In 2011, I became CEO of the San Dieguito Engineering (SDE), a civil engineering land development company, with my predecessor remaining on board as COO until his retirement in 2017. As the President and CEO of a woman-owned small business, I’ve had many experiences along the way that have provided opportunities to fail and struggle, to learn and grow, which I embrace as I embark on the ninth year of running the company.
Since 1974, San Dieguito Engineering empowers the leaders of the firm to eventually run the company as an C corporation through shareholder acquisition, which we continue to do through communication and innovation. The last three years have been an amazing opportunity to shape and create a company, and, alongside my partners Andrew Karydes and Patricia Urquiza, to position the firm for the next twenty years. We keep in mind our company values to guide us in the decisions we make in who we hire and how we do business: Integrity, Creativity, Commitment, Team Work, and Work/Life Balance.
San Diego is a big small city. The city’s engineering industry is modest in size and comprised of large and small businesses, but few medium-sized firms. Not only does our small business status set us apart from other engineering firms, but we have been forced to innovate to best manage our business. Every entrepreneur knows that innovation is the key to success.
The word innovation brings to mind “inventions”— which I believe refers to technology or design that pushes boundaries. At SDE, this was certainly the case, with a transition from hand-drawn maps to AutoCAD software and the introduction of drones. We also found nontechnical ways to innovate, such as how we serve our clients, work with our partners, and create a culture that sets us apart from our peers.
Past business relationships often came from the good ol’ boys club that “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” sensibility. Rightly so—our industry is historically predominately male—however, many women leaders have forged a path for me here in San Diego: Tricia Mc Coll, Sunnie House, Mindy Steckmest, Carmen Kasner, and Agnes Weber, just to name a few of them. And back-scratching is fine, as long as both parties maintain respect and integrity, while keeping the bottom line in mind. What is the point of doing favors if it is not mutually beneficial to all parties involved? As CEO, I’ve learned that treating others with respect, being transparent, and acting on my gut-level feeling yield more success than not. Humility trumps ego, which allows true listening to occur. Do the right thing and do it with class. Live by example and teach the younger engineers to do the same. Whatever skill you are doing, strive to do the best job possible. Knowledge is power and no one can take that away from you.
Our own brand of innovation—specifically service for our clients—has led us to four award-winning projects: the San Diego International Airport, SDG&E Pipeline Safety Enhancement Plan, the San Diego County Water Authority Pipeline 3 Relining Lake Murray to Sweetwater Reservoir, and most recently the BioLegend Campus Extension. Although a subconsultant on these projects, I believe we are an important extension of the team and our civil engineering services clearly makes an impact.
Awards are wonderful, but it is more important for me to know that the work we do at SDE has a positive impact on our communities, in the lives of those we work for, and who work for us. I am honored to be President and CEO of San Dieguito Engineering and look forward to a continually bright and innovative future.