Creating growth: Al Baysek

May 28, 2023

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Executive principal and chief strategy officer at AG&E (Dallas, TX), a full service firm that provides sustainable structural engineering design for all types of projects.

By Liisa Andreassen

As executive principal and chief strategy officer at AG&E, Baysek excels at creating and implementing firm-wide strategic business initiatives and leading change management. He understands change is inevitable, especially in today’s technology-focused world, and firmly believes that companies should embrace new tools to increase efficiency and design process speed.

Embracing technology. At AG&E, Baysek has built on his previous experiences at ATMI, a global leader in the development of process solutions for the semiconductor and life science industries, to use the open API associated with most of today’s software programs. For example, they institute both advanced design technology and computational design technology to increase the capabilities of their design software, integrate software where needed, and delve into the new worlds of computational design, AR and VR, and – maybe soon – AI.

“I’m most excited by the use of advanced technology in the delivery of our work product to our clients,” Baysek says.

He shares that Moore’s Law posits that the speed of computers will double every 18 months.

“His hypothesis has been validated. Technology is growing exponentially. Computers’ speed and power have generally been doubling every one-and-a-half to two years since the 1960s and ‘70s. The width and breadth of technology available is allowing us to design more spectacular buildings, increase our efficiency of design and delivery, and actually become integrated into the financial proforma for projects,” he says.

As a result, clients receive a robust financial boost to their bottom line. How?

“We’re doing more with less,” Baysek says. “As the evidence bears out, over the past several decades, advanced computing capabilities and sophisticated software have improved the accuracy, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of structural designs. Coders and software engineers are becoming a staple of almost every engineering office and the demand for more integration and sophistication in the engineering design platforms will only increase the need for these types of staff members as we venture deeper into computational design, AR, VR, and AI.”

Retaining talent in a shallow pool. On the flip side, Baysek says he does worry about the lack of a quality engineering talent pool to fill some of these roles. He explains that it’s really a three-fold problem:

  1. There’s a dwindling candidate supply. We lost a generation of mid-level engineers to the Great Recession. Fewer entry-level engineers were hired during that time and a lot of young engineers were laid off or grew frustrated with the profession and moved into other careers. There are more competing lucrative and stable careers for students to consider entering college. Although overall structural engineering salaries have tracked favorably with other prestigious professions, entry-level salaries are not as attractive or competitive with other careers.
  2. There’s a shortage of structural engineers who possess the desirable and needed skills to exist in today’s structural engineering offices. The students being delivered by our educational institutions are lacking in structural engineering fundamentals – basic statics, understanding of free-body diagrams, visualization of load paths, and understanding how the various parts of a structure work together to resist gravity and lateral loads. Most have been exposed to basic structural analysis and BIM software, but it only masks the basic problem-solving skills needed in our profession. There seems to be a misalignment between the needs and goals of the employers and what the educational institutions are providing. Further, as we look for future leaders, we find many lacking the communication and writing skills they will need as they rise within a firm and many lacking the ability to interact with clients and colleagues effectively.
  3. The U.S. visa system places a burden on employers in recruiting the best and the brightest international students with cost, lengthy, and complex processes, and an outdated system.

As a result, Baysek says that when you do find those golden geese you must absolutely work to retain them.

“As leaders, we need to create an inviting company, social and professional culture, cultivate an environment of learning, engage our staff in the development of company-wide design processes, procedures, and policies, and we need to continually push to keep our technology and technology resources on the leading edge,” he says.

So, what’s AG&E doing? It’s focused on its employees’ professional growth and creating exciting opportunities. They ask their employees questions such as, “Where are you on the path you’ve chosen?” “What do you need to improve or add to the toolbox?” “What makes you feel engaged?” “What ideas do you have to help the company become a better version of itself?”

Once these questions have been answered, firm leaders help them to figure out their next move to advance their career and fulfill them personally.

Baysek says that they also don’t really pay much attention to having a book of experience when it comes to hiring or moving up the ladder. He shares that it’s more about an employee’s overall approach to their daily work, their interaction with colleagues, their inherent leadership capabilities, and their ability to actually be held accountable.

“I think some staff can grow into a leadership role very early in their careers,” he says. “I’ve always said that in your 20s, you learn and hone your technical expertise; in your 30s, you’re beginning to understand the business, where you fit in, and what you are actually better at than others; and in your 40s, you begin to focus on what you like the most and what you do best. Somewhere in there, probably late 20s to early 30s, we identify those who we think will rise to leadership positions and put them on a fast-track plan.”

Baysek says that mentorship is so important to a person’s career. For him, his mentor was his former partner, Steve Campbell. Today, they remain colleagues.

“He taught me that you need to spend as much time ‘on the business’ as ‘in the business’ and that proposals, contracts, and written language on our documents are as important as the design processes we establish as a company,” he says. “We developed, together, a fundamental philosophy of not accepting the status quo but looking beyond the detail or the process to the why behind each.”

So far, Baysek has mostly held true to the 50/50 “in” versus “on.”

“As chief strategy officer, my purpose is to oversee all strategies whether internal or external are executed, completed, and rolled out. Thus, my focus can change daily, weekly, or monthly as to which arena I should be involved, but it balances out,” he says.

Growing the firm. Baysek says his number one responsibility as firm leader is to help create growth and infuse stability into the company. And, in order to create an environment where people can grow and learn, the company must grow too. That’s why AG&E is focused on its three-pronged strategic plan which includes:

  • Client review
  • Market focus
  • Integration of services

This is transforming AG&E from just a structural engineering company to a vertically integrated construction services company. In fact, it’s recently acquired a structural steel detailing firm and added connection design as well as precast, prestressed engineering under the AG&E banner – some of their focus will now turn to creating efficient internal processes for the accelerated delivery of projects and to educating clients about how the process works, its benefits, and what it means to the bottom line.

“Our operations team worked fastidiously to understand the nuanced differences in the businesses, to get them integrated into our processes, and to create a welcoming atmosphere as they joined our team,” Baysek says. 

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