Putting people first: Steve Margaroni

Apr 03, 2022

CEO of Psomas (Los Angeles, CA), an employee-owned firm providing engineering, environmental, construction management, and survey/geospatial services.

By Liisa Andreassen

Nearly 25 years ago, Margaroni joined Psomas as an engineering intern, and then after several years in positions that ranged from corporate director of construction management to chief development officer, in 2020, he took the reins as CEO. He’s excited about the future of Psomas and is focused on growing the company to create exciting career paths and projects.

“Now that I’m CEO, putting people first comes naturally,” Margaroni says. “Probably because Tim [former CEO of Psomas] impactfully imparted that on me.”

A conversation with Steve Margaroni.

The Zweig Letter: In a video on your website, you talk about growth being the most important item on your agenda. Tell me a little about some of the things you’re doing to precipitate growth? What areas are you most focused on? Why?

Steve Margaroni: Growth remains a top priority. One way we’re precipitating growth is through strategic acquisitions. Acquiring companies such as Seattle-based KPG enables Psomas to expand its footprint, add new capabilities and service offerings, and balance our strong, growing pipeline of projects. Our employee base is now more than 700 with offices across Arizona, California, Utah, and Washington. There will be more to come on this front.

We’re also growing our service capabilities through state-of-the-art technology. Take our Survey and Geospatial group as an example. We’ve implemented groundbreaking technology that allows us to develop innovative models and maps, digital cities, and more with cutting-edge precision. The latest technology – think drones, lasers, 3D scanning, and more – allows us to acquire and transform complex project imagery, measurements, and data into real-life solutions.

Professional growth for our employees is also of the utmost importance. As a 100 percent employee-owned firm, we all succeed when our employees succeed. We offer mentorship programs and professional development opportunities for all employees to build their careers and collaborate across the organization on meaningful projects. I know this firsthand.

TZL: What do you enjoy most about your current position? Why?

SM: Interacting with our Psomas team. I’ve been around the industry for longer than I’d like to admit, and I can confidently say that we have some of the brightest minds in engineering and construction. My goal is to help Psomas’ employees at all levels feel empowered to make decisions because they know firsthand what’s best for our clients and culture.

I’m also blessed with an unmatched leadership team. When I was appointed CEO, Psomas also hired a new CFO and general counsel. Little did we know that a pandemic was right around the corner. From what I’ve seen, it often takes years for a leadership team to gel, but that wasn’t the case for us. We are a high functioning, effective, nimble, and cohesive team that’s built on respect and trust. Amid the pandemic, Psomas reached record-breaking results in 2020.

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: I’ve had several, but one really stands out as being instrumental early on in my engineering career, and that’s Tim Psomas. Tim’s father was George Psomas, who started Psomas 75 years ago in 1946. When I was hired as an intern, Tim was the CEO. He was well-known and active in the industry and highly respected, nationally. I admired him. I will never forget the day that I was working in my cubicle and Tim popped his head in to say hello. He asked me a few questions, including what classes I was taking in school. He took a real personal interest in me, even though I was an intern. A few months later, he popped his head in again. He knew my name and he also asked me how my calculus class was going. I was blown away that he even remembered me, let alone what class I was taking. It was obvious to me that he was a kind, caring person who put people first.

Now that I’m CEO, putting people first comes naturally, probably because Tim impactfully imparted that on me.

TZL: Your company’s “How we work” section states that the “finishing details make all the difference.” Can you illustrate this point with a recent example?

SM: Details matter. Whatever phase a project is in, whether it’s the permitting process or the final stages and approvals on a project. Because we are detail obsessed, our clients trust that we will do our best to get the job done right.

The Wilshire Grand Center is one example of the importance of performing with the highest degree of accuracy and care. In 2013, the 60-year-old Wilshire Grand Hotel was demolished and replaced by the mixed-use Wilshire Grand Center. Completed in 2017, the $1 billion, three-and-a-half acre redevelopment is a world-class, 73-story skyscraper that houses the 900-room InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel, restaurants, and businesses. The Wilshire Grand now stands as the tallest building west of Chicago.

Our survey and geospatial team performed construction surveying. Due to the complexity and scale of the project, every detail mattered. Psomas also provided land use entitlement services including a flexible development agreement, Transfer of Floor Area Rights, conditional use permits, and airspace subdivision. Approvals created the first Class “A” office building erected in downtown Los Angeles since the late 1980s.

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

SM: I admire our employees and their dedication to our clients. They are the heroes of our business. I’m a member of several local and national CEO and executive roundtables and admire many of those industry executives. Our collective thought leadership was a guiding force that helped me lead through the pandemic. Industry organizations such as ACEC, APWA, CMAA, and others are also beacons of the industry and we value being members.

TZL: In just a few words, how would you describe the “Psomas experience?”

SM: As an employee, the “Psomas experience” is a reflection of our company culture, which is based on our core values: Respect, Collaboration, Recognition, and Service. We find that all employees, from interns to executive leaders, work hard and collaborate for a common purpose. Each team member brings unique ideas and contributions shaped by their own life story that strengthen the company. Each team also empowers, trusts, and develops every person. Psomas prioritizes the well-being of each employee and is committed to creating a welcoming, comfortable environment where employees feel valued and learn from each other.

For our clients, the “Psomas experience” is based on trust. We build trust with our clients from the get go. Our clients know they can depend on us to get the job done from start to finish. We work tirelessly to ensure that what we’ve created, designed, and helped build stands the test of time – and that’s something we’ve lived by for our entire 75-year history.

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

SM: I aim to be a transformational leader who inspires others to grow, learn new skills, develop talents, be their best self, and contribute to the greater good. I want to ensure all employees are given the tools they need to feel successful. Investing in the personal and professional growth of our employees is at the heart of our culture.

TZL: “Envisioning the bold” is part of your company culture. Can you give me an example of how this statement translates into something tangible?

SM: “Envisioning the bold” guides our teams on every project to find innovative, creative solutions to challenges. We leverage expertise across our different groups, including engineering, construction management, environmental, and surveying and geospatial, to reimagine what’s possible and then deliver it.

As an example, Psomas was selected by the city of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering to work on the widening and rehabilitation of the North Spring Street Viaduct Widening and Rehabilitation project, a historic bridge spanning the Los Angeles River between Long Beach and the San Fernando Valley. Built in 1928, this bridge is treasured in the community and needed a dynamic upgrade that would preserve its character. Once again, we “envisioned the bold” and our Los Angeles engineering team earned the 2022 Engineering Excellence Honor Award from ACEC for their work on that project.

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

SM: Employees see Psomas as a place where they can build their careers – from a first job through retirement, and all stages in between. Our culture fosters collaboration and teamwork at every level, and offers employees support, professional development opportunities with the ability to work on high-profile projects that make a real difference.

As a 100 percent employee-owned company we offer an employee stock ownership plan, internally referred to as Psomas Pshares. When you build a career with Psomas, you’ll see bigger long-term financial gains and a healthier nest egg. Statistics show employee-owners have more than two times the average total retirement balance of Americans nationally.

While we embrace and support hybrid and remote roles, our flexible workplaces are also a big draw – they are designed with collaboration in mind and meant to inspire creativity and fun, while offering sufficient space for each person. Depending on the office, you’ll find open seating, dry erase walls for brainstorming, big screen TVs, fully-stocked kitchens with healthy snack options, ping pong tables, and even a bowling alley.

The Zweig Letter: In one word or phrase, what do you describe as your number one job responsibility?

SM: Maintaining a “people-first” culture. 

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