Don’t get distracted by peripheral stuff

Sep 09, 2016

In the form of growth, profitability, and important projects, multidiscipline firm based in upstate New York is reaping the benefits of a well-executed ownership transition.

By Liisa Andreassen Correspondent

In 1977, when Wayne Wegman joined Rochester, New York-based engineering and architecture firm Passero Associates (Best Firm Multidiscipline #5 for 2016), there were 10 employees and they mostly represented local residential and commercial developers. Today, Passero Associates has 85 employees and they’ve added offices in New York, Florida, and Ohio.

Wegman’s had the privilege of spending a majority of his career at Passero Associates. He became a partner in 1986, was named president in 2005, and then became CEO in 2013.

“Today, we work in more than 40 airports in five states and the Caribbean, and on development projects in 16 states,” he says.

A colleague describes Wegman’s leadership style as “inclusive and collaborative,” adding that he’s also an open-minded relationship builder, visionary, and committed to the growth and development of people. He’s a continuous learner who constantly seeks feedback to improve.

A conversation with Wegman.

The Zweig Letter: What do you feel the key strengths are for an effective leader?

Wayne Wegman: Self-assessor, good listener, servant leader, and caring for staff and others.

TZL: To date, what has been your greatest challenge and how did you deal with it?

WW: To guide the transition of leadership from the founder to the next leadership generation. We had to formalize the way we operate, set roles and responsibilities, develop a system of accountability, measure performance, and set compensation based on results. Although it was challenging, I think we were successful as demonstrated by our growth and profitability over the past three years – 40 percent organic growth over the past two years. Our site engineering department has expanded their regional footprint into multiple states; our architecture department has completed award-winning public library and mixed-use building projects; and our aviation services department has expanded into the Caribbean, working on multiple airport projects.

TZL: What is your vision for the future of Passero?

WW: We need to prepare for a labor shortage in the next 10 to 15 years. This could impact growth. We need to focus on recruitment, expansion of our internship-to-hire program, employee engagement, and retention. I believe corporate culture can be an important strategic asset to recruit and retain talented employees. It’s also important to understand that millennials are the fastest-growing employee segment and are projected to represent a majority of the workforce within three years. My vision is to focus on developing a corporate culture that serves our employee base and achieves our vision to become an “Employer of Choice.”

TZL: Tell me about a recent project that you are especially proud of.

WW: The new 38,700-square-foot Irondequoit Public Library replaces two library branches, and is centrally located, reinforcing the original vision for the civic campus, which included a library adjacent to the Town Hall. Passero Associates managed the entire project from start to finish as the architect of record and project manager, providing all architectural contract documentation and coordination. The new library enhances the symbolic and physical heart of the community, and is a source of pride for the entire Monroe County Library System and the town. Working with a team of local and national experts, Passero Associates brought to Irondequoit a modern library design that serves and enhances the community. The library features a traditional exterior, in fitting with its location on the Town Hall campus. The new library serves as the heart of the community, providing a modern public computer lab, a senior center, public meeting/activity rooms, a multifunctional maker’s lab, a historic display, a teen reading and study area, and a children’s center.

TZL: How have you helped your firm to outperform some competitors? What do you feel sets you apart?

WW: Our four cornerstones have led to our growth and success. These cornerstones are:

  • Best people/fulfilling work environment
  • Exceptional client service
  • Outstanding results
  • Growth and profitability

TZL: Is there any news you care to share about recent projects or anything else?

WW: Over the past couple of years, we have completed more than half a dozen projects that received local, state, and national awards. We are especially excited and humbled to be recognized as one of the top five Best Firms to Work For by the Zweig Group in 2016, as this award reflects the positive work culture we have created together and will continue to build and enhance.

TZL: Are you married? Children? Pets?

WW: I’ve been married to Julie for 34 years. We have three grown children who are scattered around the country in New York City, Chicago, and Cleveland.

TZL: What’s been your best vacation spot? Dream destination?

WW: Finger Lakes region in upstate New York. South Africa remains on my bucket list.

TZL: What’s the last book you read?

WW: Zero to One by Peter Thiel. Many millennials consider Peter Thiel the guru of start-ups. I read it with the hope of gaining a better understanding of how millennials think and what drives their engagement.

TZL: What’s the last movie you saw in the theater?

WW: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I watched it over the Christmas holiday with my family.

TZL: What’s the best piece of work-related advice you’ve received?

WW: I used to be chronically late (five to 10 minutes), for meetings until a client asked me if I thought my time was more important than his. Since then, I stress over walking into a meeting late, and will apologize even for being a minute late. So, don’t think or act like you are more important than anyone else.

TZL: Is there a leader you admire? Why?

WW: Ronald Reagan. He had two objectives during his presidency – end the Cold War and fix the economy. He surrounded himself with the best people to accomplish those two objectives, even a few he didn’t particularly care for. He wouldn’t let his administration get sidetracked from accomplishing those two objectives, and as we know, both were accomplished. A true lesson for CEOs: Stay focused on your important objectives and don’t get distracted by the peripheral stuff.

TZL: When you’re not working, what types of activities do you enjoy?

WW: Golf, snow skiing, water skiing, traveling, and spending time with my family.

TZL: What’s your favorite lunch?

WW: Eggplant Parmesan at Roncone’s, a small Italian restaurant in Rochester, New York.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.