Leading by example: Carlo Taddei

Mar 19, 2023

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Principal at JQ (Dallas, TX), a team of professionals providing structural and civil engineering, geospatial, and facility performance services within a diverse group of markets.

By Liisa Andreassen

Taddei leads the JQ office in Fort Worth, Texas. He’s been with the company for nearly 20 years and is responsible for client interaction, consulting, and project review from inception through construction. Aside from day-to-day office leadership, Taddei focuses on consulting for building projects and contributes structural design and analytical experience. He enjoys diving in to discover specific client interests and has developed a reputation for being able to successfully manage projects of any size.

“I feel that it’s important to approach leadership with empathy and to treat others the way I want to be treated,” Taddei says. “As a proud Aggie, leading by example is a principle that has stuck with me throughout my career and it’s something that I strive to instill in others.”

A conversation with Carlo Taddei.

The Zweig Letter: Five years ago, you were chosen as a “40 under 40” by the Fort Worth Business Press. To what do you feel you most owe that honor?

Carlo Taddei: Having a strong, tireless work ethic and passion for engineering and architecture. I would attribute my work ethic to my mom. At the age of 45, and with three kids at home, she went back to school to earn her master’s degree. She showed me that anything was possible with sacrifice and hard work. In 2014, I took over as office lead in Fort Worth and am proud of the community connections and relationships I’ve built. Having a supportive and committed team around me was the key to our collaborative success.

TZL: JQ’s website states, “We’re not your usual engineering firm.” What gets you most excited about JQ? What really sets you apart?

CT: Not doing the same thing daily. While I lead our higher education market, statewide, our firm is not single-market focused. Our projects are diversified between public and private which helps in the business sense during times of economic uncertainly, and we are also diversified within market sectors. This is especially helpful for engineers beginning their careers as they may simultaneously be working on a K-12 school, fire station, hotel, and manufacturing warehouse.

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?

CT: The AEC industry is large, but small at the same time. So, the “person” becomes the group of co-workers you rely on and bounce ideas off of on a daily basis. They’re also previous co-workers who I grew up with in the industry and the colleagues at competing firms who I’m friendly with and even rely on for advice. It’s the architects, consultants, and GCs who I’ve worked with on dozens of projects over the years. They all fit in as pieces to form the puzzle that is a career and each has a part in helping it grow.

TZL: What next big accomplishment do you have your sights set on?

CT: Professionally, an immediate accomplishment relates to the dozens of higher education projects our team is working on at campuses across the state from the capital construction assistance project funding. Many of these projects are focused on STEM and health sciences and will be game changers for the universities, the students, and our future workforce. Having a part in delivering these projects and making a difference in the programs for decades to come is important to me. And, helping to build and expand a firm with engineers, technicians, surveyors, marketing, and administrative staff within it who feel supported, challenged, and fulfilled at work is a day-to-day goal.

TZL: What skills are required to run a successful practice? What do you wish you knew starting out that you know now?

CT: Running an engineering firm requires much more than engineering skills. You need to know about billing, taxes, marketing, client relations, human resources, payroll – the list goes on and on. I’m learning daily and still discover things I don’t know. I wish more engineering programs stressed the importance of business in the engineering profession and provided curriculum to enhance business acumen. It’s such a relationship business and finding ways to support your clients both in practice and on a personal level is an important skill to have.

(Oh, and you’ll spend a lot of time in the car and on conference calls.)

TZL: Since you’ve been a principal with JQ – what’s been a top challenge and how have you worked to resolve it?

CT: Managing expectations and making sure the team’s workload is balanced. In an industry where deadlines constantly change, it’s challenging to avoid the overlap of deliverables, but trying to make sure our staff are not overloaded consistently is key. Proactive hiring is one way to resolve it, but hiring has been another challenge the past few years. Tactics we have taken to resolve that have included hiring an internal recruiter and increasing our internal recruiting bonus.

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

CT: I like to think that people see me as a constructive teacher and strategic thinker who possesses solid problem-solving skills. I would categorize myself as a servant leader. I feel that it’s important to approach leadership with empathy and to treat others the way I want to be treated. As a proud Aggie, leading by example is a principle that has stuck with me throughout my career and it’s something that I strive to instill in others.

TZL: What advice do you have for people who are interested in entering the AEC industry today?

CT: An important part of your career – whether you become an engineer, architect, technician, or contractor – is being able to explain your ideas and designs to others. You will spend your days writing emails, speaking to clients at meetings or jobsites, and eventually even writing proposals. Seek out electives in communication and/or writing. If you want to own a firm one day, you could take business classes. You will learn technical skills on the job and those “soft skills” are key to your career and life. Learn to break out of the norm and be comfortable with being uncomfortable in order to open yourself up to new opportunities and experiences. Also, find as many mentors as you can across different fields and with diverse backgrounds.

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

CT: The ones that people seem to comment on the most include our quarterly car details, option for pet insurance (as a non-pet owner, I guess this is important?), and monthly allowance toward a gym membership.

TZL: How are you balancing investment in the next generation – which is at an all-time high – with rewards for tenured staff? This has always been a challenge, but seems heightened as investments in development have increased.

CT: Internally, we’ve always celebrated employee anniversaries, but this year we implemented a more robust “milestone anniversary” acknowledgement (five years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, etc.) with an additional financial bonus on their anniversary. We understand how competitive the job market is currently and value our tenured staff for staying with JQ. This is in addition to the yearly points/gift (via our internal employee engagement platform) that all staff receive on their anniversary.

TZL: Ownership transition can be tricky, to say the least. What’s the key to ensuring a smooth passing of the baton? What’s the biggest pitfall to avoid?

CT: Develop leaders early and provide opportunities for business training. It’s important for people to understand things like cash flow, departmental budgets, valuation formulas, partnership agreements, and other key performance indicators that are important to running a successful business. It’s never too early to start the process and to let people know that you are investing in them for the future. The biggest pitfall is starting the process too late.

TZL: A firm’s longevity is valuable. What are you doing to encourage your staff to stick around?

CT: This is the number one challenge for AEC firms everywhere. I like to think we’re very resourceful and tap into our various connections with peer firms, consultants, and clients to benchmark ourselves when it comes to compensation, benefits, culture, and employee engagement and experience. One of our cultural tenets is “chart your course” and we encourage our employees to explore different career paths and provide opportunities to try out different things. We want them to make their careers what they want them to be. We also provide opportunities for staff to take on more visible roles on projects early on in their career to get exposure to clients and other consultants. This helps our staff to feel more empowered and included. 

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