The Archetypal Leader

Aug 14, 2000

When it comes to leadership, there are many different paths that lead to the same destination. Attila the Hun, Moses, Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Tom Peters, and even our kindergarten teachers can all be pointed to for advice on how to lead others. But there are also some darn good leaders right here in the A/E/P and environmental consulting industries. Here are a few of them: Jerry Allen, PE, president and CEO of Carter & Burgess, Inc. (Fort Worth, TX). Jerry is the kind of guy who knows everyone’s name and can talk to anyone, but he can also be a tough guy if necessary. He is unbelievably talented at seeing how all the pieces of a puzzle fit together and what steps need to be taken to advance the long-term goal. He plays to win, is a great natural athlete, and sets a tremendous personal example in all that he does. Plus he’s loyal and will go to bat for a friend every time. There aren’t many natural leaders like Jerry. Under his direction, the firm has grown from 187 people to 2,100! Joe Lalli, FASLA, managing partner at EDSA (Fort Lauderdale, FL). Joe is a natural leader. He leads by example and has a tremendous design talent as well as a terrific work ethic. Not many people work harder than Joe does. He also confronts whatever ugliness needs dealing with internally. Joe can sell work like crazy because he eats, sleeps, and breathes planning and design, more so than practically anyone else I know. He is also one of the firm’s top billers because his clients, fellow partners, and staff love him. On top of it all, Joe teaches a class in watercolors every summer in Maine. Gene Kolstad, AIA, PE, president and CEO of CTA Architects Engineers (Billings, MT). Gene is one of the nicest people you could ever meet. He has an amazing way of making you feel good, but doesn’t ever make you feel like it’s false flattery. He is honest, sharing, and a great communicator. Gene is the best example of an open-book manager that I have ever seen. He is also registered as both an architect and an engineer. Gene is one of the few people who can put a smiley face on a piece of written communication, and you know he means it! Steve Chamberlain, president of SCA Consultants (Lacey, WA). Steve is certainly one of the most entrepreneurial guys I have ever met in this business. From his first attempt to get money to open a dairy farm at the age of 17, to conceiving and building a “quick lube” establishment that he later sold to his uncle, to being fired as a partner of an engineering firm and having a big chunk of folks quit to join him in a new start-up, Steve repeatedly demonstrates that there are possibilities all around us and that you can make something out of nothing. Beyond the engineering business, he’s owned a cellular phone company, does land development, owns rental properties, and more. He never runs out of steam! Plus, he let me ride his Harley once. Diane Creel, president and CEO of EarthTech (Long Beach, CA). I don’t know Diane that well, but I will say that every time I have seen her speak she has impressed me with her fantastic speaking ability and confidence. And she has a great track record of success. She did a tremendous job building EarthTech on its own through internal growth and acquisitions, and has continued doing a great job leading the firm to even greater heights as a subsidiary of Tyco (Exeter, NH). Everyone who knows Diane respects her energy, capability, intellectual capacity, and political astuteness. Rich Hangen, PE, chairman of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (Watertown, MA). Rich is a big-picture kind of guy and a nice fellow, too. He has taken his firm from start-up to more than 600 employees due to his ability to select good people and let them do their jobs. He likes to laugh, has a tremendous memory, and dignifies the firm in all dealings with the outside world. He also helps smaller firms to be more successful whenever he can, just out of his desire to give back. We’d all love to be like Rich! Brian Larson, PE, president and CEO, TranSystems Corporation (Kansas City, MO). If you didn’t know him better, your first impression of Brian Larson might be that he is a pretty laid back guy. But my experience is that his mind is always traveling at 180 mph! He went from being the manager of a small office in Olathe, Kansas, to being the president of a then-90-person firm (JBM Engineers and Planners). Then, he redirected the firm entirely to the transportation business (hence the current name) and grew it past 600 staff in about five years. Brian, a registered engineer, originally pursued an education in philosophy. The need to make a living got him into engineering, his intellect kept him from being a maintenance leader of a stagnant company, and the rest is history. There are countless other good leaders who are not included in this list, people we’ve worked with who run companies that we really respect. Two things are for sure— there’s no dearth of leadership talent in our industry and no one personality type that always ends up on top.— Originally published 8/14/2000.

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.