President and CEO of DRMP, Inc. (Orlando, FL), an employee-owned, multi-discipline firm that creates innovative design solutions for infrastructure development.
By Liisa Andreassen
Smith works with managing principals and senior team leaders to guide the direction of the firm, its growth, and adherence to DRMP’s culture and core values. His personal vision for the firm is to continue to grow at a steady pace, provide internal growth for employees and continue to be an up-and-coming industry leader. He says it all hinges on a “people first” culture.
“Being fair, going above and beyond, and looking out for your clients’ best interests go a long way in keeping long-term working relationships with our clients,” Smith says. “They know what they’re getting when they hire DRMP.”
A conversation with Larry Smith.
The Zweig Letter: As president, your goals are to continue to grow at a steady pace and to provide internal growth for employees. What are some things that you’re currently doing to meet those ends?
Larry Smith: While we had strategic growth initiatives in place to benefit our internal growth for employees, our recent partnership with our equity partner, Trilon Group, supported us in accelerating those initiatives and providing a tremendous amount of opportunity for our employees.
TZL: Have you had a particular mentor who has guided you – in school, in your career, or in general? Who were they and how did they help?
LS: My first and main mentor was my father, who was also a civil engineer. I grew up having engineering discussions at the dinner table and during our family vacations and I didn’t think twice about going into the profession. I’ve also had many mentors in this business and what I’ve learned is that they don’t have to be senior to you. If you keep an open mind, you can learn from anyone. And those lessons don’t always have to benefit me professionally, there are key life lessons that I’ve learned too.
TZL: Trust is essential. How do you earn the trust of your clients?
LS: We earn and keep the trust of our clients by truly working to embody our core values – expertise, quality, leadership, trust, and respect – in everything we do, every day. What we find is that it is not just the technical knowledge and expertise that you bring to the table, but it’s about relationships. Being fair, going above and beyond, and looking out for your clients’ best interests go a long way in keeping long-term working relationships with our clients. They know what they’re getting when they hire DRMP.
TZL: You joined DRMP in 1987 and became managing principal in 1999. What advice would you give to someone who looks to grow into a leadership position? What’s the best plan of attack, so to speak?
LS: Learn as much as you can early in your career; that is key. I’ve always told people if you want to be successful you need to learn how to do something and do it better than someone else. That is what elevates you into opportunities. Also, being kind, humble, and checking your ego at the door are all important. I’ve always told my kids they can get more in life with honey rather than vinegar.
TZL: What role does your family play in your career? Are work and family separate, or is there overlap?
LS: My family understands my role as the president of DRMP and that it’s a 24/7 job. There’s a separation, but there’s a tremendous amount of overlap. At the end of the day, I’m not neglecting them and I’m not neglecting the firm. My wife and kids are understanding; the grandkids and the dogs – not so much.
TZL: What’s happening at DRMP that you’re really excited about right now?
LS: The opportunities that will continue with our controlled growth with the support of our partners, the Trilon Group. There’s a buzz around our firm and the firms that have been brought on so far. Our staff is getting to know our partners and we have started connecting the dots in our service offerings. With every step in this process, I grow more and more excited about our future and what it could mean for our employees.
TZL: What skills are required to run a successful practice? What do you wish you knew starting out that you know now?
LS: To be successful in this industry you need to have maturity in the business. Being an engineer, I wish I had the opportunity to learn earlier how businesses operate and the psychology of people. That’s where maturity comes into play, in knowing the flow of business and why people think the way they do and truly listening. Over time, I’ve learned both and I’m still learning.
TZL: Diversity and inclusion are lacking. What steps are you taking to address the issue?
LS: Establishing our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion committee was our first step, then taking steps to provide training at the leadership level first in laying the groundwork. Also, understanding that we must remain open-minded to learning and seeking to understand. Along with race, sexual orientation, gender equality, and other important topics, as a firm we must consider diversity as it relates to DRMP. That includes employees who work in the field and office, those who work in our regional offices versus headquarters, those who work in support departments, and learn how we all can come together for DRMP’s shared success. At the end of the day, we want the best and brightest working for us, and having this committee is one of the tools to make sure there is inclusion for future and current staff.
TZL: In your opinion, what’s one of the greatest challenges facing the industry as a whole in the next 10 years?
LS: The greatest challenge is finding good, qualified people to do the work, and I don’t see that changing soon because of the job market. All of us in the AEC industry have to focus on creating an industry pipeline, possibly even as early as the elementary school level to spark interest.
TZL: Ownership transition can be tricky, to say the least. What’s the key to ensuring a smooth passing of the baton? What’s the biggest pitfall to avoid?
LS: Communication and creating opportunities are key in ownership transition and transition in management. With our partnership with Trilon there was a tremendous amount of thought and strategy put into how we would introduce to our staff first, through discussions, presentations, one-on-ones, etc. Our employees were always front of mind and in communicating the partnership within the firm, and we wanted our staff to know that. That took many discussions and leadership meetings among other things. As far as management, we’re creating room for others to be placed on our board and steering committee. If I could go back, more people would have been promoted to the next level to create more opportunities in management.
TZL: What do you enjoy most about your current position? Least?
LS: The best part about this job is the people I work with on a daily basis. When you surround yourself with fantastic people, your job is fun. They are easy to work with, dedicated, and do their part, and they allow me to do my part to help DRMP remain successful. The least is not getting to do true engineering design work, but that’s what comes with being a president/CEO and a principal.
TZL: A firm’s longevity is valuable. What are you doing to encourage your staff to stick around?
LS: One of the things I’m proudest of is our longevity at DRMP. About 100 employees have been with us for at least 10 years; 30 have been working at the firm for at least 20 years; and nearly 20 employees have at least 30-year careers at DRMP. I believe it’s our people-first culture. We always keep in mind how the decisions, policies, etc. we consider benefit staff, and ultimately our goal is to do what is best for them.