Cultivating balance: Shane McCormick

May 01, 2022

President of Martin/Martin (Denver, CO), a full-service civil and structural engineering and surveying firm founded in the 1940s.

By Liisa Andreassen

In 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, McCormick became president of Martin/Martin. As a result, he’s now largely focused on answering some of the questions brought on by COVID-19: What will our workplaces look like in the future? How will we adjust to increased flexibility and remote work while retaining our company’s culture? How do we grow our other offices across the country? How do we take advantage of remote working technologies that allow you to work from anywhere, but also retain focus on specific goals?

“In my new role, I have to keep and cultivate an environment where talented people really want to work,” he says.

A conversation with Shane McCormick.

The Zweig Letter: You’ve been with the firm since 2005. Tell me a little about your path to being president? What was your first position and when were you made principal?

Shane McCormick: I worked for a large interdisciplinary architectural engineering company in Chicago for seven years prior to starting with Martin/Martin in 2005. My first role here was as a senior project manager focusing on higher education, health care, commercial, and government projects. Eventually, I also took on the roles of an engineering team leader and structural engineering recruiting manager prior to becoming a principal in 2014. The president selection process is fairly democratic here, based on input from managers, principals, shareholders, and, ultimately, the board of directors.

TZL: How has COVID-19 permanently impacted your firm’s policy on telecommuting?

SM: We went fully remote during COVID-19. Last August, we started a new hybrid remote work policy, where employees are expected to be in the office Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, and may work remotely Wednesday and Friday if they prefer (apparently Apple copied us!).

We believe this hybrid approach allows us to continue to offer great mentorship, career development, team interaction, collaboration, and internal networking, while also realizing the benefits remote work offers, including personal flexibility and focused time.

TZL: Since being principal, what’s been one of the most difficult decisions you’ve had to make and why?

SM: The most difficult decisions are always about people. And the most difficult of these involve behavior or performance issues. Understanding when a line has been crossed, and when it’s in the best interest of the company and employee to separate can be very difficult.

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?

SM: Like many structural engineers (and architects) who started their career in Chicago, I admire the example set by Stan Korista of SOM, who passed several years ago. Stan cared deeply about technical excellence. He cared about serving clients. And though he wasn’t demonstrative, he cared deeply about his employees and their success. I remember, clearly, returning to Chicago after being in lower Manhattan on 9/11. He was the only partner who offered personal support and made sure I was ready to be back.

TZL: Who are you admiring right now in the AEC industry? Where do you see thought leadership and excellence?

SM: Companies and organizations that are effectively responding to the global warming crisis, and the need to focus on sustainability and a carbon neutral future. These include material suppliers, non-profit organizations, engineers, entrepreneurs, and governments. A great example would be Nucor steel, which has moved beyond decades of industry entrenchment, made substantial investments in renewable energy, and is now offering a line of net-zero steel.

TZL: Integrity, service and creativity are all important to Martin/Martin when hiring new staff. How do you ensure you’re getting those qualities in an individual? What helps to determine that during the recruitment/interview process?

SM: For those qualities, and really any important qualities, you need to look for evidence in their experience that demonstrates they have previously achieved them. You need to look for specific, repeated examples. We often use a behavioral interviewing approach, telegraphing in the questions our values and asking for clear instances when they were demonstrated.

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

SM: We can always benefit from different perspectives to help us solve problems for our clients. To increase the diversity of backgrounds in our company, we’ve increased the number of schools where we recruit, targeted schools with more diverse student bodies, increased the number of websites where we advertise positions, and included younger engineers in our recruiting and interview process. These efforts have been led by our JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) committee, which is composed of employees across the company. A big part of the problem relates to not enough high school students choosing engineering as a career. Locally, we’ve mentored students from disadvantaged backgrounds and worked with local STEM programs too.

TZL: What is one of the greatest accomplishments that Martin/Martin has achieved during your time there? Why?

SM: Early in my career at Martin/Martin, the company regained complete employee ownership following decades with an outside investor. There have also been multiple outstanding projects, including rehabilitation of the Colorado Capital Dome, sustainable site design of the National Renewable Energy Lab campus, and ongoing construction of the Colorado Convention Center addition, which involves designing the new upper floor for a 650,000-pound mobile crane so it can erect the new part of the facility.

TZL: What type of leader do you consider yourself to be?

SM: There’s a book called Turn this Ship Around by David Marquet, a former U.S. Navy Captain who introduced a bold new approach to leadership, based on his experiences of turning around a troubled submarine crew. He gave up the traditional command-and-control model and instead inspired every member of his crew to embrace accountability, foster talent, provide clarity of intent, and encourage others to solve problems. Through his approach, the ship becomes a top performer in the fleet.

TZL: What’s top priority on your current to-do list? Why?

SM: Like most companies, we’re dealing with an incredibility tight labor market, resulting in challenges in recruiting and retention. We’re also feeling pressure for more remote work for some employees, which may not be in their long-term interest or that of the company. I’ve tried to work with others to cultivate an environment that offers the right incentives, mentoring, development opportunities, and balance between office and remote work.

TZL: What benefits does your firm offer that your people get most excited about?

SM: Barista service is definitely number one! We also have food trucks, countless in-house lunches, drive-in movie nights, and intramural sports. We work hard and play hard. 

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