Building community: Jay Edwards

May 30, 2021

CEO of Parkhill (Lubbock, TX), a multidisciplinary firm that is building community by creating inventive, relevant built environments together.

By Liisa Andreassen Correspondent

After serving as the firm’s COO since 2015, Edwards was named president/CEO of Parkhill in 2019. He takes pride in developing relationships and building community.

“We focus on being an open and transparent business,” Edwards says. “It starts with the board, partners, and associates and trickles down to the rest of the staff. To have successful change management you have to have trust. You have to tell the ‘why’ behind change and communicate that change is happening for a reason. Change management has to be very deliberate and when people embrace it, energy comes from it.”

A conversation with Jay Edwards.

The Zweig Letter: You were COO for several years prior to becoming CEO. Did you find that position helped to prepare you for your current role as CEO? Please explain.

Jay Edwards: As COO, I worked alongside the CEO for nearly four years prior to moving into this role. It was a somewhat seamless and easy transition. We brought in an outside consultant to help as well. We’re now in a growth strategy mindset and have reorganized the corporate structure in the last year. The COO is more internally focused and I’m more management oriented.

TZL: How do you anticipate COVID-19 permanently impacting your firm’s policy on telecommuting?

JE: We already had a small percentage of remote workers – about 10 percent. We’d invested in technology so it was easy to transition to 100 percent remote working. We’ve recently conducted surveys to see what people want moving forward and we’ve learned that about 15 percent want to return to the office, full-time. Most people find that they’re more productive at home. While there’s some stuff they miss, they prefer more time at home. The future will likely be a hybrid model. We’ve been researching what future offices will look like too – more collaborative spaces. We see the future of the office taking on a role that serves to preserve and maintain the company’s culture as opposed to a place to work. It will be more of a cultural and social hub, so we don’t see a cultural erosion.

TZL: How much time do you spend working “in the business” rather than “on the business?”

JE: I’ve always worked on projects and enjoyed developing relationships. I still maintain a percentage of “in” – probably about 15 percent to 20 percent. I like staying plugged in. It keeps me grounded. I had a mentor who told me that I should approach the firm like it’s my project. That made a lot of sense to me.

TZL: Trust is essential. How do you earn the trust of your clients?

JE: Trust plays into our overall mission statement: “Building community by creating inventive, relevant built environments together.” It’s nine words all together, but when you take it apart, it’s meant literally. It hits that sweet spot as we find the words balance to create trust.

TZL: Diversity and inclusion are lacking. What steps are you taking to address the issue?

JE: This is a very applicable topic right now. We began focusing on this over the past summer. There’s a blog post on our website called “Standing Against Racism.” It includes a presentation and video we put together about our commitment to diversity and inclusion given to employees and small groups. We’re working to be more proactive about issues having to do with bigotry, racism, and prejudices. Biases are subtle and more difficult to identify. We’re bringing attention to that. It’s important for us to truly embrace building community and working for the common good. I’ve also joined the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion Pledge.

TZL: Are you using the R&D tax credit? If so, how is it working for your firm? If not, why not?

JE: Yes. We’ve used it for the past six years and it’s worked well. It makes us think about what we’re doing and has shaped our practice. We’re data driven and work to synthesize design into solution.

TZL: Parkhill’s vision states, “Transforming community by facilitating an extraordinary, enlightening client experience that results in making visions reality.” Can you provide a recent, real-life example that illustrates this?

JE: We had a project with a large water development plant for a community in Midland. The project was taken on during a big drought and there was a great sense of urgency. A project that cost several hundred million was completed in 14 months so the community would have a reliable water source. There were so many facets and moving parts and the way the community pulled together made it all possible.

TZL: It is often said that people leave managers, not companies. What are you doing to ensure that your line leadership are great people managers?

JE: This is very true and we try to hire good people who care. It’s important that people are genuine and leadership really understands that. We’ve had a Leadership Academy for more than 13 years. It’s a year-long program and leaders look forward to attending. It comes with a certain amount of prestige. We work to ensure that they’re not just good leaders, but good people. In the beginning, leaders are paired with mentor(s) and there are eight distinct events. There’s also a two-day session that involves some type of training on a specific training topic. There’s a graduation ceremony at the end of the fiscal year. To date, about 200 people have graduated from the Academy.

TZL: Is change management a topic regularly addressed by the leadership at your firm? If so, elaborate.

JE: When I came on board as CEO, we named new roles and assembled a new executive leadership team. We talk about this a lot. We’ve revamped a lot of processes and gotten buy-in, company-wide. That’s important. We focus on being an open and transparent business. It starts with the board, partners, and associates and trickles down to the rest of the staff. To have successful change management you have to have trust. You have to tell the “why” behind change and communicate that change is happening for a reason – not just change for change sake. Change management has to be very deliberate and when people embrace it, energy comes from it.

TZL: Research shows that PMs are overworked, understaffed, and that many firms do not have formal training programs for PMs. What is your firm doing to support its PMs?

JE: We’ve just created a new set of best practices for project managers. It’s in a newly-published project development manual and took about a year to produce. We launched a project development department and added some corporate resources. We found that many project managers felt they had to do everything well, so we created a robust project manger assistant program to assist with more administrative functions and to help create consistency across the board. We have six areas of excellence that we focus on and project management is one of them. We also use “Strength Finders” to help project managers understand where their strengths truly lie.

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