Real collaboration: Mark Brumfield

Jan 03, 2021

CEO of HEAPY Engineering (Dayton, OH), a leader in sustainability, engineering, and commissioning solutions with a vision to build a more resilient and sustainable society.

By Liisa Andreassen Correspondent

Mark Brumfield has been with HEAPY for more than 30 years. In 2020, he took the reins as CEO and now provides guidance to the firm’s engineering staff on matters regarding the latest innovations in design and the development of design tools, codes, and overall industry insight.

“Long after the construction equipment rolls off the site and the ribbon is cut, the building must continue to perform to our clients’ expectations,” Brumfield says. “We offer real collaboration, provide real performance and real inspiration. Trust means being vulnerable, transparent, and consistent. Do what you say you are going to do.”

A conversation with Mark Brumfield.

The Zweig Letter: Your bio says you are particularly experienced in “mission critical” projects. What’s one of the most memorable and why?

Mark Brumfield: Working on a more than 1 million-square-foot mission critical facility in Chicago was, in many ways, both challenging and rewarding. The project consisted of replacing the entire mechanical and electrical systems in a more than 60-story equivalent building (due to the more than 20-foot floor-to-floor heights mandated by the equipment). All of this was completed while the facility stayed fully functional. We also designed the adjacent 12-megawatt back-up power plant (18 stories). This plant provided the equipment facility 2N redundancy.

Working with the client and the contractors to orchestrate the construction of this very complex and critical facility over a three-year timespan, while the client never lost any service to its customers, is one I am most proud of.

One of the top indirect benefits resulting from this project was the personal development of many who are now in HEAPY leadership positions. Their project participation created a keen sense of camaraderie. Having to function under enormous pressure (due to the critical nature of the facility), dramatically and positively influenced our culture of “real collaboration.”

TZL: How has COVID-19 impacted your firm’s policy on telecommuting/working remotely?

MB: HEAPY had already been utilizing work-from-home strategies for colleagues prior to the pandemic. We were immersed in developing companywide use of MS Teams and VPN capacity. So, when March came, it was a seamless transition. In the future, as we grow and expand, we’ll continue to leverage this work-from-home capability.

TZL: Trust is crucial. How do you earn the trust of your clients?

MB: First, read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In the pyramid of the five dysfunctions, trust is the foundational layer. For our clients, we understand and recognize that from day one to year 50 and beyond is our responsibility. At HEAPY, this is our purpose. Long after the construction equipment rolls off the site and the ribbon is cut, the building must continue to perform to our clients’ expectations. We offer real collaboration, provide real performance and real inspiration. Trust means being vulnerable, transparent, and consistent. Do what you say you are going to do.

TZL: Artificial intelligence and machine learning are potential disruptors across all industries. Is your firm exploring how to incorporate these technologies into providing improved services for clients?

MB: Client budgets are being reduced, and in the process essential internal project management and technical facilities personnel are being cut. We are working with clients to enhance the (remaining) staff’s ability to maintain systems through AI/building analytics. Using the right data and interpreting it correctly can optimize beleaguered staff so they can focus on more pertinent and/or demanding issues.

The “designer” concept will soon be completely changed. This evolution can be envisioned as more of an Alexa aided by the guidance provided by a brilliant (former) design engineer. The engineer will be more of a trusted advisor to the client, “feeding” (programming) the client’s needs/desires into the continuously learning platform. This allows for identifying multiple solutions quickly, and gives us the ability and time to consult with clients instead of being bogged down with trying to produce results.

TZL: It is often said that people leave managers, not companies. What are you doing to ensure that your line leadership are great people managers?

MB: HEAPY has a remarkable historical longevity (40- and 50-year plaques) because our managers can customize experiences for their colleagues in several ways: empowering them to do work they enjoy, accentuating their strengths, and co-creating (versus stipulating) their path for career development.

Delegating decision making to all levels throughout our firm allows our colleagues to have the ability to adapt to situations as they arise. They then have the responsibility to make the decisions, thus breaking the typical bureaucratic top down hierarchy that tends to stymie growth and innovation at many other firms.

We purposely continue to invest heavily in improving our culture and in our current and future leaders. HEAPY senior leadership and our up-and-coming colleagues participate in a leadership training program that teaches self-awareness, how to respond with intention – digging deeper into “the why.” It teaches how to empower others, how to understand their actions, how to be purposeful, and how to influence others. These are all life lessons they will carry with them throughout their careers and their life outside of HEAPY. We have found real value in this program.

TZL: What’s next? I read the blog on your site about “Planning for the New Normal.” Have you gotten many inquiries regarding this subject? If yes, what are clients most concerned about?

