Life-long learner: Todd Van Gompel

Aug 28, 2022

President at Baisch Engineering (Kaukauna, WI), a consulting engineering firm that provides full-service integration engineering to industrial clients worldwide.

By Liisa Andreassen

Since 1958, Baisch Engineering Inc. has provided engineering and consulting services that cater to the pulp/paper, food processing, bulk-material handling, energy, utility/power, building/construction and mining/refining industries. The company specializes in process engineering, civil engineering, structural engineering, architectural consulting, electrical engineering, and process controls. It offers several solutions throughout the project construction phase or capital expansion phase of the project, including discipline coverage, checkout/start-up assistance, and contract administration services.

Todd Van Gompel has been with Baisch for more than 15 years and became company president in 2019. One of his first challenges came in 2020 when, like so many others, the firm pivoted from an office-based team to a completely remote one in less than two weeks.

“Initially, Baisch didn’t have a telecommuting policy,” Van Gompel says. “Most of our team was set up to work remotely at jobsites around the country, however, the focus wasn’t on telecommuting from home.”

Luckily, late in 2019, the firm switched to Microsoft Teams and started to investigate using the cloud for its team so when March 2020 happened, they were ready for action.

“We learned a lot during this period,” he says. “We were able to continue to serve our clients in an efficient and timely manner and opened the office back up in June of 2021. Now, we have a flexible work environment and, as we look for new team members, our search has expanded to include potential teammates located outside our geographical area.”

A little facelift. Along with a move to a more flexible work environment, Baisch also recently underwent a brand refresh. It’s been well received and something that the company had been working on for some time.

“A brand refresh encompasses a lot of items,” Van Gompel says. “Our strategy was to implement the brand refresh in stages. First, we concentrated on the logo and the main color themes. From there we adjusted our standard documents and templates. Finally, we refreshed our website and social media channels.”

The new website features a modern design and provides a clean and organized structure. It makes it easier for visitors to access and to learn all about Baisch – what they do and why they do it. Its “responsive design” resizes automatically to fit the visitor’s browser, whether that device be a computer, tablet, or phone. This design enables easy viewing on any platform.

This brand refresh also serves to instill trust in its clients – trust that Baisch continues to evolve with the times, while holding true to its roots and vision.

“Trust is crucial,” Van Gompel says. “Our clients trust us to turn their ideas into production systems that will transform the way they manufacture products.”

For Baisch, that trust starts with a solid reputation and culture for making its clients a raging success. From there, it translates into establishing a positive project culture together and executing it.

“Becoming partners on a project naturally leads to trust,” he explains.

Where’s the juice? And when partners work together well, input is listened to from both sides. For example, a blog on Baisch’s website titled, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” was inspired by a client who wanted to make sure the team was always looking at the most value-added items on the project. The client would always ask, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” It’s a question teams now ask of themselves when deciding whether a project is worth moving forward to the next phase.

Van Gompel suggests that these two phases will help to determine that:

  1. Ask the question, “Are we in the ballpark?” Develop the project at a high level during this phase. Be careful not to over-engineer the project or get too detailed as you are trying to decide if this project will move to the next phase. You should be around the 50 percent range during this phase. Depending upon the project size and complexity, this phase should take anywhere from two to 12 weeks to develop. What is the project? Why is this project important? How much could it cost? What are the potential benefits? What are the potential risks? What does project success look like? If it looks like the juice may be worth the squeeze, move on to the next step.
  2. During the “Paper Doll” phase, the goal is to evaluate several potential layouts and designs to identify the most efficient solution. Depending upon the project size, this step should take between 12 to 36 weeks to develop. The project cost and benefits are developed to the 10 percent range during this phase. Researching and involving potential vendors and contractors during this phase will help the project move more efficiently during the execution phase. If the project still looks like the juice may be worth the squeeze, move on to the project funding and execution phases.

Spending time and energy upfront to develop the project has several advantages. It helps control the project budget and scope creep. It engages equipment vendors and contractors early in the project development phase which helps identify constructability, timing issues, and solutions. It also helps to develop the project culture. Working with a well-rounded team consisting of the owner, the engineer, the contractor, and the vendors for several months to develop the project helps to create the necessary relationships to execute a successful project.

“One of my favorite quotes is from Charles Mingus: ‘Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.’ We’re involved with many complex projects. Our job, as engineers, is to break these complex projects into simple steps,” Van Gompel says.

As president, Van Gompel describes his number one job role as “friction remover.” He says he’s responsible for identifying and removing obstacles or nonvalue-added items that prevent the team from getting things done efficiently.

“Recently, we’ve been exploring and implementing Power BI into our reporting process,” he says.

Power BI allows Baisch to create real-time, interactive dashboards to help convey progress to their design team, clients, and contracting partners which greatly increases efficiencies.

“I’m always looking for opportunities to continue to make Baisch great for our team and clients,” he adds.

Happy people; strong culture. People stay at Baisch because the company has always focused on relationships. Creating strong relationships helps them to trust each other and to develop a constructive atmosphere where they can have difficult conversations. They incorporate activities outside the typical work environment to help grow their relationships with each other. They have lunches together throughout the year, celebrations for anniversaries and friendly competitions within the office contribute to the team atmosphere and to encourage the team to engage with people outside their typical departments. They also host family events, such as a night at the local minor league baseball team, to get to know each other’s families outside of work.

Van Gompel knows that there are many skills required to lead a successful firm, but he considers two of the most important to be emotional intelligence and empathy.

“Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand the emotions in yourself and those around you, while empathy is the ability to understand how others feel. These two skills have helped me navigate the everchanging COVID environment as well as other office dynamics,” he says.

And, while Baisch has always had active principals, he says that working in the business and on the business ebbs and flows throughout the years. Being actively involved with projects has huge benefits for working on the business and he says that this allows him to constantly be an “undercover boss” without being undercover.

“I get to interact and learn from our team, our clients, and our contracting and vendor partners. For these interactions, we continue to evolve our culture to take advantage of the positive things and eliminate or adjust the things that aren’t quite working,” he explains.

In addition to a people-first culture, Baisch has a long history of contributing generously to its retirements. Combining its company match and profit sharing, Baisch contributes up to 13 percent each year to its retirement accounts. And a new benefit that they’re very excited about is paid volunteer time off. This allows their team paid time off to volunteer in the communities where they work and live.

For Van Gompel, the bottom line is that you cannot please all the people, all the time. He says that trying things that you’ve never done before helps to develop your experience and your decision either works out or you learn from it and improve.

“Make the best decision you can with the information you have, be a life-long learner, and enjoy the journey with the people you get to work with,” he says. 

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