It was about 1973; the Denver Office had been open less than two years, so we were still the new kid on the block. As office manager, I was eager to get our name out wherever it would be advantageous, particularly in response to requests for proposals. The Water Department of the City of Colorado Springs offered an opportunity that made me drool.
The city’s water group had traditionally used a major competitor for all of their engineering needs, so when they invited CH2M HILL to propose on some environmental work I was anxious to respond. Our proposal was prepared in the Denver office with not enough input from the West Coast. To bolster our image, I asked Holly Cornell to come to Denver and accompany me to the interview.
We discussed the proposal briefly during the one-hour drive to Colorado Springs with me doing most of the talking. Holly may have asked me about staffing—probably did, but I don’t remember. What I do remember vividly is Holly’s remarks at the interview.
After the usual introductions I made my pitch, extolling the strength of CH2M HILL’s environmental staff, and the extensive support capabilities available to perform the project. Then I turned the podium over to Holly to talk about fee structure. He didn’t even stand up. Instead, he said in almost these words, “It’s true, we have the talent and the experience to do your project, and do it well. But, I’ve got to level with you—we just don’t have the staff available to assign to your project right now. As much as we’d like to work with you, this time we must decline.”
I just stared at him with my mouth open; the interview committee looked at each other in amazement. Finally, one of the committee said, “Well, that’s probably the most honest presentation we’ll hear all afternoon.”
In retrospect, I’m sure that that afternoon CH2M HILL’s image in the Rocky Mountain Region went up a notch or two because of Holly’s honesty. And, CH2M HILL’s newest Regional Manager learned a very important lesson.