MB: Many clients, and others, have contacted us for the guidance contained in the “New Normal” document. As more is discovered about COVID-19, we continue to research and update the document. As our economy tries to “open up” and our clients deal with back-to-work challenges, we want to provide guidance and clarity so they can do it safely.

These strategies address improving building MEP systems, for example with air handing systems (bi-polar ionization and UVGI help with virus mitigation).

We’ve worked with our healthcare clients regarding long-term pandemic planning where their concern is how to maintain “normal” business operations while still serving the community through this and future pandemics. For example, we’re helping them to employ strategies such as isolation floors to allow for safe treatment for all patients.

TZL: Is change management a topic regularly addressed by the leadership at your firm? If so, elaborate.

MB: Change management is very important. As technology continues to affect our industry, change is a permanent part of business. The pandemic is a prime example of unanticipated change. To temper the stress that change can create for colleagues, our change management process strives for more transparency and communication as its key components.

Speaking of change, we’ve developed a new firm leadership structure with new roles and responsibilities. We’re focused on improving the client experience, colleague engagement/development, and improving the sustainability and resiliency of our communities, along with the financial depth necessary to support these initiatives.

With this multifaceted focus, we had a need to create new strategic programs. We’re now using an outsourced robust client feedback program. We request frequent feedback from our clients about how we are performing to understand how well we are addressing their priorities and where we need to improve. To address colleague engagement, we’ve revamped our review system with an emphasis on empowerment and professional development.

The key to implementing change is to not do too many changes at one time. It’s also important to work with our colleagues to help them develop and implement their own performance “scoreboards.” This self-realized process provides for responsible buy-in from all colleagues.

TZL: How often do you valuate your firm and what key metrics do you use in the process? Do you valuate using in-house staff or is it outsourced?

MB: Having a clear picture of our financial health allows us to make more informed decisions about our direction and how we allocate resources. We utilize a third-party auditor to provide a firm valuation. We feel this provides an unbiased opinion. Key metrics for HEAPY are: revenue per FTE, direct labor hours, retained earnings, cash flow and revenue growth. By analyzing the information in our financial statements, we have a clear vision of our fiscal health and can turn insights garnered from the data into actions that benefit HEAPY and our colleagues.

TZL: Your website states HEAPY is dedicated to “Building a more Resilient and Sustainable Society.” Can you give me two examples of what you have done toward that vision lately?

MB: HEAPY has added “planning services” to assist clients to achieve their vision and mission. Instead of just jumping directly into designing a proposed new building, we first holistically review needs. We can assess their carbon goals, the impact of deferred and ongoing maintenance, their sustainability goals, energy efficiency/renewables strategies and with growing climate change concerns, alternatives for greatly improved resiliency. Essentially, we look beyond just the engineering and provide total solutions.

Some measures of our sustainability success is our involvement in the Living Building Challenge and more than 400 LEED projects (200 certified to date). Nearly 100 HEAPY colleagues are LEED professionals and we were chosen to be among the first LEED proven providers. Our sustainability director has been recognized as one of only 300 LEED Fellows worldwide.

Just recently, we were awarded a solar and battery microgrid project for a critical infrastructure city building in central Ohio. This project will provide considerable resilient and sustainable benefits to the community at large, especially in times of natural and man-made disasters.

TZL: Research shows that PMs are overworked, understaffed, and that many firms do not have formal training programs for PMs. What is your firm doing to support its PMs?

MB: HEAPY has a healthy mentor/protégé program that our potential future leaders are invited to participate in. They are paired up with a principal of our firm where they work together to help with training/development and to really coach the PMs through more than just the business.

As we know, engineers aren’t noted for being personal, but we all have a heart. We work with our colleagues to help them find better versions of themselves. This is not a program where we simply put everyone on an assembly line and they come out at the end as a personable person. We focus on their strengths. Everyone can be successful. We look at the whole person, and not just their technical side.

We encourage the use of the “Wheel of Satisfaction” tool used to reflect on the many different focus areas in life. We strive to help our colleagues visually identify areas where there is balance and imbalance. The “Wheel” addresses emotional intelligence, time management, health/wellness, productivity, problem solving, inspiring others, relationships, and communication.

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

MB: As our new CEO, I implemented a “Chat with the CEO” series. Prior to the pandemic, I visited each of our offices to have an informal discussion with our colleagues with a goal of complete transparency. Since working from home, we have continued the series through a virtual platform where our colleagues feel empowered to respond with impactful and oftentimes very candid questions. Our colleagues are coming away from these chats knowing that our leadership team has their best interests at the top of mind.

We have also implemented a “HEAPY at Home” series to foster collaboration among our colleagues. During this unique time of not being able to be together in the same physical location, our primary focus is for all colleagues to feel connected and engaged.

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