Industry leaders joined a panel discussion Wednesday, January 30th at the Inscape Showroom for the SMPS-NY Leadership Lunch: Leading and Competing in Challenging Environments in the AEC Industry.  Currently with consultant firms in the region, each panelist held positions with key client agencies such as the GSA, Port Authority of NY and NJ, NJ Transit, and NYC Department of Transportation.  Each led either a large staff, agency, projects or the procurement process.  As moderator for the panel, Allen Lee of WSP inquired into their journey and what brought them to where they are now.  Each shared their thoughts on the leadership skills they relied on while leading at a public agency and what skills translated to their current positions.  Through casual discussions, we learned about their insights and milestones along their path, mentors and epiphanies essential to critical decisions in their careers.

Denise Turner Roth, who was appointed to the GSA under the Obama Administration and now is Chief Development Officer for WSP, began the panel by encouraging people to determine their value add to any firm or project. Parts of a person’s value add includes taking on leadership roles outside of their job description. She noted that one of her strengths was putting people in the right seats, and organizations should place people in the right role to allow both the person and the firm to thrive. Roth adds that you are your own best advocate, and if there is something about which you have an interest, let your team and senior staff know. For Roth, showing interest led her first supervisor to bring her to an event where she would meet the people that would bring her to the next step of her career in the public sector.

Formerly Manager of Alternative Project Delivery for The Port Authority of NY and NJ, Laurie Spencer oversaw the procurement processes. Spencer started the Port Authority as an admin and found mentors critical to her movement upward to manager of the procurement processes overseeing the agency’s first Public-Private Partnerships (PPP). This PPP was a Design/Build/Finance/Maintain contract to replace the Goethals Bridge and the PPP developer to Design/Build/Finance/Operate/Maintain a replacement Central Terminal Building at LaGuardia Airport. Spencer now works as a business development associate for SI Engineering, PC and echoes the importance of being mindful of teams. When the teams at the Port Authority reviewed RFP responses, each reviewer had a different aspect of the project they prioritized, and this made it difficult to come to a consensus. Spencer fostered an efficient review process by ensuring that every member of the team was heard and that their concerns were addressed. With everyone’s needs taken into consideration, it created a more streamlined process.

Prior to her role as a principal at Arup, Margaret Newman was Chief of Staff at the NYC Department of Transportation. This gave her unique insights into the procurement process. Her advice when responding to RFPs was to keep responses clear and concise in order to receive meaningful answers.  Reviewers often don’t have a lot of time to navigate through a myriad of concepts and discussions. She noted that one interesting difference between working in the private sector is that she may have discussions during the RFP stage. While working on the public side, she did not have the ability to talk freely with firms during the procurement stage of a project.

Steve Santoro, formerly Executive Director of NJ Transit and now VP and Director of Rail and Transit at Dewberry, was with NJ Transit during Superstorm Sandy and was involved in the startup and implementation of the $2 billion repair and resiliency program. He was later involved in the Amtrak repair on the tracks during the 2018 “Summer of Hell”.  Santoro commented on the daily and necessary upkeep of the city, especially in regard to transportation and New York City’s departments that serve as mobility providers.

Santoro noted an important trend we are seeing in the industry is that agencies are moving more and more toward design-build method of delivery.  This will impact the interaction between firms and all panelists agreed the largest shift this presents is the revenue sharing aspect as the structure of these project partnerships means a new kind of shared financial investment between firms. Roth shared her perspective that construction firms may start to add engineering departments, and stand-alone engineering firms should consider how to work with these combined construction/engineering companies.

Megaprojects such as LaGuardia, Penn Station access, East Side Access, and Second Avenue Subway will impact the New York region in addition to Hudson yards and Hunters Point South, driving increased building and revenue. While the news of Amazon coming to New York has since changed, the panelists shared their insights that Amazon building in New York would have been a benefit specifically if Amazon contributed to the building needs of the city. Neuman’s focus was on integrating planning and transportation into the fabric and context of cities.  Her hope is that Amazon or other developers like Amazon will assist in state of good repair projects. She echoed that New York is a built city that needs to be fixed and maintained, and Amazon has a lot of a power and resources to contribute to these needed improvements.   

See photos from this great event here!