The engineering firm CEO talks about what the company has seen during the last 90 years of operation and what the future holds for the next 90.
Q: Guernsey has been around for more than 90 years. In Oklahoma, that’s a lifetime. How have you had to change to remain stable and relevant?
A: Honestly, it’s the people who built and, to this day, maintain our culture that have kept Guernsey thriving over almost a century of change in Oklahoma and across the world. Among the numerous facets one could credit, three at the fore of our longevity are an unwavering client focus, strategic diversification of service lines over time, and to bring this answer full circle: It’s people whose passion for excellence lifts all those around them, from clients to teammates.
Q: Your firm does a lot of different engineering and architecture work, including for the Thunder. What kind of projects excite you?
A: My journey at Guernsey is somewhat different than what could be considered standard. I work in the consulting side of the business, which allowed me to travel the world. I’ve lived in Seattle, Hawaii and Alaska and have traveled internationally, having flown well over a million miles for project work. Travel can help most projects feel more interesting, but for me the real magic happens when we can see our efforts directly benefitting a community, or when we can work together to craft elegant answers to complex problems. While I had to part with much of my project work when I became CEO, I do still work on two very rewarding projects – one in Alaska, and one right here in Oklahoma at Tinker Air Force Base.
Q: Speaking of the Thunder, you guys designed the NBA practice facilities for the Thunder and Raptors project, how is that going?
A: The Thunder practice facility was incredibly important to us, contributing to this organization that has brought an immense sense of community and pride to our city and state. The success of that project took us north across the border to work with the Raptor organization and its parent, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment – the largest sports and entertainment company in Canada (where, incidentally, I was born and lived until I was 5). We continue to value our relationship with the Thunder and recently completed updates to digital signage throughout the venue to help enrich the game-day experience.
Q: You are also working with electric co-ops on their infrastructure. What can you tell us about that?
A: Electric cooperatives run deep in Guernsey’s DNA; it was only eight years after our founding (1928) that Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act, and Guernsey has been working with our cooperative clients and the customers they serve ever since. We helped design some of the first electrical distribution systems in Oklahoma and surrounding states, and later expanded to assist with a broad array of needs: setting utility rates, establishing capital plans, master planning cooperative headquarters campuses and/or designing the buildings they work from … the list goes on. The most “recent” development (I use quotes because Guernsey has been doing this for eight years now) is cybersecurity, which has of course grown immensely – as we have along with it. In addition, we are seeing some cooperatives exploring rural broadband internet and similar value-added services to their customers.
Q: What do you foresee as the growth areas for your industry?
A: I’m sure by now nobody wants to read another perspective about the Infrastructure Bill, so I’ll set that aside. However, a top growth prospect is all around us: The immense expansion we are seeing in the Oklahoma City metro area, expansion that I expect to only accelerate in the years to come. Our growing economy and population need many of the offerings of a full-service design/consulting firm like Guernsey, and as I said before we especially value opportunities to improve lives within our community. Beyond that, we see great potential in areas such as aviation and aerospace, designing buildings that provide enhanced wellness for occupants, energy/water security and resiliency and cybersecurity.
Q: Guernsey has seen a lot of change during the last 90+ years. What do you foresee for the future of Guernsey for hopefully another 90?
A: One thing I haven’t mentioned, and not everyone knows, is that Guernsey is 100% owned by our people. Every person who works at least 32 hours a week begins earning ownership after a year of service, and so one of the principal things I find personally rewarding is that we build owners. Some of the most important things that I or any of our leaders do is devote attention to finding the right people to add to our team, and then working to share our knowledge and equip them with the knowledge to help Guernsey not just adapt to change, but to anticipate it where possible. I can confidently tell you that while I can’t see the future, I work alongside a pipeline of talent that will help shape the years to come in our little corner of the world.
Q: What advice do you have for other business leaders on how best to lead a legacy company like Guernsey?
A: Well, I don’t know about the “best” way to lead, but I will say that complacency and entitlement can take root over longer periods of time … and those roots can run deep. Neither of these behaviors should be allowed to flourish, because in the end it’s your best people who will pay the price for any problematic staff you might have. I don’t know any good leader who relishes conflict; but a good leader likewise can’t shrink away from problems and wait for them to go away or for somebody else to solve them. That being said, things can be easier if you surround yourself with people you trust, people with different life experiences and perspectives – people who aren’t like you. Listen openly, and don’t be afraid to adjust your own view on a topic when another’s thoughts resonate. It’s easier not doing this job alone.
Q: What else do we need to know about trends in your industry or projects that will impact Oklahoma City?
A: The mission growth at Tinker Air Force Base will impact Oklahoma City immensely – with work for designers and builders, adding jobs for both the military and industry alike. With Oklahoma City becoming a growing destination for both tourism and economic development, it will only increase our need for long-range planning of land use, infrastructure and myriad other needs that will arise from a metro that is among the nation’s fastest growing.