A Message From Mitch

Friday, April 13, 2018

If You Want to be a Great Consulting Engineer or Architect, Listen to Your Grandparents

My grandparents passed away years ago, but I still have very fond memories of my time spent with them on their family ranch in East Texas.  My family and extended family hunted together, fished together, ate together, celebrated together, and generally enjoyed life together.  Times were different back then, but I believe there is a lot we can learn from our grandparents about being great consulting engineers and architects.

My grandparents grew up in a time when people listened to one another.  I remember my extended family gathering for special occasions at my grandparent’s home to enjoy a meal together.  My uncles would tell long elaborate stories about their latest hunting escapades as the family sat together and listened.  Nobody interrupted or threw in their opinion while they were talking.  We listened and absorbed and enjoyed our time together.  In fact, I’ll say that I learned quite a bit at those family gatherings about life, hunting, fishing, and work.  We in the AE industry should strive to listen and understand our clients’ perspective on the challenges that they are facing, before we try to fix them without all of the facts.

People of my grandparent’s generation fixed things before immediately throwing them away and replacing them. You can say they were “green” before sustainable design was cool.  My parents and grandparents lived during the Great Depression and learned when something was broken, you fixed it.  We should be looking for ways to conserve resources and rehabilitate existing facilities, and to always determine if there is value in the facilities and infrastructure that is worth salvaging.  

My grandparent’s desire for our family was to maintain a close relationship with them.  They wanted to hear from us frequently, to understand what we were up to, and to come visit them as often as we could.  As an engineer or architect we need to develop close relationships with our clients, communicate with them frequently, and spend time listening to their concerns.

As my grandparents and parents aged, they had a harder time getting around and required special accommodations.  We should take into consideration folks with special needs like my grandparents and prepare designs that have accommodations for those who have mobility issues. 

My grandfather was well known in the county that I grew up in as a man of good character and integrity.  His handshake was as good as a written contract.  I frequently tell our Project Managers that our contracts are our word.  We must live up to every promise that we make.  If there is something in the agreement that we can’t perform, we shouldn’t be entering into an agreement to do so.  We fulfill the promises of our handshakes, verbal commitments, and contracts as that is a perpetual representation of our character, integrity, and trust.  You can’t buy, sell or trade a reputation, you have to earn it.  A good architect or engineer keeps their word, fulfills their contractual obligations, and develops/maintains trust with their clients.

I remember many lessons from my youth about what a completed job looks like.  No corners are cut and you work until you are finished with a project and everything is cleaned up and back in order.  My grandparents and parents both modeled this idea, coached it, and encouraged me to adopt the same work ethic from their generation.  Good engineers and architects persevere, occasionally under adverse circumstances, to ensure that their clients’ projects are completed with excellence.

My grandmother had an amazing talent for catching bream and bass from the stock tanks on their ranch,  and she was great at teaching her grandchildren how to do it as well.  Her patience seemed to have no end, and we had fun as we learned.  An engineer or architect entering the profession finds mentors to help them learn how to practice their craft.  A good mid-level to senior engineer or architect is patient and takes time to teach and mentor the professionals and technicians coming along behind them.  

My grandfather owned the local general store in the small community of 200 that I grew up in.  As I grew older, I noticed that he went above and beyond to deliver groceries himself to the elderly and sick.  In addition, he offered store credit for anyone who needed it.  One of the important lessons I learned during those times is, as a person in business, we help those in our community who are in need.  We should always go above and beyond to meet the specific needs of our clients.  One size doesn’t fit all.

My grandfather also grew hay on his ranch for his cattle as well as for other ranchers.  I remember long days and nights of raking hay for the baler and then hauling hay to the barn.  I learned back then there is a time to work and a time to rest.  When we had work to do, we did it.  If rain was coming with hay cut in the field, we didn’t rest, we got busy baling and hauling hay until the last bale was in the barn.  Great engineers and architects do what they need to do in order to meet funding deadlines and other critical deadlines for their clients - they keep moving to get the job done.

Yes, I think there are a lot of lessons that we can learn about the engineering and architecture consulting business from our grandparents.  Some things go out of style, but hard work, perseverance, trust, loyalty, commitment to excellence, integrity, and a solid commitment to those in your community never do.

Mitch Fortner, P.E., President, KSA

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