President and CEO of Sunrise Engineering (Fillmore, UT), a full-service professional engineering and consulting firm that has been providing its services since 1978.
By Liisa Andreassen
Huntsman started with Sunrise Engineering nearly 30 years ago when the company had 14 employees. Today, he’s president and CEO of a growing multi-disciplinary firm of more than 400. Since his time with Sunrise, he’s held several leadership roles and supervised the creation of five new service divisions.
“We are very supportive of our employees’ personal lives and a work-life balance. We care about all of our employees like they are family,” Huntsman says. “When we invest our support in our employees’ communities and families, an internal community culture is the result. Many companies say it, but at Sunrise we strive to make all of our employees feel like they are part of our family.”
A conversation with Mark Huntsman.
The Zweig Letter: I’m sure you’ve experienced many accomplishments over the years. Is there a specific one that springs to mind first? Why?
Mark Huntsman: I can’t name any one specific accomplishment, because all accomplishments, and setbacks for that matter, are relevant. My focus has always been on bringing betterments to communities and bringing career opportunities to our employees. Any accomplishment that satisfies one or both of those goals is where I get my joy and of what I’m most proud.
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?
MH: My parents were my mentors. My mother was a working mom while I was growing up, and then moved into banking leadership in the state of Nevada – serving on multiple banking boards governing banking operations. My father was a teacher/administrator in secondary education. Their example of honesty, generosity, and leading and helping others find success taught me how I wanted to be.
TZL: How has COVID-19 permanently impacted your firm’s policy on telecommuting?
MH: Along with many others, we were surprised with the sweeping response to COVID-19, but, with years of work on our business continuity strategy/commitment, we were ready to facilitate a hybrid work-from-home environment. With committed employees, leadership, and technology, we maintained our client relationships and our culture of accountability, communication, and efficiency.
Since then, we have incorporated telecommuting, either full-time or in a hybrid environment, into our regular practice and procedures. While most of our employees still work primarily in the office, we have a number of employees who are very successful working from home.
We continue to develop guidelines and invest in technology to provide employees with a flexible, productive work environment.
TZL: How did you and your leadership team grow the business? Organic growth? Acquisitions?
MH: This year we completed our first acquisition of another firm, where we added 10 employees, but other than that our growth has been completely organic. This ties back to my previous answer in terms of providing opportunities – leadership and otherwise – for our employees. The recipe for organic growth is about client relationships/opportunities and employee relationships/opportunities. Seeking both kinds of relationships is key to growing any business. We’re also constantly reinventing ourselves to accommodate our clients’ needs, employee needs, and the industry environment.
TZL: How much time do you spend working “in the business” rather than “on the business?”
MH: The years of project management are behind me. My current time is spent on strategic objectives. I split my time between building key relationships with clients, supporting employees on their projects, and business development. I also support and guide our employees on how to do the same. I would love to be part of a specific design project, but now my job is to focus on supporting those who are doing that part of the business.
TZL: Sunrise is a leader in the natural gas industry. What do you see as a top challenge for this sector down the road? How is Sunrise working to meet that challenge?
MH: There is a lot of conversation happening right now about eliminating the use of natural gas, but it’s currently essential to so many communities so it is unlikely that it will go away any time soon. Our job is to help the companies that provide it to communities to do it well and to do it safely. One of the biggest challenges for us is to keep a seat at the table when there is change and to stay relevant with the services we are providing those companies.
While natural gas is important to us, we are not just about natural gas. With all our market sectors, it is all about cultivating our client relationships and the biggest risk is when something happens that makes those relationships change. It can be a political change, a market change, or new leadership within the client company. Our challenge is to stay ahead of those changes as much as we can.
TZL: Trust is essential. How do you earn the trust of your clients?
MH: There are two kinds of trust: employee and client. They go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other – both are essential. I call it being in the people business.
Clients are often thought of as an entity, but clients are people or groups of people who engage us to help with challenges and opportunities. They have expectations. To know and exceed your clients’ expectations – that is how you retain your integrity and your clients’ trust. The same happens with your employees.
It used to be taboo to talk about employees. You only talked about revenue, business, projects, etc., not people, not employees. We got in the employee business before it was trendy. We started recognizing employees and providing them with consistent opportunities for growth and that has built trust between our managers and employees.
TZL: Are future plans for continued growth in the works? If yes, how are you going about meeting that end goal?
MH: Yes, absolutely. We are aggressively pursuing industry and client opportunities; looking for additional ways to bring betterments to our clients and their operations. Our strategic plan is to grow revenue and employees by 15 percent. We do this by creating opportunities for both our clients and our employees to grow their communities and careers.
TZL: What role does your family play in your career? Are work and family separate, or is there overlap?
MH: I think to be successful, there has to be overlap. I’m so blessed to have 100 percent support from my wife, my three children and their spouses, and 14 grandchildren. I couldn’t be successful in my career without that support. But also, Sunrise has always supported my family commitments, community service, personal relationships, and allows me to have the necessary balance between them all. I’ve been very fortunate to maintain a life balance. I’ve tried to set the example of “work hard, play harder.” We are a very family-centric company, and we support this life balance for all our employees.
In addition to our employees’ individual families, we have a Sunrise family. We care about all our employees like they were part of our own family and strive to support them as such.
TZL: They say failure is a great teacher. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve had to learn the hard way?
MH: Words matter. Once you say it you can’t take it back. The wrong choice of words can cause you to lose clients, employees, and friendships. Choose your words carefully.
TZL: Creating an atmosphere of community is important to Sunrise Engineering. What are some things that the company does to create that community culture?
MH: We support our local communities not only with their projects, but with their community events, service projects, fund raisers, etc. We also advocate for and support our employees in voluntary community services such as firefighting, search and rescue, EMS, planning and zoning, city councils and local government, and emergency response (floods, fires, food drives). We encourage our employees to be involved.
Together, our employees participate in supporting local schools with services such as reading programs and food bank programs. An example of this is our support of the weekend meals program for Midvale Elementary School in Midvale, Utah. The school has a program that provides food for children, who might not have access to it otherwise, to take home with them over the weekends. Our employees donate financially and with their time to help the school realize this goal.
Finally, we are very supportive of our employees’ personal lives and a work-life balance. We care about all of our employees like they are family. When we invest our support in our employees’ communities and families, an internal community culture is the result. Many companies say it, but at Sunrise we strive to make all of our employees feel like they are part of our family.
TZL: In one word or phrase, what do you describe as your number one job responsibility?
MH: I think our mission statement sums it up: Creating solutions that work and relationships that last.
From accountability, to fostering relationships with employees and clients, to direction from the board on profit, everything I do fits into that mission, and it’s what guides me.