Co-president and CEO of DB Sterlin Consultants, Inc., a 100 percent minority-owned firm comprised of professional engineers, architects, planners, and surveyors.
By Liisa Andreassen
Jeune is a progressive, collaborative, and freethinking leader who supports women’s equality in the engineering industry. She’s a big advocate for the improvement of STEM education in college and for girls starting early education in STEM from kindergarten through grade 12. In 2016, DB Sterlin had four women engineers or engineering technicians and, by 2022, that number had risen to 16 and continues to grow.
Jeune is a natural-born leader who many like to follow and she’s well deserving of this honor. She knows what needs to be done and how to do it. Under her leadership, DB Sterlin (Chicago, IL) has grown into a multi-disciplinary engineering firm that provides services for public and private sector projects.
“Whether it’s a deadline, a deliverable, advice – delivering the work on time and being honest builds our credibility with our clients,” Jeune says. “I clearly communicate to staff that if they can’t meet a deadline, it’s better to let the client know upfront so the project plan can be altered. Surprises are never fun and missing a deliverable with no explanation can quickly turn a solid project into a sub-par one.”
A conversation with Regine Jeune.
The Zweig Letter: Your website’s “Careers” page mentions DB Sterlin’s “unique” culture. Tell me a little about your firm’s culture and what sets it apart from others in the industry.
Regine Jeune: In a family-owned business, there’s a sense that everyone wears many hats and that the whole team is unified and accessible. Further, I take the position to lead from the “front.” Most mornings you can find me emptying the dishwasher, not because I have to, but because it demonstrates to employees that we’re all working toward the same goals. It also improves team morale. My employees know they can approach me for any issue that may arise without hesitation and there’s a sense of comfort in knowing they’re being lead down the right path.
TZL: Give me a little firm history. Who founded it in 1997? When did you become president? What’s your background?
RJ: My father founded the firm in 1997. He started it after a long career of working for large engineering companies. My sister Florence (co-president) joined the firm in 2003 and I joined in 2012. I have a degree in biology and worked in the pharmaceutical industry prior to coming on board. I’ve demonstrated the ability to lead diverse teams of professionals to new levels of success in a variety of highly competitive industries, cutting-edge markets, and fast-paced environments. Florence has strong technical and business qualifications with an impressive track record of more than 15 years of hands-on experience in strategic planning, business unit development, and project management.
TZL: How did COVID-19 permanently impact your firm’s policy on telecommuting?
RJ: In March of 2020, no employee had the ability to work from home. We had very few laptops and were not prepared for the quick pivot. In three days, once we realized the shutdown was coming, we had to order laptops and computers from Amazon. Now, almost three years into the shift, our focus has been on incorporating a hybrid work schedule. We do, however, believe that great engineering comes from collaboration, and, in order to do that, people need to be in the office.
In addition, about 20 percent of our staff has been hired since COVID. It’s important that they feel a part of DBS. We know when employees feel like they are part of a community they’re less likely to look for another job.
TZL: As co-president of DB Sterlin, what’s top of mind right now? Growth, recruitment, retention, etc.? What are you doing to meet that end?
RJ: All of the above. We’re in a great situation right now where the demand for infrastructure projects is high, and the talent pool is low. We want to keep our current employees and continue to recruit top talent. In addition, we need to keep up with our growing backlog. We like to proactively have one-on-one discussions with our current employees to find out what they are doing, and what they like and dislike about their work. We believe addressing issues upfront helps with retention and builds onto the company’s culture.
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?
RJ: My father pushed me to do better in school and in my career. He continues to push me as an owner and continually reminds me that I can always do better. He started DBS with a reputation for being a strong leader and an excellent engineer and he’s used those relationships as a foundation to build the firm.
TZL: What are some professional tips on how to prepare for growth?
RJ: The single most important tip I have for growth is a paraphrase of a quote I heard a long time ago: “Surround yourself with people smarter than you. Empower them to make decisions and listen to feedback, positive and negative.” A strong team you can trust makes growing the organization much easier than if you think you can do it alone.
TZL: Trust is essential. How do you earn the trust of your clients?
RJ: There are a few simple words we live by here at DB Sterlin: Truth and quality. These are values we live by. Whether it’s a deadline, a deliverable, advice – delivering the work on time and being honest builds our credibility with our clients. I clearly communicate to staff that if they can’t meet a deadline, it’s better to let the client know upfront so the project plan can be altered. Surprises are never fun and missing a deliverable with no explanation can quickly turn a solid project into a sub-par one.
TZL: As a minority entrepreneur, what have been your greatest challenges? How have you met them? And, on the flip side, what benefits have come from it?
RJ: As a minority-owned business, the biggest issue I have is when a large “prime” firm tells me that I already have enough work. To clarify, if we win a big design job, I’ve had firms tell me they don’t want to work with us because they’re concerned about our capacity to do the work. Currently, DBS is one of the largest female-owned and operated African-American firms in Chicago. We are a full-service DBE engineering firm that is one of the most IDOT-prequalified in several complex areas. We evaluate our work carefully and ensure that the work we do is within our capacity to get the job done, while maintaining quality and efficiency.
TZL: Who are you admiring right now in the AEC industry? Where do you see thought leadership and excellence?
RJ: I admire all entrepreneurs who have made it in this industry. In the last five years, I’ve watched several of my colleagues who own WBE and MBE firms grow tremendously. While we may be competitors, I am so proud and happy to watch them grow and flourish. I don’t have an issue picking up the phone and calling any of those leaders to ask for advice or to use them as sounding boards.
TZL: What role does your family play in your career? Are work and family separate, or is there overlap?
RJ: As a second-generation owner of a family-owned company, work and family can never really be separate. You can imagine that family dinners have a lot of business talk. There have been many year-end details discussed during holiday dinners. That said, when push comes to shove, family comes first.
TZL: They say failure is a great teacher. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve had to learn the hard way?
RJ: Getting involved in every aspect of the business. No one can be great at everything. I had to learn to delegate and trust that people know their jobs and will do them well.
TZL: In one word or phrase, what do you describe as your number one job responsibility?
RJ: Responsibility. The reason I go to work every day is that I know that 100 people are relying on me to get a paycheck. The impact of DBS not being successful could change/affect our employees’ lives in an adverse way.