As our firm was born from a misguided acquisition and mismanaged transition, Terry, Steve, and I were absolutely committed to an internal buy-out. We knew that ownership’s failure to let go of the reigns or adequately plan for such an ownership transition could be detrimental; we’d seen it happen to AEC companies and others. Around our ten-year anniversary, we identified potential future owners and began mentoring and evaluating them. We subsequently worked on financial arrangements and began to sell shares in 2010. We have continued divesting shares each and every year since.
Today, Chris Duvall, Cory Hitzemann, Garo Pehlivanian, Jeff Peterson, and Bryan Zagers own just shy of 50 percent of the firm. Tim Brockway joined the ownership group in January of 2018. We sought to guide the new owners but not to smother them. Remaining loyal to our founding vision was made easier as each had grown up at Coughlin Porter Lundeen, spending the majority of their careers here. Half even served as college interns. Together we worked through changes, weathered the recession, and entered into the busiest construction economy Seattle has ever experienced.
Where We’re Headed – Cultural Enhancements
This new generation of principals drives a crop of culture-focused enhancements at our office. Motivated to make Coughlin Porter Lundeen an even better place to work, we’ve enacted each enhancement based on employee interest and feedback. As always, we’re guided by our core values and differentiators. After all, it was commitment to them that led to our successes. This principal group continues to prove that they’re the right team to carry us forward.
We don’t have corner offices or subscribe to traditional corporate hierarchy, so top-down cultural mandates would surely be out of place. As a leadership team, it’s important to us that we’re accessible to staff of all levels, that we listen carefully, respond thoughtfully and don’t shy from evolution.
We’ve learned so much by listening. Driven by the newest generation of leadership, we’ve outlined a few cultural enhancements that appear to be working well for us.
- Refocusing Human Resources
In the past year, we’ve restructured our administration department, shifting the focus from traditional operations to human resources. This reorganization prioritizes the employee experience and ensures cultural enhancements, policies, and firm news is clearly communicated and ushered in with care.Human Resources Business Manager, George Theo leads the department. As a former Dean of Student Affairs at UW Bothell, he has experience building relationships, evaluating biases, and creating communities and inclusive environments. Partnering with the new tier of principals, he leverages this unique background to respond to the needs of employees.
- Modern Benefits
While in many respects we maintain a small-firm mentality, our benefits package has been carefully arranged to compete with large, top-tier organizations beyond AEC. We offer meaningful extras like donation matching, 401K matching and wellness benefits, and this year we rolled out a series of revamped policies including PTO, Family Leave, and Parental Leave. We pay attention to the little things too and treat our office environment like a benefit of its own. Everything from conference rooms equipped with the latest tech, to the employee-selected coffee in our kitchen can influence culture and company morale.
- Community Outreach
Supporting the community has been a priority since Coughlin Porter Lundeen’s founding. We provide donation matching and the firm is regularly recognized as a top “Corporate Philanthropist” by The PSBJ, but more interesting to me is how, in recent years, involvement has shifted. Instead of supporting organizations related only to the industry or letting our clients define our causes, our employees now drive community outreach efforts.Individuals champion their causes and favorite organizations – Construction for Change, Obliteride, Mary’s Place, STEM efforts, and DESC to name a few. It’s a culture of action, as employee-organized drives, volunteer days and events are well attended and supported.
We believe that retention begins with the right hire, so we’ve doubled down on our recruiting efforts, pursuing candidates from the best engineering schools on the West Coast and nation-wide. We welcome students twice a year via our internship program and integrate them into our our civil and structural teams. Internally, we have significantly increased our mentoring efforts, understanding that job satisfaction begins with enhancing core competencies.
- Training and Mentorship
As the firm grows, we’ve formalized our training and mentorship program, organizing mentorship in several formats to help ensure each person receives guidance and has maximum opportunity for career advancement. Put simply, we want our employees to succeed!We support staff’s continued education efforts and host learning opportunities, leveraging in-house talent for Lunch and Learns and bringing industry leaders in for presentations and skills-building workshops.
- Supporting Women in Engineering
Less than 20 percent of engineering graduates in the U.S. are women and retention is an industry challenge. We’re working on many fronts to buck these trends. Just under half of Coughlin Porter Lundeen employees with less than five years of experience are women. To support this large group, we established a Women’s Group last year. It’s a company-endorsed platform to determine priorities, articulate suggestions, and help us understand how to create a better environment and opportunities to advance.Additionally, we cover membership dues of staff in professional groups and support employee’s out-of-office efforts related to women in STEM. Many serve as ACE mentors, encouraging high school students to pursue careers in STEM; we sponsor and provide panelists for UW’s WiSE (Women in Science and Engineering) Conference; and have staff serving on Structural Engineers Association of Northern California’s SE3 (Structural Engineering Engagement and Equity) committee, working to improve engagement and equity in the structural engineering profession (nationally).
- Quarterly Meetings
Because we think it’s important to regularly gather as a full team, we established a quarterly meeting tradition. First and foremost, the meetings are employee appreciation events, opportunities to cater in treats and recognize employee achievements. We also share company news, project stories and presentations. We find that sharing company information via this platform and regularly celebrating our staff contributes to our collaborative culture.