Don’t let them get you down

Sep 09, 2016

New York engineer Paul Grosser wasn’t afraid to make a change in 1990 when he needed one, and after 25-plus years of growth, he’s still hungry for more.

By Liisa Andreassen Correspondent

Since founding PWGC (#2 Best Firm Environmental for 2016), a 60-person environmental and civil engineering consulting firm based in Bohemia, New York, Paul W. Grosser has served as principal on more than a thousand projects. He is a recognized authority in the fields of civil, environmental, and geological engineering, and has extensive knowledge and valuable expertise from more than 35 years in the industry.

He holds a doctorate in civil engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, in addition to undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. From 2006 to 2010, Grosser won several Engineer of the Year awards, and in his home region of New York, is a driving force in his industry. His firm recently promoted two of its young engineers, and oversaw the construction of a major well field project on Long Island.

A conversation with Grosser.

The Zweig Letter: How have you seen PWGC evolve since its founding?

Paul Grosser: Our focus has pretty much stayed the same, but we’ve gone from a one-person firm operating out of a living room in 1990 to a 60-person firm with multiple locations in three states: New York, Connecticut, and Washington.

TZL: What were your key drivers for starting the firm?

PG: I was not happy with the direction a firm I was working for was taking. I was frustrated by the transition and decided it was time to make a move – one that would also provide a lifestyle change.

TZL: Any key insights to share for others interested in starting their own business?

PG: You have to be committed. You have to be ready to jump into the deep end of the pool. It’s also key to be flexible. Circumstances change and you have to be ready to change along with them.

TZL: What are your key strengths? What are the keys strengths for an effective leader?

PG: The ability to change – both personally and professionally. I love this quote from Wayne Gretzky: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.”

TZL: How would you describe your leadership style?

PG: I try not to tell people how to do things. I find that if they have “skin in the game,” they will make it work. There are days where I may be more of a micromanager, but I really try to limit those.

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

PG: Last year, our COO left suddenly. It was a surprise to the whole company and making sure employees felt secure was key. We were in flux for about six months, but this challenge turned into an opportunity. Others stepped up. Strengths emerged and we all pulled through. In fact, we’re doing better now than we did then.

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

PG: To be an ENR 500 firm. We’re already competing with top firms so I’d like to see our size double within five years. That’s a healthy growth trajectory. I’d also like to see us grow geographically and perhaps add some additional service lines.

TZL: Tell me about a recent project.

PG: The 265,000 square foot Amneal Pharmaceuticals Plant Expansion in Bellport, New York, was designated a “Transformative Project” by the LI Regional Economic Development Council, which would foster regional sustainability and was projected to create 400 new local jobs, retain 752 jobs, and spur local economic growth. We were engaged by Amneal to design and coordinate filings for well permits and oversee construction of an open loop geothermal well field for interior space cooling and process cooling for the existing building and expansion. We initially performed field testing of groundwater quality to verify suitability for an open loop ground coupling, and then subsequently designed a 12-well, 3,600 gallons-per-minute capacity well system.

Groundwater hydraulic and thermal modeling was performed to demonstrate that operating the well field would present no significant negative environmental impact on two nearby Suffolk County Water Authority well fields, to the satisfaction of the SCWA and NYSDEC. PWGC prepared engineering design and construction documents and provided a full range of construction administration and field inspection services throughout construction.

TZL: What do you feel sets your firm apart from others?

PG: We’re known as the “groundwater guys.” We also have a very quick response rate. We get the job done!

TZL: Are you married? Children? Pets?

PG: I’ve been married for 36 years. I have three kids, two grandchildren, and a rabbit.

TZL: What’s something no one knows about you?

PG: They know everything.

TZL: What’s been your best vacation spot? Do you have a dream destination?

PG: Anywhere there is good fishing is fine with me. As for a dream destination, my wife would like to go to Italy to research her family roots. We did this for my family a few years back. We visited eastern Germany and then just outside of Berlin. It was very interesting.

TZL: What are you reading right now?

PG: I’m trying to get through George H. W. Bush. It’s slow going right now.

TZL: What’s the last movie you saw?

PG: We kind of binge on movies right after the holidays and try to see the ones that are up for Academy Awards. The ones that stick in my mind are Bridge of Spies and Brooklyn.

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

PG: Don’t let the bastards get you down. HA!

TZL: Who is a leader you really admire?

PG: Teddy Roosevelt. If you’ve never heard the “Man in the Arena” speech, you should Google it.

TZL: When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing?

PG: Fishing, running, and travel. I keep track of all the states I’ve run in – so far, there are 38. In order for a state to count, I have to run at least three miles.

TZL: Do you have a favorite lunch?

PG: Tropical tacos with shrimp and mango and all those other good toppings.

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.