You may have noticed the message from Terry Ruhl regarding TBG employees with more than 40 years at CH2M HILL. I am fortunate to be one of those people. I have seen the firm grow from 700 people to more than 25,000, and our Transportation business grow from $12 million/yr to $1 billion/yr. Along the way, I had the good fortune to meet each of the company founders: Cornell, Howland, Hayes, Merryfield, and Hill. I learned a lot from them, as well as many other great mentors and leaders, and I distilled their collective wisdom in the “the single best piece of advice…” section of Terry’s message. This advice has served me well over the years, and I would suggest that operating along these lines will lead to a more interesting, productive, and rewarding professional career for those that follow.
“Always be honest and ethical. Always be a good business person. Always be a professional. Always do good high quality work. Always give the client more than they expect. Always fight to win. Always hire people smarter than you. Always be one step ahead. Always finish one thing each day. Always win more work than you can do. Always take pride in improving the quality of life for the community. Always take care of your family. Always take the hit and protect your people. Always remember that results trump process. Always wear cheap sunglasses.”
“Never see limits. Never ever give up. Never give in to a client demand when you know it is wrong. Never back down from bigger competitors. Never apologize for being fairly paid for the value you provide. Never position for personal gain at the expense of the firm. Never ask someone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. Never forget that it is a small industry and you will see the same people in different roles over the years. Never take credit for the work of others. Never forget to smile. Never think that you are indispensable.”
It’s Monday morning, November 3, 2014, and about the 10,000th day that I have come to work at CH2M HILL. So why does it feel like the first day of school, when my parents dropped me off at St. Mary’s Grammar School to face the nuns alone? I guess it is because now, like then, everything is changing. After four decades of knowing there would always be one more thing to do at CH2M HILL, the future is suddenly uncertain. The thought of moving into a new phase of life is exciting, but I have found that T. S. Eliot was wrong when he said, “This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.” I had always thought the end of my time here would come in stages of full time to part time to flex time to call-me-if-you-need-me. Instead, with the Voluntary Retirement Program (VRP), the end does indeed come with a bang. By tomorrow evening, my CH2M HILL world will be gone.
It is impossible to address my entire time here, so I have summarized my thoughts of the past 41 years around three key words: Lucky, Owner, Grateful.
I am lucky to have moved to the Puget Sound area upon graduating from the University of Nebraska. (Some might say that leaving Nebraska is luck enough.) At my first job at the Texaco refinery, I was lucky to meet Mike Harris, Mike Sailor, and Jim Black who all migrated to CH2M HILL and had distinguished careers. I was lucky that Mike Harris invited me to visit him in Corvallis where we toured the Oregon State campus and the CH2M HILL office on Western Boulevard. I was lucky that my application to OSU was accepted and that I was among the first graduates of Dr. Bob Layton’s new transportation Master’s program. And I was certainly lucky that Vaughn Sterling and Arlen Borgen had a lapse of judgment in June 1973 and decided to hire me. I have been lucky enough to personally meet Holly Cornell, Jim Howland, Burke Hayes, Fred Merryfield, and Clair Hill, and to work with many of CH2M HILL’s next generation: Bob Adams, Ken Stuart, Gene Swanson, Dan Rowley, Bob Allen, John Doran, Gordon Elliott, Harry Mejdell, Roger Lindquist, Ed Worth, Phil Hall, and many others. And I have been lucky every day since.
In 1982, I was accepted into the Key Employee program and switched from being an “employee” to being an “owner” of CH2M HILL. We are all professionals who work every day to improve the quality of life for our communities. We could do this anywhere, much like a doctor can work in any hospital. The difference is in owning the place where you work. That simple step made an enormous difference in my attitude and approach to everything I have done since. I care about serving the community, but I also care about the health of the firm. As an employee-owned company, we have the freedom to make our own rules and set our own course. We haven’t always been right, and the road has been bumpy at times; but we have grown from 700 people in six primary offices when I started to more than 25,000 people across the globe as I leave the firm. As an owner, I have always had the freedom to take chances and do what I thought was right. I had opportunities to help expand our firm’s geographic reach and to grow the transportation business from $12 million/year to close to a billion. I have always thought of CH2M HILL as my company and surrendering my key to the door is one of the hardest things I will ever do. As I go, I am confident that the next generation personally feels the same sense of ownership and will continue to breathe life into CH2M HILL every day for years to come.
John Donne wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself.” Together we have accomplished far more than we could have done alone. I am “grateful” for the friendship, support, leadership, and confidence of many CH2M HILL people with whom I have associated and worked for 41 years. There are far too many people to address each one, and I would miss some if I tried. Just know that you are all important to me. In addition to the people mentioned above, I am especially grateful that Terry Ruhl has grown from a freshly scrubbed kid who worked with me on an airport project in Kalispell, Montana, to become an outstanding leader of the Transportation Business Group. With leadership and support, Mike Kennedy and Jeff Mather were always instrumental in the development of my career. Dan Sterley and I sat on a remote Alaskan hillside on 9/11 and wondered what was happening to the world. And recently, Alan Bollinger gave me an old fashioned locker room pep talk that helped me make the hard decision to enter the VRP program. November 4 will be my last day. So, “Therefore never send [sic] to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for me (and many other long time CH2M HILL people who are leaving at this time).”