learned that we never walk away from a problem. Are we perfect? No. But, do we rate right up there with the best of the best – consistently delivering a quality product over many assignments and in numerous endeavors? –Yes.
From this vantage point (pictured above) – as far as the eye can see, the region is full of our projects. You cannot go from point A to point B, in a car, train, boat, or plane, without being transported on a project that we have had significant involvement. The view includes work we have done in museums, concert halls, institutions, stadiums, residences, and National Parks. If the building was taller and the skies clear, you could view our work in New Castle, Baltimore, Buffalo, Erie, Hartford, New Haven, New York City and throughout all of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
I often say, “it is not what we do, but rather why we do it that matters.” It is not the yards of concrete placed or the tons of steel erected – it is the outcome, the venue, and the user’s experience that matters. My visual for this has always been a grandparent with a grandchild, both enjoying an ice cream cone, sitting on a park bench, at a train station, a terminal, or along a multi-use path which we have helped make possible.
Recently, I heard the chair of a search committee express the need to find a “creative engineer” to lead a complex, diverse and highly respected organization. “Creative,” a once unfamiliar term for our industry, is now an integral quality that describes so many here at Urban. We are blessed with creative and technically talented problem solvers (aka planners, environmentalists, engineers, construction managers and inspectors) who have found solutions to challenges once thought impossible to overcome.
We are an organically grown, employee owned company.What we have done, and how we have done it, sets us apart. The people we work with make this organization special – and you will continue to see that in our Faces of Formulating excellence and you will read about it in our consistent rankings as a “Best Place to Work.”
My incredible business partner, Joseph P. McAtee, PE, and I had leadership responsibility here at Urban for two and a half decades. In our journey, we grew the company to over 450 folks, expanded our services across the country, and endeavored to maintain the quality of our work as priority one, two and three, followed by growth, and opportunities for everyone. We were never “for sale” and have kept Urban “Urban” at a time when mergers, and bigger is better has, in some cases, sputtered and failed. We maintained our autonomy by being focused and guided by three caveats, and always in this order; first, we did what is right for our people; second, we were diligent in doing what is right to protect our profession; and then we attended to the business aspects of our company.
All it takes is great clients, challenging projects, a talented workforce, and a commitment to quality.
Having been in the Leader’s role for 26 years and two months (26.2), every step I have taken, every decision I have made, has been done with the guidance, support and wisdom of some of the brightest and most amazing people in our business, from both the technical and administrative sides of the house. Why are they here, why have they stayed? I suspect it is because our clients have repeatedly given us many of their biggest challenges, made it clear what they expected, and allowed us to be a voice at the table when decisions are made.
All it takes is great clients, challenging projects, a talented workforce, and a commitment to quality. We apply our knowledge, highlighted by our nationally acclaimed Training Institute, to every aspect of what we do, and the results are exceptional.
I credit our company’s Founders (Robert C. Olson, PE, Edward J. D’Alba, PE and K. Yervant Terzian, PE) for giving us a great name and reputation, and for instilling in us what it takes to succeed. I have been honored to have served as President and CEO of one of the finest engineering companies you will ever know. The mentors I have had along the way, helped me go the distance, and because of each and every one of you, I had the wind at my back. Now that I am nearing the finish line, I can look back with no regrets and a lifetime of great memories, of projects, of accomplishments, but most importantly, of awesome people with whom I have had the privilege to work with and for.
What Lies Ahead?
The paths I will be taking going forward will be to continue to serve on our Board, work part-time, and remain fully engaged in the several non-profit boards on which I serve. And, when time allows, I will ride via bike and car on projects designed and managed by Urban, will take flight from some of the many aviation facilities we have designed, visit museums and universities we have helped shape, and will continue to give back to all the people and places that have done so much for me over the last 26.2 years. It has been a rewarding run. Thank you all!